By Dagmar Fors Karppi
Centerport’s Pete Macandrew, captain of the oyster sloop Christeen was sitting at the table in the wooden shipyard building on Oyster Bay’s West End Avenue, a yellow legal pad in front of him. He’s making a list of maintenance needs for Shipwright Josh Herman. The sailing season is set to open and the captain wants to book time with Herman who is currently overseeing the soon-to-launch Ida May project at the WaterFront Center, a non-profit institution dedicated to promoting understanding, appreciation and preservation of the marine environment.
Christeen, a 40-foot gaff rigged sloop, is the oldest oyster sloop in America and a National Historic Landmark. She was originally built in 1883 for Captain William Smith for the purpose of harvesting oysters in Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor. In recent times she’s been repurposed. Christeen is literally a classroom under sail, taking groups of students on educational jaunts to learn about marine life and the waterfront environment.
Christeen has one flaw: she’s not large enough to meet the demands of this popular environmental program. Enter the Ida May, a replica of an oyster harvesting boat which has been built by a crew of volunteers using traditional boatbuilding methods. The original Ida May was built in 1925 and worked the waters of Oyster Bay for 75 years. The new Ida May will greatly increase the ability of the WaterFront Center to serve the educational community and the public.
Macandrew anticipating when the Ida May joins her in their mission of marine education.
“I think I am in a position more than anyone to judge the value of taking the public out on the water and giving them access to the bay. It brings a joy to them, which you see when they come and go.
“A 6-year-old boy, leaving the ship, said, ‘That was the best experience in my life.’ A woman, 80, said the same words. That was memorable,” he said.
“The success of the Christeen is a proven thing. Although one thing we know is that the Christeen is too small. What we can see is that she is a phenomenal success. It’s very gratifying.”
The Ida May will make that success even better. “It has twice the carrying capacity. It expands the opportunity for people to get on the water. Currently we have to split up the classes into ‘Beach’ and ‘Water’ times. The Ida May, will allow a class in its entirety to get on the ship, rather than take turns. That should make it easier and better for the instructors,” he said.
The volunteers building the Ida May are often crew members. Macandrews mentioned Jim Brannigan, Bill Shephard, Herb Schierhorst and Clint Smith, Christeen Corp president who has always been there.
“So many of the volunteer ship builders continued to be a part of the Christeen experience after it was commissioned,” Macandrew said.
A naval historian, Macandrew will likely also captain the completed Ida May when she begins her tours of duty for the WaterFront Center. “I still enjoy driving the Christeen. My special interest tends to be on sailing vessels, but I would look forward to piloting the Ida May some time in the future, as well.”
The boat’s launch will continue the original mission of helping people young and old to gain an appreciation and understanding of the marine environment.
“This vision and hope that the Christeen [and soon the Ida May] would enable the public to gain access to a world of beauty, to reconnect to their maritime heritage, and to understand the need to protect and preserve this natural resource is being served,” Macadrew said. “Each day when the low black sloop casts off from her mooring and clears away for Brick Yard Point, she carries those dreams and hopes of those who brought her back to life. Yet she carries much more. She carries a glimpse into a world few often experience.”