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Volunteers revive boat building business in Port Jefferson

Bayles Boat Shop volunteers Gerard Munoz, of Selden,

Bayles Boat Shop volunteers Gerard Munoz, of Selden, Betty Ann Arink, of Port Jefferson, and Nate Gass, of Miller Place, apply the first coat of resin to a custom-made wood kayak. Free boat-building classes take place on the harborfront in Port Jefferson every Sunday and Wednesday, hosted by Bayles Boat Shop. (July 11, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Betty Ann Arink slid a small, flat painting tool across the smooth deck of a kayak, spreading a thin layer of mahogany resin across the wooden surface.

She was quick and careful so as not to let the resin drip and cause an imperfection in the kayak’s appearance later on.

“You just get a feel for it,” she said about her swift technique.

Arink, 75, of Port Jefferson, had never built a boat before she started volunteering at the Bayles Boat Shop at the Port Jefferson Harbor about five years ago. In fact, not one of the roughly 30 volunteers who build and repair wooden boats there had ever built a boat.

But they bring a variety of skills and interests, some of them are carpenters or cabinet makers or masters in another trade. Many of them just love boats, have always owned one, and therefore, learned to repair them.

“I got my first boat when I was 4,” Arink said. “And I had a boat up until four years ago.”

Volunteers meet at the boat shop, which is operated by the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to work on original projects and commissioned boat building and repairs. They sell the wooden boats to help support the shop and also auction off one boat every year.

Charles F. Kenny, a director for LISEC, said the organization has been involved in bringing boat building back to Port Jefferson since 1998. In 2006, with the help of about 100 volunteers, they finally built the Bayles Boat Shop.

He said reviving the boat building business — even if just as a hobby — is an important step in honoring the heritage of Port Jefferson.

He said the Port Jefferson Harbor Complex, which now houses the village mayor’s office and community-based programs, was the original shipbuilding house and was operational until 1912. He said Port Jefferson was the largest boat building center between the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Boston Harbor around the turn of the century.

He said the LISEC directors had hoped there would be interest in picking up the traditional boatbuilding trade, but were still surprised at the overwhelming positive response.

“People enjoy working with traditional material,” said Kenny, 68, of Port Jefferson. “They also enjoy working with their hands.”

Currently, volunteers are working on three projects — the kayak, which was built using a new method of building called “stitch and glue”; an SS sailboat, which the group inherited in bad shape and has been rebuilding for about a year; a Comet sailboat they are repairing on commission.

LISEC will also try to encourage more of the community to participate in boat building with it’s “Quick and Dirty Boat Building” competition on Aug. 18 and 19. Competing teams will be given materials and five hours to complete a boat. There will be a race on the second day.

Arink said the last competition had 16 participants and drew between 200 and 300 spectators.

Gerard Munoz, 41, of Selden, walked into the shop for the first time on a recent Wednesday morning and was put right to work helping apply resin to the kayak.

Munoz, a carpenter by trade, said he stumbled upon the boat shop during a recent festival in Port Jefferson, and felt like he found a hidden gem.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my head that I wanted to learn a different trade,” he said. “And I’ve always loved boats. I don’t have one yet, but who knows? Maybe now I eventually will.”

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