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Floozie draws a crowd at the docks

One man’s custom pilothouse cruiser with classic styling is designed to fit his family’s needs

One man’s custom pilothouse cruiser with classic styling is designed to fit his family’s needs

In the basement of Phil and Dianne Reinhardt’s suburban New Jersey ranch-style home is an exquisite rowboat — he calls it a Shark River Dory — built by Phil. The dory, if it fit, would be a suitable objet d’art for display upstairs in the understated elegance of the Reinhardt home. And yet the dory may not rank as this amateur boatbuilder’s masterpiece. That would probably be the award-winning vessel the Reinhardts named, with reason, Floozie.

She winters not in the basement and not in the attached garage, where she was built and where various trophy plaques are hung. This inspired gem awaits warm weather in a turkey coop that is temporarily uninhabited following the departure of the most recent residents, who left to play roles in various seasonal banquets. Floozie’s trailer is parked on dusty corn cobs and other turkey debris. Blue plastic tarps enshroud the dormant dame, protecting her from wind-driven winter and early spring rains that might blow through the open sides of the cavernous, pole-and-truss shed.

So humble a setting for so special a vessel.

In warmer months, Floozie’s arrival at a boat ramp is at times greeted with behavior that normally accompanies a celebrity sighting. It often takes the Reinhardts an hour to get her into the water, says Phil. The first question usually thrown to him: When was she built? And then: How long did it take to restore her?

Floozie, Reinhardt answers, is 2 years old.

And then there are the requests to see her closer, followed by guided tours that keep the Reinhardts at the dock when another boater might already be under way. The Reinhardts are not annoyed. “I consider it a compliment,” says Phil. “I enjoy it. We’re never in a hurry. I’m retired — what the hell.”

Reinhardt, 66, had a career in video film editing. He drops a couple of disparate names: Sesame Street, Howard Stern. But boating is in both the Reinhardts’ genes.

Phil’s father ran a 75-foot scallop boat, the Major J. Casey, out of Southold on New York’s Long Island. Dianne’s father, Raymond Ciacia, built boats out of Ray’s Boat Shop in the town next door, Greenport. Ray’s boats were wooden. They included cabin cruisers and sailboats. It was in Ray’s shop that Phil first worked at shaping timbers to slip through the water. By that time, Dianne was already Mrs. Reinhardt.

When she was 20 and he was 21, they would encounter each other driving along Route 25, the one road between Southhold and Greenport — she in her white ’55 T-bird and he in his white ’55 Jaguar XK-140. He would flash his lights at her and she would wink her lights back. A year later, in 1963, they were married and a year and a month after that, they had a son, David.

David, now 43, is something of a Goliath, having grown to 6 feet 5 inches, and that helps explain Floozie’s unique design. Another contributing factor in her captivating character was the consideration Phil had to make for Dianne, who had polio when she was 15 and travels most often in a wheelchair.

“I really liked the 1920s look, with the vertical windshields,” says Phil. “I just got the idea that I wanted a boat that I could handle myself, that was shoal draft, that I could use in the BarnegatBay area.”

Dianne adds, “We wanted it comfortable to take guests out to dinner to cruise around.”

Looking for a suitable hull design, Phil settled on a Chesapeake Marine Designs model called the Redwing 21, normally built with a cuddy cabin or a Down East-style cabin.

“Because my wife is in a wheelchair, I had to change the design quite a bit,” he says. “Put the [outboard] motor on the transom instead of in a well,” to make room in the cockpit for Dianne’s wheelchair. “I came up with an idea, sort of a Gatsby-looking cabin, because I wanted protection from the sun. The windows had to be big enough so my wife could look out. But my son is 6 foot 5,” and that dictated the cabin’s headroom.

Since his retirement, Reinhardt had built two 16-foot dories and two 20-footers. As he had done when creating some of the furniture in their home, Phil completed these boats without the use of plans. But for Floozie, he had the Redwing 21 plans, which he used to start the flat-bottomed hull. He did the work on a dolly so that when necessary, he could roll the project out of the garage and into the driveway.

As the hull took shape, Reinhardt was also pondering the cabin design. Down in the basement he built a mockup of the cabin console, clamping it to a workbench. He had a helm and, beside it, throttle controls. He says he used the mockup to get the “ergonomics” right. Dianne says he was playing make-believe skipper down in the basement.

It took about a year and a half to get the hull completed. Phil assembled the ribs in the basement. He attached one layer of 1/2-inch plywood to the sides in the garage and two layers to the bottom. He coated the interior of the hull with epoxy and sheathed the outside in 10-ounce fiberglass cloth and epoxy. Then he rolled the hull outdoors.

Reinhardt put 10 borrowed used tires on the lawn on one side of the hull, attached a rope to the other side and, tying the bitter end to his trailer hitch, pulled the boat right-side-up onto the tires. He then jacked the hull up, removed the tires and put the dolly back under the hull. Rolling the hull back into the garage, he got out some waxed paper, laying it in every place that the cabin would meet the hull.

Instead of teak and holly, Reinhardt created a similar-appearing deck with fir and white epoxy resin in the seams. He balanced the fuel tank on one side with batteries on the other. In the cabin, he put the Porta-Potti to starboard, the table to port. Instead of a sink from a marine store, he bought a stainless steel salad bowl from a dollar store.

But he wasn’t cheap. He devoted hours of work to carving intricate designs in the mahogany with which he’d finished the cabin and cockpit, and he devised numerous features to ease Dianne’s ride, including cockpit coamings that fold down to make for unimpeded entry from the dock.

It took Reinhardt about two more years to finish the cabin, at which point he had to hoist it to the garage ceiling to get the hull outdoors. That’s when the waxed paper came into play. The paper had kept the varnish and epoxy from gluing the cabin to the hull.

A Honda 4-stroke was mounted on the transom and the Reinhardts began cruising three or so days a week, most often on the nearby Delaware River. Occasionally, a 40-foot yacht would make a high-speed detour to give the couple a big thumbs-up for their little jewel. The Reinhardts would brace themselves for the violent wake. They got a more pleasing salute at the various wooden boat gatherings where they displayed Floozie. She won first place as a replica contemporary design at the 2005 Antique and Classic Boat Society in Bay Head, N.J. Floozie also won first place in 2006 for the Custom Contemporary Outboard at the Tuckerton (N.J.) Seaport show and was named the People’s Choice in 2005 and 2006 at that show, living up to her name.

Dianne calls her boat “the other expensive woman in [Phil’s] life.”

He describes his creation this way: “She’s a friendly boat who lets anybody climb aboard.”