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What’s Old is New Again at Bayles Boat Shop

Even the construction technology of the shop itself helps keep the tradition of wooden boat building alive.

From the Timberframe style construction of the shop to the half built wooden sailboat under contract for a Long Island sailor, the Bayles Boat Shop is doing things almost exactly like they were in Port Jefferson in the 1800s. Except maybe for the power tools.

"The maritime industry was an economic engine for Port Jefferson," said Charlie Kenny, a retired attorney who is a lifelong boater and volunteer at Bayles Boat Shop. Kenny has a wealth of knowledge of local wooden boat building history, especially as it pertains to the current shop.

According to Kenny, Port Jefferson was one of the largest boat building sites in New York east of Brooklyn. Back in the 1800s all boats were made of wood and the curved ribs and spines of ships under construction were a familiar site.

Then shipbuilding changed and boats began to be made of metal. The art of wooden boat building died out by the turn of the last century with few exceptions.

"Most woodworkers couldn't transition to steel boat building," he said.

During World War I the U.S. government created the Emergency Fleet Corporation to construct ships for the war effort. One of the shipyards they purchased in 1917 was the Bayles Boat Yard.

"By the time they finished the barges and tugs, the war was over," Kenny said.

Mobile Oil purchased the shipbuilding site in 1932 and then in the 1990s the Village bought the property. Hard to believe but the Village of Port Jefferson never owned waterfront property up to then. For a while, the Bayles Boat Shop existed in an old building on the property until the town decided to construct the current Village Center.

"That's when we got booted," he said.

The Village agreed to give them a 25-year lease on a 3,000 square foot plot at the eastern end of Harborfront Park. The Bayles Boat Shop board asked themselves what they were going to put there.

The answer came from local carpenter and volunteer boat builder Bill Ramsden. He suggested a Timberframe structure that spoke to the history of the project.

Ramsden knows a thing or two about wooden boats. Not only is he a master carpenter but he built the biggest handmade boat in Port Jeff Harbor, in his backyard.

"With some help," admitted Ramsen.

Why did he decide to try his hand at building a wooden boat?

"The only way to get a wooden boat of that size was to build it," he said.

Timberframe construction dates back to 1850's, perfect for a wooden boat building shop. A national guild dedicated to Timberframe construction came to Port Jefferson with volunteers arriving from all over the U.S. and Canada to help build using the little known technology.

The money to fund the project came from a variety of sources.

"Various politicians gave us money for the shop and we had donations," said Betty Ann Arink, a volunteer at Bayles. Arink is on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Maritime Museum where she served as director of the museum from 2004 until she retired in 2007.

With about 30 volunteers, a couple of big grants, $40,000 in cash donations and $80,000 in materials and services donated, the Bayles Boat Shop was erected over 12 days in 2006. But it wasn't until three years later that all the wiring and finishing was finally complete.

By January 2010 the Bayles Boat Shop was ready to take on its first customer.

phil jacobson January 26, 2011 at 08:44 PM
I was there and videod the building of the bayes boat house,also the dedacation of the building,also the dedication of the park. ken brady has all the videos. it was my pleasure to do that. ken brady is a credit to port jefferson,he is also a good friend. phil jacobson.

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