112-year-old sailboat relaunched
Elvira, the oldest surviving original P-Class sloop, was cradled off the ground by a travel lift about 30 feet from the Patchogue River when residents began to arrive at 1 p.m. at the Frank M. Weeks Yacht Yard on July 7. The yacht yard simultaneously celebrated its 120th anniversary.
The sailboat claimed victory in the first Bellport Bay Yacht Club race in 1906 and has recently exited a $183,000 restoration process that the Carmans River Maritime Center commenced in 2005.
“We’re excited and a little numb after 12 1/2 years of restoration,” said Steve Gould, the center’s vice president. “It has been a long haul, but I feel like we all feel — it has been worth it.”
Over 150 people watched the crew at 4 p.m. mechanically lift the boat off the wooden boards it stood upon, drive the lift up to the water’s edge, and meticulously place the historic 36-foot vessel in the water, hoping it would float.
And it did. However, the vessel remained stationary, held by the sling prior to setting sail, until restorers were certain there were no major leaks.
“One of the reasons we kept [Elvira] in the slings for safekeeping on Saturday evening was to make sure she didn’t open up some leaks we were unaware of,” said Kevin Weeks, the owner of Frank M. Weeks Yacht Yard. “She’s taken on a minor amount of water, which, to a degree is to be expected — she’s a wooden boat and had been out of the water for a long time.”
Weeks said that he was honored to receive a request in February from the center asking to launch Elvira at the boatyard this summer, once restoration was complete.
On Sunday, the center’s president, Hank Maust, used an old-fashioned hand pump to pump out what little water was inside, and there was not a lot, Weeks said. No one is concerned about the amount of water inside, however, since Maust and trustee Ed Baker were successful in navigating the boat to Bellport Bay Yacht Club on Monday morning.
“There’s a chance that they may open up a few leaks that weren’t there originally, and they may have to keep an eye on that,” Weeks said.
Shipwrights Josh Herman and Ricardo Vicente, who have been heavily involved in its restoration process, expected Elvira to sail again about a decade ago, but insufficient funds for the restoration arose as an issue and pushed the launch back further and further. Additionally, Herman said that as the renovations progressed, they discovered more issues that needed to be addressed.
The amount of projects increased as the restoration process went along. The shipbuilders, alongside assistance from center trustee Elliot Pepper, constructed a new centerboard trunk, replaced the stem and installed a new deck, deck braces, toe rails, floorboards, seats, rudder, rudder post, tiller bowsprit, boom, gaff and jib club.
Herman, who specializes in particularly old, traditional wooden boats, said that they thought the keel would not be necessary to entirely replace when submitting grant applications. But when everything was opened up, it became clear that that was a necessary task. “That actually contributed to some of the financial difficulty also, because the plan from the very beginning was to do a certain amount of work and we raised money based on what we were planning to do,” Herman said. “When we opened it up that far, suddenly we’re doing the keel and tripling the cost of the entire job.”
It was a priority to keep the existing fiberglass that was installed in the 1950s, which was hiding problems with the rest of the backbone, including the stem, stern post and rudder post. “We just ended up going a lot further than we were planning to go from the very beginning,” Herman said. “It took so much time because it’s a nonprofit organization, and they had to fundraise for every penny, and grant-writing can be a long process. By the time we got to the end of that amount of money, we had a completely different plan.”
Elvira officially set sail early Monday morning, July 9 in Bellport Bay. Aboard were Maust, Baker, Herman and his assistant. They plan to set sail again later this week or next.
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