By David Ackerman
The ancient craft of wooden boat building is alive and well at the Bayles Boat Shop.
On a dreary Saturday morning in January the workspace, located at Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park, was filled with many projects at various stages of completion while workers, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, all performed jobs necessary to the task of boatbuilding.
The space is heated by a wood furnace which allows production to continue throughout the winter months. According to Philip Schiavone, shop director and member for more than 10 years, “We use our mistakes as fuel,” speaking to the spirit of resourcefulness which has enabled the shop to grow purely by the effort of community volunteers.
“We use our mistakes as fuel.”
— Philip Schiavone
The boat shop was founded by Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, a nonprofit organization that tries to promote an appreciation, awareness and understanding of maritime history and the marine environment. The volunteer community at the shop contributes to the overall mission of LISEC by preserving Port Jefferson’s maritime history of boat building, and offering memberships and educational resources to the general public.
In 2018 the boat shop started a canoe building project for high school students in coordination with Avalon Park’s Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment program in Stony Brook.
“This project is an opportunity for the students to learn new skills that they won’t get in high school while also contributing to their community,” said Len Carolan, the event coordinator at the boat shop.
Some of the practical skills the students are learning include the safe use of tools, making precise measurements, following detailed construction plans, and using advanced woodworking techniques such as mold making, joinery and wood-finishing processes. High school student and Port Jeff Yacht Club Sailing School member Oscar Krug said the project they were working on was a Sassafras 12 canoe kit with laser-cut sections built with a stitch-and-glue process. The finished product will be donated to Avalon Park where it will either be made available for public use or auctioned off in order to fund the next construction project.
“This project is an opportunity for the students to learn new skills that they won’t get in high school while also contributing to their community.”
— Len Carolan
Avalon Park’s STATE program operates year-round and provides volunteer opportunities for eighth- through 12th-graders both in Avalon Park and by networking with local nonprofits. The program is led by Kayla Kraker, a marine biologist and science educator who aims to involve students that are “self-motivated leaders and passionate about nature and the outdoors.”
Other student projects with the STATE program have included horseshoe crab tagging, organic farming, shellfish restoration and an archway construction.
Alongside the canoe build there are multiple projects underway in the boat shop. Members Bill Monsen and John Janicek are in the finishing stages of their restoration of a sailing dinghy called a German Pirate which will be the shop’s first submission to the WoodenBoat Show at Mystic in Connecticut. It has taken three years for this project to develop from a hulk of timber and wood to a stunning restoration, built with careful consideration to historical accuracy. The end product will be a faithful reproduction of the original German Pirate sailing dinghy which was first built in 1934 and is usually found only in Europe, making this model a rare discovery in the United States.
The shop is also preparing for its annual Quick and Dirty boat build in August where participants will race in the Port Jeff Harbor with boats that are constructed in four hours on the shore. Shop members are currently in the finishing stages of a raffle boat project which will be offered up at the event to raise funds for the facility.
Bayles Boat Shop at Harborfront Park is open for business every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and Tuesdays 7 to 9 p.m.