Gurney's Inn
May 17, 2006

Project Celebrates Town's Maritime History

Sunken ships are the stuff of legend, sparking the fascination of scores of spectators who travel for miles just to get a glimpse of the vessels in their watery graves.

Last week, Riverhead Councilman Ed Densieski held up photos of famous local shipwrecks, such as the Hail Mary in the Shinnecock Bay and the Stella Maris in Greenport, which are fodder for front-page news stories.

And now, Riverhead may soon have its own historic, shored-up vessel on display, in the form of a 60-year-old clam and scallop boat that will be placed on the Peconic waterfront in an effort to draw tourists, provide a destination for boaters and sea kayakers, and celebrate Riverhead's rich maritime history. The boat will be partially sunken and anchored, and filled with rocks so that it will sit on a sandbar in the Peconic.

Densieski and volunteers Duane Lewin and Gary Joyce presented their proposal for the Baymen's Heritage Project to the board last Thursday and explained it would be an educational tourist attraction that would require no taxpayer funds to institute.

The boat, donated by Lewin, an Aquebogue resident, would be exhibited in a sandy area between the Peconic Waterfront and Atlantis Marine World, an area that is currently littered with garbage.

The goal, said Densieski, is to utilize the classic baymen's clam and scallop workboat, built in 1946, to educate visitors about the area's rich maritime legacy with volunteers doing all the work.

The boat was used by Lewin's father, who went clamming in Montauk and sold his clams for 25 cents a bushel in Patchogue. Later, his cousin sold clams for 25 cents a dozen. Today, clams sell for 50 cents apiece.

Although he considered donating the vessel to the Maritime Museum in Greenport, Lewin decided he would rather use it as a vivid symbol of local maritime history for children. "You never see boats like this anymore," he said. "I didn't want to see it leave Riverhead."

The project would serve to educate scores of visitors about the Peconic, once a "big mill river" thriving with vessels and industry. Plaques would be onsite describing the history of the vessel.

Bryan DeLuca, director of Atlantic Marine World, says Atlantis supports the project and that it would provide educational storyboards for the area.

Councilman George Bartunek questioned whether the boat could be restored to its historic appearance. Joyce said it could be done, but at much time and expense.

Bartunek, who does support the project and the idea of keeping maritime history alive, further questioned if it would be an "attractive nuisance" that would generate other concerns.

Densieski responded by saying there would be no worry over environmental issues.

The boat, which is constructed of double-hulled wood, would be fully decommissioned with the removal of its engine, drive train components, gas tanks, windows, and electrical systems prior to grounding. In addition, the vessel would undergo Coast Guard inspection to ensure that it is environmentally friendly and safe.

No DEC permit is necessary for the project to proceed.

As for concerns about securing the boat, Joyce assured that after being towed to the site, it would be fastened to the bulkhead and a helix mooring screw, as well as being heavily ballasted with beach rock.

The board expressed some concerns over whether the wooden boat would crumble. Densieski assured that the structure would last at least 15 years.

"It's a solid boat," said Joyce.

The board was enthusiastic and agreed to study the proposal further before voting on the project at a later date.

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