Widgets Magazine

Pat Mundus on Wooden Boatworks, Hanff Boat Yard, East End Charters and Greenport’s Thriving Wooden Boat Artisan Industry (Plus: True Jaws!)

Q:  You embody Greenport’s trifecta of the wooden boat industry, through your connection to Wooden Boatworks, Hanff Boat Yard, and East End Charters.  How did you end up in the middle of it all? A: Wooden boats are my passion.  So much so that when I was a teenager I ran away from home to sail them in the Caribbean. My father was against my desire to take up sailing. He thought going to sea was for fishing, saying "Sailing? Sailing is for seagoing tourists!"

But to be clear, I’m not a principal in Wooden Boatworks; I just help out, including with promotion.  My main role in the local industry is through my company East End Charters. We all believe in the integrity of fine craftsmanship, and have 40 years’ experience as a great big family.

Q: What’s East End Charters all about?

A: All summer I’m a booking agent for several gorgeous wooden boats, and I go cruising in the winter on my own boat. (I retired in 1997.)  One of the boats I book is my 57-foot ketch Surprise, which my husband and I restored together. Two are owned by Wooden Boatworks, and the others are mom and pop boats, owned by people who share our passion for wooden boats. My booking business helps make their ownership possible, by subsidizing this art form.

Our wooden boats are beautiful and art, but they are also functional boats that can save your life at sea. The planking on he bottom my boat is two inches think, compared to thin fiberglass in today’s typical boats.  In my own small way I introduce the public to this art form, while they are having a wedding anniversary or some other special occasion.

The Earth is 70% water; I take pride in getting people out on the water, in this really beautiful way.

Q:  Wooden Boatworks has a special launch this Friday, right? What’s going on?

A: Wooden Boatworks will launch Invader, a recreation of Invader II, an 8-meter racing yacht designed by William Fife III for the 1932 Canada’s Cup (the freshwater equivalent of the America’s Cup). She’s been two years in the making, and is a perfect recreation.

Q: What do you mean by a perfect re-creation? Some sort of replica?

A: No. A replica sounds like a knock-off. This is much more profound; truly authentic. For example, the wood: The keel stock—the timber that the keel is made of had to be 2’ wide by 25’ long, and of select hardwood. We don’t have forests of those trees any more. So Wooden Boatworks hired New England Naval Timber to find one, and they discovered an extraordinary 46’ white oak, 30” in diameter at the Thomas Cole museum in Catskill NY. They milled down to the 25’ by 2’ keel stock.

And it’s not just the keel stock; in 1930 this boat would have had 88 pairs of grown frames, meaning they would collect naturally growing wood with the grain perfectly aligned with the shape of the frame.  We don’t have those trees around either, so Wooden Boatworks made them out of steam-bent white oak and laminated cherry.

Q: I’m beginning to get a sense of the craftsmanship involved, by what you do mean by ‘re-creation’.

A: Oh, that’s just a bit of it. Invader has bronze floor timbers, big pieces of bronze that the frames and keel of the boat are all bolted to. Thus artisan metal workers are also involved in this.  Craftsmen built the masts, the rigging, the cabinetry, the mechanical work, the sails--all of these elements are handmade and historically accurate.

She was built in a potato barn not too far from Greenport. Potato farming created large storage barns out here and that barn is enormous, which is why it worked. They were able to build the boat and staging and have the materials in one place.

Q: Wow. Such a hotbed of high art; such an enormous undertaking. It has a Renaissance era workshop feel to it all.

A: Yes. And like the Renaissance artists, these craftsmen are funded by discriminating clients. Recreating historic yachts perpetuates skills and dedication to fine craftsmanship, keeping alive an important art form. Building and restoring wooden yachts embodies an approach that melds art, history, engineering and fine craftsmanship.

The gentleman who commissioned Invader understands that each boat is like a little museum, a history project. He understands the value.  Wooden Boatworks has 12-18 employees, and so he keeps these artisans at work.

Thank God we will live in a time period when people are reacting to our disposable society by embracing fine art and craftsmanship.

Q: What’s Wooden Boatworks’ next project? Do they always do re-creations?

A:  The same client has ordered another re-creation, another 8 meter, so that Invader has a trial horse to race against.  Wooden Boatworks has built several yachts from scratch, but most of their work is restoration. The last significant new build was a P-class racing yacht designed by Gil Smith in 1907. Smith was a famous Great South Bay yacht designer. That one launched in 2009.

Q: You mentioned that Invader is a William Fife III boat. Who was Fife?

A: Fife was a world-class European yacht designer back in the 1930s

Q: Is Hanff’s Boat Yard part of  yachting history?

A: Yes. Greenport has a very a dense waterfront history of wooden boat building Hanff's Boat Yard is historic, located on Greenport's original colonial waterfront, Sterling Harbor.

Hanff's Boatyard was established in 1906 to build and maintain wooden boats and yachts. Its longevity shows Greenport's integral part in yacht and shipbuilding history. Hanff's is owned by Costello Marine Contracting and leased by Wooden Boatworks Inc. It has two working marine railways and a third under construction.

Q: We keep talking about “Wooden Boatworks”, but there must be key people behind the name. Who are they?

A: Wooden Boatworks was established in 1978 by two brothers: Donn Costanzo, a graduate of Lance Lee's Apprentice shop in 1978, a wooden boat building school in Bath, Maine, and Bruce Wahl, an engineer and maintenance specialist at the Sayville Ferry Service in Fire Island NY.

Many of the Wooden Boatworks employees are trained artisans from the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) in Newport RI.

Q: One last question, a bit off topic. This year is the 40th anniversary of Jaws, and I hear tell you have some connection to it. And earlier you mentioned your dad was a Montauk fisherman. So are you connected to Jaws, or is that just a fish story?

A: I am connected. My father was Frank Mundus, a fisherman in Montauk who pioneered sport fishing for sharks. He caught a 4500 lb white shark with a 17-foot girth that was the basis for the movie; he’d been called to catch it because the shark was scaring guests of a Montauk hotel.

But he wasn’t literally the character Quint in the movie; my father was never in the navy, had no revenge motive for shark fishing. He was an expert who essentially launched the local sport fishing industry; he was a consummate hunter, a real man’s man.  One time he was called out to check on a dead whale floating off Montauk, and he tied his boat to it, walked out on it, and used 150 lb test to catch a 3700 lb white shark.

One thing he taught me: Fear is just not understanding something. You conquer fear with competency.