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Future of sold Sayville boatyard unclear

Jim March, 60, manager of Westin's Boat Shop

Jim March, 60, manager of Westin's Boat Shop in Sayville, has been working at the boat shop since he was a teen. (April 17, 2012) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Jim March began working at Doug Westin's Boat Yard in Sayville, famous in sailing circles, in 1968, following in the footsteps of his father, "Papa Jim."

But that family tradition is coming to an end. Westin's daughters have sold the facility, and its future is uncertain.

March, the longtime manager of the business, will be leaving in the next months, ending his family's 62-year run at a boatyard that once attracted a sailor who trailered his boat all the way from Texas for Westin's to fix it.

"It's a bit of Long Island history fading away with the march of time," said former Islip Town Councilman Chris Bodkin, who worked at Westin's part time in his youth. "The boatyard was a magical, wonderful place."

Debbie Rogers, who along with her sister, Pru Westin, inherited the boatyard after legendary sailor Doug Westin died in 2002, said they decided to sell because it was no longer making enough money.

Buyer Ken Stein III owns the Sayville Ferry Service on Brown's River that shuttles passengers to Fire Island. The deal, for an undisclosed price, closes May 1.

Stein said he intends to continue running the property as a boatyard with the Westin name, though he's not as confident long term.

"I don't want anything to change," he said. "I truly believe that real, classic boatyards are still needed today, and I would love to continue the history that property has given to the local marine community over the last 60 years."

March, 60, doubts that will be possible.

"I think he is going to be hard-pressed to make it successful as a boatyard without raising prices significantly," said March, of Bayport. Other possible uses of the property, which covers about two acres, could be a cargo freight terminal, boat storage or a water taxi business, he said.

For March, who was operating under a lease agreement with Westin's daughters, leaving will be bittersweet. He suspected the end would come one day because boatyards in general are struggling and in many cases closing, squeezed by taxes and a declining number of customers.

"Most people's careers don't last 44 years," he said. "What I will have will be my memories."

March's father already had been working at the boatyard for a year when Doug Westin bought it in 1951 and turned it into a destination for sailors looking for expert woodwork by March and just about anything else related to boats and sailing.

Bodkin, who worked there in the '60s, recalled that "people would come from all over. They'd walk around just to see the place. It was that much of a legend."

Westin was a national champion in the Thistle class, a small racing boat, and today the Great South Bay single-handed sailing championship is named after him -- the Westin Trophy.

People trusted Westin and his father, March said. "A handshake meant something. It was old-school."

March said his two grown sons -- a chef and a teacher -- aren't interested in working at the boatyard, so when he leaves he will be "closing out the Doug Westin legacy."

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