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Ida May Keel Laying Introduces the IMP Board

Putting a Face on the Ida May Project and Its Mission

The life journey of the new Ida May began on December 9, 2011, at the official keel laying in J Building on the Western WaterFront of Oyster Bay. Two silver dollars were placed by Clint Smith and Franklin Flower into circular holes made by shipwright Dave Short for them. One is a 1925 silver dollar and the other, a 2011 silver dollar. Ida May Project board member Gregory Druhak said Mr. Short had to enlarge one hole since the 2011 silver dollar is bigger.

Shipwright Dave Short said after the weekend they would be standing up the eight frames that form the body of the ship that they just completed. “We are trying to create some momentum. I want to stay here and see it all through,” he said.

Funding is necessary to complete the job, which is expected to cost $500,000. Having seen how quickly they have come from the raw lumber delivered Nov. 15 to now, should be encouraging to the public.

Mr. Short was happy with the turnout of people who seemed to all arrive at about the same time.

Clint Smith, president of the Ida May Project welcomed guests. “This is the first event for the Ida May, the laying of the keel. Now you know who we are and why we are on this site at the Jakobson Shipyard.” He said that was the original intention for the building, that after Jakes closed in 1995, there was a community focus group that determined what they wanted to see on the waterfront and one of those things was a wooden boat building and restoration exhibit on this site. Their goal, he said is to preserve the tradition of wooden boat building in Oyster Bay and on Long Island; to produce useful vessels like the Christeen that are of historic importance to the community; through our volunteer program, to give people the opportunity to take part in traditional boat building projects; to enhance people’s enjoyment and their experience of visiting the Western WaterFront of historic beautiful Oyster Bay. “Building the Ida May is our second major project, and as you can see, it is well underway,” concluded Mr. Smith, as he introduced Ida May Project board member Bill Quinn.

Who We Are

When the Ida May Project began, the Oyster Sloop Christeen Preservation Corporation was reactivated, it had been absorbed into the WaterFront Center and it took on the overseeing of the Ida May Project. Clint Smith is the president; David Relyea is vice president; Genevieve Glasson is the secretary and Jack Hoyt is treasurer.

Mr. Quinn said he has known Clint from when he and his wife Joanne first lived in East Norwich. He introduced the other board members: Gregory Druhak, Rob Crafa, Jamie Deming, head of the Waterfront Center (who was unable to attend); WFC executive director Dave Waldo who will be the recipient of the finished Ida May; Tom Golon of Wonderland Trees; and Bill Shepard, and Mr. Quinn himself. Mr. Quinn also introduced Dave Short, shipwright for the second time in Oyster Bay – he was in charge of the Christeen restoration; and his partner – Andrew Nencheck of Maine.

Mr. Quinn thanked all the volunteers working on the Ida May. He thanked NYS Senator Carl Marcellino and Town of Oyster Bay Commissioner of Environmental Resources Neil Bergin for their help on the project and later he thanked Georgia Filaski, the TOB Western Waterfront recreational specialist; Town Supervisor John Venditto; and members of the EPA team, Heather Amster and Peter Sproul.  

He also recognized civic organization representatives attending, including Pat Aitken of Friends of the Bay and Phillip Blocklyn of the Oyster Bay Historical Society. Oyster Bay Town Historian John Hammond was also present.

The Ida May Story

Franklin Flower, their special guest, spoke on the beginnings of the Ida May.

He said it was being built where he lived as a child, “But I was just a baby and don’t remember any of it. In those days we went to market by boat to the Fulton Fish Market in New York aboard the Elsie Ruth, a smaller boat.

“My dad and brothers went out when a northeaster struck and my grandfather saw the boat disappear in the fog.”

