Building a sea-worthy dinghy

OptiBuild classes include families at Carmans River Maritime Center


Mark Gordon and Andrew Munro were busy constructing a wood Optimist dinghy Sunday morning, its base placed over wood “horses.” The vessel was being built for Gordon’s son Leo; he would be pitching in as well.

“How does it look?” asked Hank Maust.

“It’s a little long,” answered Mark Gordon of the piece they were laying out.

After another conference moment, a solution solved the dilemma.

The OptiBuild project was well underway at the Carmans River Maritime Center in Brookhaven hamlet Sunday morning. It was a clear, crisp day and the
sight in front of the building was glorious. The sun hit the water, docked boats bobbed up and down and the efforts of Sam Newey’s former shipyard over the first half of the 20th century, swirled around. The front door of the renovated building was wide open to fresh air, offering a chance to glimpse out.

The project started in January and took a COVID hiatus in February, but the four families currently involved with the maritime center’s volunteers, including
trustees like Maust, began meeting two weeks ago again, 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays, then Wednesday evenings, through December.

Table and chop saws and assorted hand tools were being used in a friendly,
collegial atmosphere. The idea is to build five of them, one for each family, then
one to sell with proceeds going to the maritime center to fund programs.

“All of the families have been taking sailing lessons,” said Maust of the Bellport Bay Sailing Foundation. “So they are building boats for their children.”

The program has its historic roots; about 25 years ago members of the Bellport Bay Yacht Club teamed up to build a half-dozen wooden Optis as a
way to introduce the boats to young sailors. The boat is a small, single-handed dinghy, ideal for children to handle up to the age of 15.

Fifteen years ago, CRMC offered a program for middle-school students. They teamed up with an adult partner and built their own wood kayaks.

“I do the sailing program over the summer at the Bayport Bay Yacht Club,” said Leo Gordon of why he wanted to help his dad. “I’m always interested in
building things and this seemed like an interesting opportunity, especially since I’m a five-minute walk away.”

Maust said parts for the boat are precisely cut by a computer numerical control (CNC) machine; it ensures compliance with the very tight tolerances required by the U.S. Optimist Dinghy Association. “The classes cost $600 per boat, including materials and instruction,” Maust said. Participants work with a kit; they’re guided by the volunteers, all seasoned in the ways of boat building.

Adam Cohn was building an Optimist for his son, Bear; they come down every week. “It’s a beautiful facility,” Cohn said.

“I built a boat 13 years ago for another son. And Hank is a lovely man, and


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