Long Island Traditions is proud to announce the North Shore Maritime Back Story cell phone tour, a self-guided audio tour through the TravelStorys app. This tour highlights the many important traditional and contemporary cultural landmarks of New York State.
Using the TravelStorys app, listeners can discover the histories and communities of Long Island’s North Shore. Audio stories automatically begin as you approach the site, with each site corresponding with significant cultural landmarks. Photographs and text associated with each story also accompany the story sites. These tour stops feature narratives from baymen, cottage owners, tugboat captains, water taxi workers and boatyard owners in Port Washington, Stony Brook, Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson.
The North Shore Maritime Back Story Tour begins along the Port Washington North Bay Walk Park trail, where the Bay Star tugboat stands. Frank Scobbo, owner of the tugboat, grew up in Port Washington and learned early on the critical skills needed to operate a tugboat. He shares his experiences growing up, receiving his commercial license, and navigating New York Harbor’s channels.
Scobbo recalls the first time he was on a tugboat: “The first time I was on a tug, 2006 I was on a Buchanan boat with one of our captains 2007. And I loved it. Having been exposed to the recreational towing vessel, the assist vessels, like Sea Tow, Tow Boat, things of that nature I was exposed a little bit to that. And that was very fascinating. Because sometimes people call you when the weather wasn’t great, or they called you when they had a dead battery, and I would ride with my brother in law and experience that. It was a lot of fun.”
The next tour stop is the Town Dock of Port Washington. This dock is the home of the Port Washington Taxi, a water taxi for harbor tours or ferrying. Matt Meyran, the founder of the water taxi, tells his story of his boating career.
“We were water rats,” says Meyran, “We were on the water all the time…I was on a boat from the time I was 4, driving the boat.”
Bill Rooney shares his experiences as a water taxi captain, ferrying passengers from all over the world. “The job of the water taxi is very interesting,” says Rooney, “Because it’s not just a taxi, we do tours. The taxi service, you don’t spend much time with the person, we’re just bringing them from a restaurant to the dock or from a restaurant to another restaurant, or from the dock to their boat, or from their boat to a restaurant. And you don’t get a lot of time with the people. But on the tours, you get a minimum of a half an hour, sometimes an hour, sometimes longer. And the conversations flow.”
Other tour stops include the Bayles Boat Yard, now the Village Center in Port Jefferson. The Village Center is a restored shipyard building, with volunteer efforts to restore boats by the Long Island Sound Eco Center. The group started in 2006 when the shop was built.
At the Bayles Boat Shop, hear from Charles Kenny, one of the volunteers. “I’ve been part of [building] 12 or 13 vessels at this point,” says Kenny, “We’ve been operating this program for 12 years. We always have one or two boats [projects] going on at any one time… A restoration project generally involves many surprises. You have to understand what the builder was thinking. Why he fashioned pieces a certain way, even if you have a set of drawings or plans, frequently a builder will utilize different approaches which are not depicted in the plans or drawings. It is a lot of fun, it’s detective work.”
The next stop is West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook. Here, you will hear from Marge Miller, the owner of one of a hundred bungalows that once stood there. The cottages were built between the 1920s and 1950s until they were removed under a 2004 state law. They were designed to stay cool in the summer.
“It was kind of rustic and pretty, because the partitions were wide paneling, which had been rubbed with a gray green of sort of kind of in it. It made a soft cottagey look, you know friendly,” remembers Miller.
West of Stony Brook is Knutson’s Boat Yard, located in Halesite. Knutson’s Boat Yard is one of the oldest working boat yards on Long Island. Dan Knutson, the yard’s manager, tells of his family’s history working the yard.
“My grandfather was Thomas Knutson, his original name was Torkel Knutson. He came here from Norway and changed his name when he came through Ellis Island to Thomas because it made it easier for people to understand and assimilate,” says Knutson, “My grandfather came here with nothing; he was 17 in 1900. He established himself as a man who worked with his hands, a great ship’s carpenter. Some of the boat yards in the Bronx and some other ship yards. He became a supervisor and a yard foreman…To think how wonderful this yard was and she still is. It’s something I do enjoy and I am very proud of.”
Oyster Bay is one of the oldest working harbors on Long Island, known for shellfish such as clams and oysters. Here, you will listen to narratives from Bill Painter and Bill Fetzer, local baymen and advocates for the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association. “
We try to help whoever we can help,” says Painter, “We do charity work, helping the seed program that we run, buying equipment, buying clam seed, oyster seed. Our biggest festival is the Oyster Fest in Oyster Bay once a year, and we raised the most money at that at that event.”
Fetzer describes life on the water as a bayman: “I see things that people will never see like a bald eagle over my head. Or you feel like someone’s watching you. Next thing you know you have a seal working the area that you’re churning up with your rig. I mean, how cool is that?”
You can explore each stop on the North Shore Maritime Back Story Tour by downloading the TravelStorys GPS app, or by visiting the site here: https://travelstorys.com/. TravelStorys is free and compatible with all cell phones. This tour is curated by Nancy Solomon, and made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation.
—Submitted by Long Island Traditions