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Center Moriches nursery founder Gene Castellano who built his own yacht dies at 84

Gene Castellano of Center Moriches takes a break

Gene Castellano of Center Moriches takes a break from working on his 33-foot boat in 2002. Credit: Joel Cairo

Many people dream of accomplishing one massive project that will outlive them. In his 84 years, Gene Castellano of Center Moriches completed two.

Castellano, who died on March 15 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, was the founder of Castellano Nursery in Center Moriches. It was on the grounds of the nursery that he also pursued his passion project: the creation of a 33-foot yacht capable of traveling the world.

Castellano started his wholesale nursery in 1963, building the six-acre property into a successful business that specializes in rhododendrons and azaleas. While the nursery kept him busy most of the year, the slower winter season found his attention diverted to the construction of an oceangoing wooden yacht.

“He bought every book he could find and learned the intricacies of how to build a boat to very high standards,” said his son, Frank Castellano, also of Central Moriches, who now runs the nursery. And just like he did with the nursery, Gene Castellano approached his newfound hobby with passion, his son said. “He loved the challenge of being able to overcome obstacles and think things through.”

When Neal Hart heard that his Center Moriches neighbor was building a boat, he stopped by to check it out. Over the years, he would watch Hart build and the two eventually became close friends, united by their love of boats and sailing.

“This dream took close to 25 years to create. And when I say create, I mean the version of perfection only the best of craftsmen could accomplish,” Hart said. “It was just beautiful, what he was doing. Everything he did was done perfectly.”

Upon completion, Apollonia — named after a character in “The Godfather" — transported Castellano around the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, as well as around Martha’s Vineyard. The long distance cruiser is capable of making a journey around the world, but health issues curtailed Castellano’s dreams of making that trip.

A Brooklyn native, Castellano’s love of nature led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from California Polytechnic State University. While pursuing a second degree in horticulture from SUNY Farmingdale, he met his wife, Mary, who boarded her horse next to the campus. The two bonded over their love of horses and married in 1960, moving to Center Moriches shortly after.

Castellano’s interest in sailing was first piqued when his children began taking sailing lessons at Moriches Yacht Club. Sailing soon became a family affair, with the Castellanos going sailing every Sunday on Moriches Bay.

“He was a very good family man and excellent husband,” said Mary Castellano of her partner of nearly 60 years. “He was very tenacious. He would stick to something when he put his mind to it and figure out how to do it.”

In addition to Mary and Frank, Gene Castellano is survived by his daughter, Jamie Almond of Seattle, as well as five grandchildren.

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