Syosset Volunteers As Ship Builders

Jim Brannigan of Syosset enjoys life and enjoys building boats. (Photos by Dagmar Fors Karppi)

A handful of Syosset residents are busy volunteering their time to restore a relic of Oyster Bay’s past.

Syosset’s Jim Brannigan, a financial analyst retiree from Wall Street has found a new vocation, volunteering to build the oyster dredge Ida May.

A man with a sense of humor, he said, “I use all my skills here, carrying things around and trying not to cause problems.” The reason for being there was simple, he said, “Quoting what Ratty said to the Mole, ‘There’s nothing, simply nothing better than simply messing around with boats.’ It’s from The Wind in the Willows and it really sums it up for everybody.”

In Building J on Oyster Bay’s Western Waterfront, they are redesigning the boat to adjust to Coast Guard regulations. The target date for the launch is three years away.

It’s a labor of love, since each board is individually cut and shaped for installation. Today you can see into the boat through spaces between the boards, but caulking will soon fill the cracks and then the outer planking will go on to hide all the interior work.

Al Miller of Oyster Bay, Bill Titus of Locust Valley, Project Manager Ed Peterson of Syosset, Bob Larsen of Hicksville and Jim Brannigan of Syosset

Syosset resident Ray Wulff, who worked on building the oyster sloop Christeen, was the one who encouraged the board to proceed with building the Ida May using largely volunteer labor under the part-time guidance of ship-wright Josh Herman.

Wulff is a retired electrical engineer from the Sperry Corporation and has been a leading volunteer involved in all aspects of the Christeen’s operations since her restoration in the 1990s. A very experienced carpenter, he built his own wooden gaff-rigged sloop that sails in Oyster Bay.

The first Ida May project manager was Hank Tiska of Syosset from 2011 until this spring. He worked at Grumman for 32 years as a project manager, engineering mechanical and electrical support equipment for aircraft.

He got his neighbor Ed Peterson involved with the Ida May to repair the saw mill, then rebuild the tractor and soon he was on board as the current project manager. He began his career at Grumman, where over 35 years he moved from department to department and learned all the skills necessary to build an airplane.

Fun In The Bay

Keeping himself busy, Brannigan also volunteers with Tiska’s wife Betty crewing for the Christeen. The Christeen Corporation is the lead agency for the Ida May Project and when the boat is launched, she will join the Christeen teaching marine education for the Waterfront Center.

Planning The Next Step

Brannigan gave a rundown of what needs to be done to finish the Ida May. After it’s planked, and the deck completed, they still have to build the deckhouse. Brannigan said, “It won’t fit in here so it will be built elsewhere.”

There is a great deal of work on their list including doing all the wiring, plumbing, putting in the motor, holding tanks and fuel tanks, but the next thing is planking the deck.

Boards painted white and ready to be installed on the deck.

Sitting in an orderly pile at Building J are deck beams painted white and ready to go. They will complete the decking, which consists of slightly arched pieces of wood, curved to allow water to run down to the sides of the ship.

“It’s really a challenge to cut it all,” said Brannigan. “Each has to be fitted perfectly and they weigh about 100 pounds apiece. The boards have to be tapped in. You don’t make a straight-forward-bang. One cracked the other day. The very long nails come with ribs on them. They look more like screws.”

The volunteers work on Tuesdays and Thursdays from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sometimes they go on to 6 or 7 p.m.

Volunteer Hours Count

The men on the project have been in it for the long haul. The prize down the line will be that the Ida May has the capability to educate children and adults about the marine environment in the daytime and to even have dinner sails on the Long Island Sound.

The prow of the oyster dredge Ida May, under construction on West End Avenue.

The Ida May Project has a New York State Parks Department matching grant of $173,451. Each volunteer’s hour of work is valued at $26.45. The project needs to raise $100,000 in cash to fulfill the grant.

Donations can be made online at or by check made out to the Christeen Corporation and mailed to P.O. Box 386 Oyster Bay, NY 11771. For more information call 516-305-9204. To see the work as it progresses, visit Building J on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 2 p.m. Visitors are always welcome.



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