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Local nautical icon closer to restoration

84-year-old gaff-rigged oyster sloop built on Long Island incorporated a beamy catboat hull

84-year-old gaff-rigged oyster sloop built on Long Island incorporated a beamy catboat hull

After working for decades as an oyster and scallop dredger in New York’s PeconicBay, then falling into disrepair over the last 10 years, the 35-foot wooden sloop Modesty is scheduled to receive some much-needed maintenance.

The Long IslandMaritimeMuseum, which owns the 84-year-old boat, was recently given a $75,000 matching funds grant for her restoration.

“Modesty has been in desperate need of attention for the last seven years or more, so this grant is good news,” says Josh Herman, a shipwright who will be overseeing Modesty’s restoration. “The museum is responsible for preserving Long Island’s maritime history and Modesty is an important part of that. She represents a significant part of the commercial shellfishing industry, which was huge in this area for many, many years.”

The museum received the grant late last year from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. In order for the museum to receive the full $75,000, members must raise and spend at least the same amount — which shouldn’t be a problem, according to Herman.

“This is a good start,” says Herman, who is 33. “A boat of this vintage and size really needs about $250,000 or more to get her in the condition she really needs to be.”

Herman expects to haul Modesty sometime late this summer or early fall. About 75 or 85 percent of her hull needs to be replaced, he says. Her engine, sails and standing and running rigging need replacing, too. Her planking and mast are the boat’s only sound structural elements, he says. The restoration could take three years to complete.

Modesty was built in 1923 at the Wood and Chute Shipyard in Greenport, on Long Island’s north fork, and worked as a scallop dredger in PeconicBay until 1936. Then she was relocated to Connecticut where she dredged instead for oysters until the 1950s. Modesty might have been the last large sailing shellfish dredger built on Long Island, Herman says.

Over the ensuing years Modesty belonged to a number of private owners until 1974, when she was acquired by Long Island Maritime Museum (formerly called the Suffolk Marine Museum) in West Sayville, N.Y. Between 1978 and 1980 the museum had her restored. After the relaunching she was used during festivals and to host special events.

Modesty’s upkeep withered in 1992 when the museum became independent from New York’s Suffolk County Parks Department and its funding fell off.

“It’s not that the museum doesn’t care,” Herman says. “They just couldn’t put anything into her.”

Museum director Betty Arink hopes that receiving the $75,000 matching grant will be the first step in seeing Modesty returned to her proper condition.

“There aren’t very many of these oyster sloops — that were once so prominent here in Long Island — left,” she says. “Since the oysters are gone, and many of the people from that industry are gone, these few boats are what we have left.”

Herman is looking forward to the day when Modesty is relaunched and will sail alongside Priscilla, an 1888 oyster sloop the museum owns.

“Sure, sailing her is what I’m looking forward to in the end,” Herman says. “But this is also about allowing people of future generations to have access to a piece of Long Island maritime history, to gain knowledge of what life was like back then. This is a one-of-a-kind project.”