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Come Build The Ida May

Deceptive looking from the outside, J Building on West End Avenue on Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront has a lot of activity going on inside — two days a week. On Tuesday, April 16, Peter Nash of Oyster Bay was taking a peek inside. Retired from the aviation industry he likes to see how the work is going along. He watched during the recent restoration of the oyster sloop Christeen’s keel and now is watching the Ida May being built. “I can appreciate the craftsmanship and dedication to detail of the volunteers. [He pointed to the wooden pegs used on the hull.] It’s such a beautiful work. That’s why I always come by to see it progressing. That’s going to be a beautiful boat when it is finished. A true classic.”

Nash has a grasp on the core of the project, dedicated volunteers creating a masterpiece. Slowly — but surely — the new Ida May is being built at the site of what will one day became the Oyster Bay Wooden Boat Museum. It’s a long way off, but it is in the plans. On Wednesday, April 24 a meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. for volunteers in J Building, as a new season is starts as the weather warms up.

The Christeen Oyster Sloop Preservation Corporation (COSPC) is making a replica of Butler Flower’s wooden oyster boat, the Ida May. “It is not the Ida May II,” said Clint Smith, COSPC president. “It is an entirely new boat redesigned to follow today’s Coast Guard requirements.”

Shipwright Josh Herman of Northport is scheduled to meet with the volunteers on the 24th to assess their interests, skills and levels of commitment. What level of skill is needed? “If you can hold a tool: a paintbrush, a screwdriver or a broom, that is all the level of skill we need from volunteers,” said Smith. “We’ll find a lot of things for them to do.”

Josh Herman is a teacher so he can make assignments and instruct the volunteers to learn new skills. He was in charge of the oyster sloop Christeen’s recent renovation when the keel had to be replaced and so he already knows some of the volunteers and their skills. As Smith expressed it, “together, we can bring the Ida May to life.”

Building A Workshop

The volunteers have a great place to work. The COSPC has already invested a great deal of time and money in creating their wooden boat workshop in J Building. “We are here on a strict revocable permit from the state and sign the agreement one year at a time.”

The building was designated in the original Western Waterfront plans, designed by Cameron Associates, as a wooden boat building shop. Oyster Bay has a history of boat building said Smith: “Rowboats, speed boats, sailboats — small ones. Former Oyster Bay Water Commissioner Frank Bladykas built his sailboat, the Haiti in his back yard.”

The original J Building was used by the Jacobson Shipyard to store big yachts. It was then larger but when the restoration of the Western Waterfront took place, the building was relocated, made smaller and raised higher to get it out of the flood plain. When the COSPC the building over they had to outfit it to turn it into a wooden boat workshop to the tune of $12,000. “We had to change the electrical systems because our big machines take a higher voltage,” said Smith. The money was also spent on a dust collecting system connected to all the machines to take out the sawdust and chips. It filters out the excess material to a collection area outside.

They also needed specialized equipment for the sawmill that was originally bought to work on the Christeen. “It was sitting there for 10 years and the first time we started it, it began running right away.” Hanging in the office are orange helmets and padded pants. “We had to buy helmets and pants for working with the chain saw.” The overall pants are padded around the knees. If the chain saw hits the padded area it stops the chain saw rather then cutting into their flesh.

The sawmill was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. The water came up above the rails on their sawmill. “It took a big log sitting on top, right off it,” said Clint, explaining the force of the water. The result was they had to take the machine apart and grease and oil the ball bearings, said board member Bill Shepard on Tuesday, April 16, that it was working smoother than before.

They also need a forklift to move the lumber and are currently building that section to add on to a tractor they have already renovated. “It took an inordinate amount of time to get the tractor back in shape,” said Bill Shepard adding, they are learning as they do the work. They need the forklift to carry the newly cut lumber into the workshop. “We’ve got some people who are good welders and we are going to fabricate it,” said Smith. They were off to Glen Cove that Tuesday to get some of the needed parts.

Sitting near the Ida May is a steam box. After cutting the lumber to the needed sized planks, they have to steam the lumber to bend it into shape. “It comes out like rubber. We put it against the frame quickly to let it set, using clamps. You have to do it fast while it is soft,” said Clint.

Shepard said, “Some of the wood we were using last year was Longleaf Pine from some of the buildings in the city that are 100 years old. When we put it into the sawmill, the sap kept coming out.” He said they were amazed that planks that old would still hold on to their sap so much that it clogged the machinery.

Brass Fittings

Besides making their own equipment, they are salvaging some items from the Ida May. They had the original brass propeller reconditioned and balanced. It is a big prop, 24 x 24 and will be fine for the new Ida May.

She hauled more weight since she carried a lot of machinery said Clint. “There were dredges, pumps down below, and winches. We took it all apart and sold some of the scrap to add to the pot here.” They are also working on some housing pieces for the shaft that is all corroded but since it is brass they believe they can restore it as they did with the prop. They are going to sand blast and clean them to see what the saltwater intrusion has left. So far they see no cracks in the metal. Steel is never used on ship parts because it rusts especially in salt water so brass or bronze is used instead.

Skilled Workers

As you can see the men have a lot of skill sets between them. Clint has retired from his 22-year job with the Town of Oyster Bay as the Harbormaster and then they added the title of Supervisor of Conservation and Waterways the last few years – at the same salary. He has built a house for he and his wife Ann in Maryland, in upstate New York, between Cooperstown and Oneonta. They haven’t had much time to go there, he’s been kept busy with his volunteer work for the Christeen renovation as well as the Ida May. Bill Shepard recalled working for Sperry Gyroscope many years ago when the first computers took up a whole room. He later worked for Grumman for 30 years working on Star Wars. He has been active with the WaterFront Center too.

Fine Tuning

Marine Architect Ian McCurdy is currently making some changes to the original plans. There are a couple of things the Coast Guard wanted changed after they viewed the plans in Washington, D.C. They want descriptions on how the fuel tanks and water tanks will operate explained Clint.

There is a need for a larger boat for marine education and recreation in Oyster Bay. When the Ida May is finished she will be able to carry about twice that amount of passengers as the Christeen. She will be powered by an engine and can venture out into Long Island Sound in all kinds of weather, another perk of the new boat.

“If anyone wants to see the sawmill in action come on down to J Building. We are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those days the building is always open and people are there that can explain the project and answer the various questions people ask,” added President Smith.