There’s an almost giddy feeling I get when I’m around all things nautical. During a recent family summer sojourn to a seafood festival held on Long Island, New York, on the grounds of the Long Island Maritime Museum, I had the chance to take a break from the clams casino, lobster rolls and cotton candy to explore and connect with the on-the-water heritage of this skinny spit of sandbar I call home. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Inside a hangar that housed U.S. Navy seaplanes during World War I were 30 vessels of all shapes, sizes and makes: catboats, cruisers, workboats and speedboats in every direction.
Passing through the door, and briefly blinded by the bright midday summer sun, I adjusted my eyes to see a classic catboat that seemed to be smiling at me. Patchogue, New York’s Gil Smith (1843-1940) designed catboats to work and cruise the shallow Great South Bay just beyond the grounds of the museum. I stared down the smooth, seamless wooden deck of one of his creations and could imagine the hustle and bustle of a sawdust-strewn workshop. The sound of the rhythmic sawing, planing and sanding used to create these floating, living works of art sang in my head. I brushed my fingertips across the deck and visualized dropping the sail to rake oysters from the once-bivalve-filled bay.
Then there was the brilliant story of At Last. A gentleman from East Quogue, New York, named George Frank Carter spent two years (1916-18) building this 29-foot, trunk cabin-style craft with the help of a 15-year-old boy named Arthur Clement. Once the boat was completed, Carter (as many owners do) decided that At Last was too small. He gifted the new boat to his faithful apprentice on his 16th birthday.
Clement happily accepted the vessel and enjoyed At Last for many years. In fact, when a much older Clement finally decided to donate his beloved boat to the maritime museum, he told the staff the story of when he proposed to his wife on board. Apparently, while on bended knee, he made it clear to his wife-to-be that she’d be sharing their lifelong relationship with At Last, as well as his faithful dog. The museum volunteers concluded, “She still accepted the proposal.” And they sailed on, happily ever after.