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Historic Oyster Bay boat getting fixed

The Christeen is the oldest remaining oyster sloop

The Christeen is the oldest remaining oyster sloop in North America. Built in 1883, she had her original keel replaced 2011. The structure pictured above is suspending the ship in the air and forcing it to hold its original shape so that it could keep landmark status while the keel work was being performed. (March 11, 2011) Credit: T.C. McCarthy

North America’s oldest oyster sloop came through back surgery just fine, according to Oyster Bay’s WaterFront Center.

Christeen, the 1883 oyster sloop-turned-classroom, was pulled from the Oyster Bay last October to replace its original keel. David Waldo, executive director of the education and recreation center, said the boat had sprung severe leaks that could only be repaired by replacing the keel, the structural timber that runs the length of the bottom of the boat and holds it together. The new keel was put in Wednesday afternoon.

“Imagine having back surgery while lying on your back,” Waldo said, laughing. “That’s what we had to do here.”

The Christeen is used by the WaterFront Center to educate people about the history of oyster farming on Long Island and in its surrounding waters.

Massapequa shipwright Joshua Herman, who was tapped by the WaterFront Center to perform the repair, said he and his team faced unique challenges in preserving the vessel’s national landmark status.

“In this case, because we are doing everything backwards, it’s just so much harder to do it,” Herman said.

He explained that a ship typically is made to fit its keel -- minor imperfections in the keel are rectified by adjusting how the rest of the ship will be built. That wasn’t an option with the Christeen. Herman and several WaterFront Center volunteers built framing around the 128-year-old vessel so it would hold its original shape while suspended in the air in Building J at the WaterFront Center.

A relaunch ceremony marking the repairs is planned for April 9 at the WaterFront Center, 1 West End Ave. A time has yet to be determined. Herman said there is still a lot of work to be done including a paint job and repairs to the ship's mast.

The center has raised all but $10,000 of the $160,000 cost for the project, according to Waldo. The WaterFront Center is hoping to raise an additional $100,000 to put away for future maintenance on the vessel.

Residents who want to contribute can find out more here.


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