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This driving tour is part of the New York Back Story tours developed by folklorists and cultural ethnographers who know you want to hear from local storytellers.
On this tour you will hear from baymen, boat builders, lifeguards, Superstorm Sandy responders, and bay house owners.
The tour follows NY Route 27 along the south shore of Long Island. It stops by scenic waterfront vistas, world famous Jones Beach, and Freeport's Nautical Mile where our tour starts.
The stories you will hear of childhood fishing memories to 42-foot handmade boats, will take you on a journey that feels far away from Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx or Queens.
This tour was developed by Long Island Traditions. Long Island Traditions documents local architecture, from beach bungalows and bay houses to garden apartments and farm buildings.
As fishermen and farmers disappear, they fight for the preservation of Long Island's contemporary maritime and farming culture throughout the region.
To recognize and pay tribute to Long Island's diverse ethnic cultures, Long Island Traditions supports Irish stepdance, African American quilting, gospel and blues music, Jewish klezmer music, Native American stories and crafts, and the traditions of recent immigrants from Central and South America, India and Asia.
Through field interviews and oral histories, Long Island Traditions seek to break down the barriers that divide us, so that people can share in the power and excellence of our family traditions.
New York Back Story audio tours are funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Robert W. Lion Gardiner Foundation.
Find More Tours Near You
If you enjoy this tour, check out all the New York Back Story audio tours: Elmira Back Story, Mohawk Back Story Tour, East End Back Story, and Niagara Frontier Back Story.
In addition, you can find other tours in New York State and NYC, or wherever your travels may take you at TravelStorys.com. Every place has a story.
For more content, click the "Explore this Tour Remotely" button below.
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Welcome to NY Back Story, where you can hear stories about local traditions. Here on Long Island we have several interesting places, including the Weeks Boat Yard in Patchogue. Listen to Kevin Weeks, a boat builder who grew up in Patchogue during the 1960s and worked in his father and uncle's boat yard, Weeks Boat Yard from the time he was a teenager. The boatyard is the oldest boat yard in Patchogue, home to the Gil Smith Boatyard and other yards that are no longer. My grandfather apprenticed for a fellow named Martina Smith. My grandfather built a number of buildings, I want to say between the years 1915 and 1923. And where my grandfather was exclusively pretty much a boat builder, Dave and Joe and Frank made the place more into a marina where we did boat repairs and some building. Our dirt floor barns actually are very good for the wooden boats. They tend to stay kind of damp and moist throughout the winter and into the early spring and they don't dry out in there. They used to build mostly I'd say commercial type vessels – shoal draft, the barges that were used to ship lumber, coal and other supplies from New York City out to Long Island. My grandfather, I believe, continued doing that sort of building when he started his own business. Like I said he got into building these Arrows. I understand they built hundreds of those boats here. It was only after he retired that my dad and uncle started to build the Weeks Sea Skiffs. Those were production boats – 26 feet, single screw. The Skiffs I think were being built from maybe about 1955 to 65, so over a period of maybe 10 years. They probably built between 15 and 20 of them. Our business now is we have about 75 slips. We store about 130 boats in the wintertime which we do maintenance and typical spring repairs that people need done. It's starting to get rare, actually, that there are no more yards around that will even take wooden boats let alone do work on them, and it was a business that I would say in the late 80's, early 90's, really looked like it was going to die out, here, as well as everywhere else on Long Island. And then all of a sudden reputation-wise and the fact that we were one of the only marinas left doing it, that work started to become more and more again sometime around '94, '95, and we did some advertising in that sense. And now we do pretty much full-blown restoration work of wooden boats and even some older fiberglass boats. We still build the Force 5 sailboat, which is fiberglass, one design sailboat. We are the trademark owners and builders of those boats. We have been since 1994. Working with wood, I think from a health standpoint, is a lot less onerous than working with fiberglass. Building a fiberglass boat almost feels like, it's like baking cake, it's almost a chemical process. You're dealing with fiberglass and resin and gel coat and everything in layers, and it sort of cooks and sets and then you pop it out, and voila, you've got a boat. Whereas working with wooden boats is a little bit more of a, oh it's much more of an artistic and creative process. The story that I heard about the 1938 hurricane, the local knowledge that was gained went into the design of this marina when it was expanded and raised in '65. There were supposedly, when the machine shop was out on that spit of land there was a high-water mark that somebody marked. My dad and uncles used some of that knowledge in deciding how high to raise the property here. And from 1938 until Hurricane Irene in 2011 the water, the river, never broached the bulkhead. Ever. Not once. And in Irene it did. And, of course, in Sandy, I mean it just, by a longshot, it just obliterated that mark. I've never seen so much water here in my life and I hope never to again. Stay tuned for more tours as we continue to explore Long Island's maritime heritage. This program is funded by the NY State Council on the Arts and the Robert W Gardiner Foundation.
