Building boats for mother nature

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Long Island group raffles off wood prams, dories and skiffs to raise funding for shellfish restoration

Long Island group raffles off wood prams, dories and skiffs to raise funding for shellfish restoration

She’s sleek, small, and incredibly well-crafted.

For the Maritime Festival held this past September in Greenport, N.Y., the Southhold Project in Aquaculture Training (SPAT) built a 10-foot Joel White nutshell pram, which raised roughly $4,000 for the organization dedicated to restoring shellfish to Long Island Sound.

“We built it over a period of two to three months,” says member Armand DeLuca. “We work on this part-time. None of us are boatbuilders by trade.”

DeLuca says last year’s nutshell pram was made from marine mahogany and encased in epoxy. Since 2003, SPAT has been building boats and raffling them off during the Greenport festival in Long Island. Director of SPAT Kim Tetrault says the group has built eight boats in three different designs – the nutshell pram, a Gloucester rowing dory, and an 18-foot Bolger work skiff — and restored three other boats.

“It turned out that our little venture progressed into something real,” says Tetrault. “We have a group of about 12 to 13 involved with the boatbuilding right now.”

SPAT not only is the acronym for the group, but it also is a reference to the tiniest form of shellfish that settles into the spot where it will remain all of its life. According to the SPAT organizations’ flier, more than 400 people have participated as volunteers and have logged over 6000 volunteer hours a year.

“We’ve also done some minor restoration work on boats,” says Tetrault. “But our main goal is to get the shellfish back to the bay. Because some of the raffle money we raise goes into buying materials for the boats, it has become more autonomous and independently funded.”

Tetrault says it also allows the group the freedom to buy quality materials to make the boat even more attractive in the following year.

“We don’t like to market these things, so as long as we break even we’re happy,” says Tetrault. “And often, the boats make it back to our members one way or the other. Two years ago, one of the members that helped build a boat ended up winning it [in a raffle].”

Tetrault says that they needed to find straightforward designs because they don’t have the capabilities to bend or steam the wood into various designs.

“You have to be careful not to make a mistake though; a piece of plywood could cost $160 for a sheet,” says Tetrault. “That’s why we have stuck to three designs because they are pretty straightforward.”

But that doesn’t mean the boats aren’t well-crafted.

“Building the boats isn’t as much of a turn-on as watching these guys turn into craftsmen,” says Tetrault. “It has been so rewarding to see the members learn how to do these things and the pride they take in their work. The craftsmanship is just astounding.”

Tetrault says it really is a social event, and the members will get together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. to build. And they are ahead this year – a Bolger work skiff is already stockpiled for this year’s festival.

“We would like to expand the program to have a seminar on boatbuilding for young adults, but that’s down the road,” says Tetrault. “Our focus right now is the shellfish.”

For more information, call Tetrault at (631) 852-8660.