The Sept. 12, 2008 issue of the Enterprise Pilot told the story of the birth of the Ida May, as related by Gregory Druhak. “Construction of the Ida May was begun by Frank M. Flower, son of the founder of the 116-year-old oyster company, in 1925 after he thought he lost his three sons (Allen, Butler and Roswell Flower) on a small oyster boat on a routine two-day winter trip to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. According to an excerpt from Cooking with Oysters and other Shellfish; in celebration of the 1985 Oyster Festival, by George and Marianne Preston, the late H. Butler Flower described the adventure by saying, ‘At about that time a cloud of fog started to cover us while my father was on the beach watching. He never did see us after that. The water was so rough that we had bricks in the bilge and the bricks were sliding around and knocked the plug out. The water came in almost to the top of the boat. I found out where the water was coming in and then I stuck my finger into the hole like the boy in the dike. Rossie found another plug and put it in there.”

When they arrived in New York it took them three days to start the ice-encrusted motor. Three days during which Frank M. Flower thought that he had seen the last of his boys. With the motor running and the weather clearing they headed back for Bayville. Their arrival into port was greeted with great joy. Said the late Butler Flower, “When my father found out that we were safe he went into the woods and cut down a big oak tree. He started to build a new oyster boat. That was the Ida May. He named it after my mother.”

At the keel laying on Saturday, Mr. Flower said the Ida May was built on Ludlam Avenue, near the site of the current shellfish hatchery in Bayville.  She is the only existing oyster boat that was built here – on Long Island, worked her whole life here, still exists here and has been continuously in service with only a single owner.

The original Ida May had a length of 45 feet and a beam of 15 feet, a depth of 4.3 feet and a gross tonnage of 16.

To give a timeframe for the life of the original Ida May, Mr. Duhak said, “ In the years since her construction, Lindbergh took off from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field and flew over the Atlantic Ocean, and other resident Long Islanders built a ship that took men to the Sea of Tranquility on the surface of the moon.”

At that time, Franklin Flower, former owner of Frank M. Flower and Sons Company and son of Butler Flower remarked, “Glad to see a boat that is named after my grandmother and that has been used continuously for 75 years in local shellfish cultivation through many changes in the industry preserved.” At that time it was to be used as an exhibit at the WaterFront Center.

At the keel laying ceremony, Franklin Flower added that there were no official plans for building the Ida May, “But she lasted 80 years so they did a pretty good job.” He said, “At Perry Avenue it used a boom to lower oysters on to a truck on shore.  Eventually things changed and we got larger boats to take the oysters to market. I worked two summers on the Ida May, where we went out starfish mopping, musselling and clamming. She had a lot of uses and three or four captains over the years.”

He told a story his dad told him. “Boats had to be hauled up to get the water and they pulled out a plug. Once, the plug got knocked out and she started sinking. My father had to carve a new plug and stick it in before she sank.”

He looked at the new Ida May and said, “I don’t think the keel was this long. They were made in pieces then.” That was evident when viewing the original keel – it was patched together using several pieces of wood all put together.

“I’m glad to see the new Ida May,” said Mr. Flower.

Clint Smith, Ida May Project president took up the story. He said, “When the Ida May was dry docked it was thought it would be a static land-based exhibit telling how it worked.

He said then Dave Relyea and Clint Smith and others decided the real Ida May should be a working boat – which started the Ida May Project.

Larry Schmidlapp, WaterFront Center treasurer said he was thrilled to be working on another Oyster Bay classic. He said the Christeen has taken 20,000 people out on the bay in this public/town/private project. It has taken between 3,000 and 3,500 people a year out on the Oyster Bay Harbor. “When the Ida May is complete, for people of all ages, it will double the school class size for the Christeen. There are wide open decks; more room for teaching about shellfish farming, plankton studies, and navigation and more.” Additionally he added, there is no boom to duck under while under sail, and the boat can also be used for fishing.

Because of the wide deck it can possibly be used for dinner cruises, added Mr. Schmidlapp. “The Ida May will be a welcome sight. The WaterFront Center looks forward to the commissioning.  This keel laying is the heart and soul of a vessel.” [The WaterFront Center will be presented with the Ida May when it is completed.]