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Jones Beach was built in 1929 by master planner Robert Moses and remains one of Long Island's biggest tourist attractions. It has provided powerful memories for generations including those who worked there. Reggie Jones was the longest working lifeguard at Jones Beach from 1942 to 2004. This story shows us how dangerous being a lifeguard can be. I kept swimming after Jimmy Lockland. I lost sight of him, he kept going but I could hear the voice. The line I was pulling there was such a terrific west sweep it started to pull me backwards. And I said "well I'm going nowhere except backwards," so I unleashed the line and now here we are both of us swimming out with no equipment. We get nearer and nearer to this voice and I cannot believe it, to this day. I look at this guy – he was a behemoth! He looked like Sidney Greenstreet from the old movies. And he was going up and down, and he's going "help, help!" And I'm saying to myself "how in God's name did this guy get out here." Well, at any rate, Jimmy gets him under one arm and I get him under the other, and we're yanking him along, and we're not really going anywhere with this big monster we're not making much ground, or swimming. And we were heading towards Jones inlet, and we knew it was an outgoing tide. And as you know if you go around that jetty in Jones Inlet and you've got an outgoing tide, you're going straight out. You're not coming in. Well I start getting pretty worried and so did Jimmy. And I said "Jim, I don't know if anyone knows we're out here." He said "Yeah, they probably don't Jonsey." He said "I'm going in for help." I said "who the hell elected you!" "You're twice the swimmer I am, Jimmy don't leave me!" He said "Jonsey, I'm going in." So he started kicking off in that fog and I was not only angry, I was scared. So he went in. Now I've got Sidney Greenstreet under one arm. He goes down. I'm going up. We're really bobbing up and down here and I'm really getting scared, and as I said I was just 18. As we're heading towards the inlet I really started to get worried and frankly, I'm no hero, believe me. I got very scared and I figured I've got to save myself. I could not leave him. I really couldn't. Cause I knew if I left this guy he's gone! That's it. Well, fortunately, I'm bobbing up and down, I'm getting more worried, and I hear whistles – toot too, toot toot. And I look up and there's my old Captain, Hank Daly, in one of those great big Jones Beach wooden dories. And he's got two 9-foot oars and he's dorying out there. And the waves are fairly big and he's hollering "Jonsey!" and I see him – Well that was the greatest sight I saw in my entire life was that boat coming through the water. I said "Hank! Hank! I'm over here!" "Hold on Jonsey! Hold on!" Well he got over to me and I said "oh boy, there is a God." You needed a derrick to get this guy into the boat. Obviously we struggled. Fortunately, Hank was a big, strong guy. We got this guy into the back of the boat. We started heading in, and Hank turns to me and in his clipped way he says "Jonsey, Lockland left you, didn't he?" Of course I wasn't too happy with Jimmy Lockland, so I said "yes, sir, he did." He said "we'll see about that when we get ashore." Well we go bouncing in. We're almost at the inlet and we land and there's a crowd on the beach. And the boat splashes in and we got Sidney out of the boat, he was ok. And big Hank walked over to Lockland. And Jimmy had the old suit on like this one. We had those old-fashioned suits we had back then. And they were made of wool. And Jimmy was standing there. And Hank walked up to him and he grabbed the strap on his shoulder, like this, and I don't know how this guy did it, but he broke the strap, pulled it right off his shoulder. And he broke it and he said "get out of here." He said "you're not a lifeguard, you're not even a man. You left him out there." And wow. At any rate I didn't say anything and he came to me and he said "Okay Jonsey, go over and get a hot shower we might have a couple more of these today." I said "good God!" Ready for more stories? Our next stop is Babylon, where you will learn about Superstorm Sandy. This program is funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Robert W Gardiner Foundation.