Local Wood

Mr. Quinn returned to say that both the Christeen and the Ida May are mostly built of local lumber. He said the portable saw mill in back was at work again, cutting down lumber into planks. He thanked board member Tom Golon of Wonderland Trees; Taylor Tree; and Pierre Marchais for bringing them wood: oak, locust and pine species. He thanked Pine Island Etch; Kelso Electric and Jim Cammarata, Esq. for legal advice and for allowing the use of his office as a meeting place. He thanked their accountant; and the design team of McCurdy & Rhodes who created the plans for the new Ida May, which follows Coast Guard approved guidelines.

Transportation Hub

The Oyster Bay LIRR train went by chugging its whistle as NYS Senator Carl Marcellino stepped up to talk. He was the chairman of the original Western WaterFront Committee and said when he took over the position he wanted everyone to know that he wanted no pre-conceived conditions; and complete public access to the process and the waterfront; and nothing was to be done without the public’s approval. He was given permission to do whatever was decided by the public.

“I could see the potential. Theodore Roosevelt used to dream of opening up the harbor to public access but most of the waterfront areas were either private or commercial property.

He said this was the Town of Oyster Bay; New York State; and the community working together so they – the public - would have access.

The senator said, “If I could be proud of anything I have done over the 17 plus years in office it is this project; and to be sure that this remains open and accessible to the people of the area – no group owns it. The people own it and it is open to the public.

“The WaterFront Center operates the sailing school and there you can see kids learning how to live in and enjoy the water,” he said.

Now with the new Ida May and the restored Christeen, there are two working boats that will teach people hands-on about the marine life and environment.

“I hope there will be more ships built here, by these volunteers. Let’s keep it going, you will always have a friend in the New York Senate,” he concluded.

Neil Bergin, TOB Commissioner of Environmental Resources said they had invited Billy Joel to attend the keel laying and while he was unavailable, “He is completely committed to this project.”

Bill Quinn said, “This ceremony, other than the launching, is the most important ceremonial occasion for the ship.”

Shipwright Dave Short thanked the Christeen Oyster Sloop Corporation and Clint and Dave Relyea, “for inviting him back to build the Ida May and to work with our friends again.” When the keel is laid, he said, traditionally, the families of the owner, and the public are asked to acknowledge the event. The community comes together in this - the first opportunity to wish good fortune to the ship, to the builders, and to those who sail on her.

Clint and Franklin Flower stepped over to the keel to insert the two coins into the wooden frame, watched by Mr. Short. That was when Mr. Druhak told the guests about the 1925 Peace silver dollar being smaller than the 2011 silver Eagle Liberty dollar.

Captain’s Committment

Also at the event were Rich and Bob Townsend. Rich was an Ida May captain from 1977 to 1984. He was wearing a schrimshaw neckpiece of the Ida May. He explained that two Flower sisters married two Townsend sons. Ruth Flower is his grandmother. The men are members of the Townsend Society that has been engaged in a DNA program to identify who the present Townsends are related to. Rich and Bob are Oyster Bay Townsends.

Rich said of the new Ida May, “It’s a fantastic replica.” He said he and others had rebuilt the starboard side of the Ida May at one time. “I was the last one trained by Butler – checking the starfish and the oyster beds and harvesting the oysters and clams. Butler was my great uncle, and Franklin’s father. Ida May was my great grandmother.” He said he loved his time on the water and said, “I know every hill and dale and where the water is hard or soft. Soft water means a soft-muddy bottom.” Currently the men are distributors of Flowers shellfish, both oysters and clams.

Dave Waldo said, “Once the Ida May is built we take over and operate her as a working boat. It will be an extension of the Christeen’s mission, but with more opportunity for the public to experience Oyster Bay and Long Island Sound and get a marine education.”

Neil Bergen said, “I think it’s fantastic. There is a real good thing.” Patricia Aitken, executive director of Friends of the Bay said, “There is a lot of synergy going on in Oyster Bay!”