|A number of years ago, Waldo Kraemer who spent nearly all of his
summers on Shelter Island in The Heights wrote his memories for the Historical
Society. This short excerpt is about his activities as a child around Conklinís
Conklinís Dock is a cherished memory. It took
me at least a month to discover it and ingratiate myself with ìBenjieî
Conklin, its builder. I have always understood that he had been a steward
on a Cunarder. He was not tall but very wiry, wore steel-rimmed glasses
and was very trim. He ran a taut ship. A kindly man, stern on occasion,
but he allowed no nonsense. He liked children, but you had to behave.
No swearing or bad language was tolerated from anyone, young or old.
The dock was located at the turn of the road near
the late Helen Brightís and extended out to the East for about eighty feet,
then turned Northeast for another eighty, providing a lee side for boats
to moor to in the prevailing Southwesters. On both sides of the inshore
end were floats for rowboats, the one to the North for working sharpies
used to go out to the stakes and moorings. (At this time practically all
the catboats, large or small, tied up to sturdy piles, as it was then possible
to tie up close and put sail on. You could not reef easily at a mooring,
with the boom trimmed in, the necessary sail you had up for satisfactory
makeup caused the boat to sail widely.) The float to the South was reserved
for a collection of well built and nicely maintained pulling boats which
were for rent, furnished with cushions, varnished oars, etc., all very
The outer end of the dock had about twelve catboats,
tied to it, all for hire at $1.50 per afternoon, $3.00 if you had a ìcaptainî.
They accommodated 10 to 12 people. They were well maintained and you could
have confidence in their rigging. Many of them Benjie had built himself
in a shop back of his home.
My usual schedule was to go to the dock after breakfast.
You pumped out boats after a rain, ran errands and made yourself generally
At the shore end of the dock there was a house,
built over the water, with an overhanging roof on the dock side, forming
sort of a porch with benches on both sides. The house itself had two rooms.
In the smaller room, Russell, his son, had a bicycle shop and did a very
nice business indeed, as it was at the height of the bicycle craze. In
the big room was Benjieís standup desk with the reservation book on it.
The room also contained sails, coils of rope, marlin, paints, assorted
fittings, tar, caulking, etc. resulting in the grandest collection of seagoing
smells that you can imagine.
About eleven you headed for the beach and a swim,
then back to the Oxford for a marvelous dinner, in 1901-1903 the big meal
was at noon, and if you could get a second of huckleberry pie and ice cream
your day was made -- and then back to the dock.
About four oíclock, when there was no chance of
renting any more boats, Benjie would say ìWaldo, I think the sail on the
Kineu needs drying.î This meant that you could get sail on and depart with
Benjieís final admonition in your ears -- ìStay between the point dock
and the big rock.î He had 20-20 vision and a critical eye. On your return
he might remark that it was a pity you had to jibe to miss a mooring --
a jibe that was, of course, utterly unintentional.
My skills and size grew and by the time I was fourteen
I became one of his captains and took out parties. You were paid for it.
I made $41.00 that summer. I had more money than any kid on the island
-- milk shakes were only 5 cents.
The afore-mentioned benches, with the real captains
around, were the real magic of the dock. Many of the residents had good-sized
boats, large catboats (the Yolande was forty feet long) that had professional
captains, all in uniforms, blue double-breasted and proper caps. These
men kept their vessels in perfect condition, but in the afternoon had considerable
leisure, just waiting around for orders. Henry Paine had Cassidyís Yolande,
Quinn Cox Sheaís Edsama, Everett Cox, Coeís Martha, Fred Hopper, Behrenís
Isolde, Wally Cox, Eckerís Ouray, etc. But the main interest was
in the talk. Little facts about wind and the tides, the latter very important
as the boats had no power. Would the breeze drop out at sundown, how and
when to moor, care of sails, when to varnish, where were the fish, the
good points of the various boats, North River jibes and what have you.
They were invariably nice to me. Benjie tolerated no rough talk.
When I started taking out the bigger boats (it took
a surprising amount of strength to hold one of these big cats off the wind)
they would advise me how to make things easier, coached me on the tides
and eddies, how to keep your passengers dry (if you liked them) or wet,
if you didnít.
Such funny things happened. Behind the hotel in
the gingerbread house with the leaning tower lived a family by the name
of Corse. Young Corse, about twenty-five, had a catboat that moored to
a stake in front of the Helm house. At the hotel was a Colonel Nolte, a
typical Kentucky colonel, with mustache, goatee, black felt hat and all,
who hated water, declaring it was only useful under bridges. There was
prohibition on the Island, but Claudioís in Greenport flourished like the
green bay tree. Every fit afternoon the company of Corse and Nolte would
take off in search of lubrication, with Nolte sitting stiffly erect, half
paralized with fear. One afternoon, being filled with Dutch courage, Nolte
decided he would catch the stake. He elected to try the friction
of the feet on the deck method. Corse, also befuddled, came in too fast,
the breast of the boat hitting the stake. The stake bent, Nolte threw his
arms around it, the boat bounced off and into the mud inshore, but our
hero retained his grip, looking like an impaled butterfly -- but butterflies
do not yell for help or swear. He alternated this cacophony as he gradually
slipped lower and lower. About breast high in the water, his feet touched
bottom and he stalked for shore. That the waters did not part, as they
did for Moses at the Red Sea, was no fault of the language he was using.
There was no help from the dock -- we just could not move.
About 1905 Benjie built a fifty-foot launch, open
except for a full length canopy and a couple of windows forward. It was
powered by a single cylinder, ten horsepower, Lathrop engine, turning about
three hundred revolutions. The ìLydaî was the first powerboat in Dering
Harbor if you did not count Captain Braggís naptha launch, a very grand
affair with polished brass stack and a lot of fancy gadgets. Every afternoon
the Lyda went around Shelter Island, carrying maybe thirty at fifty cents
a head. Russell was skipper and I often went along and steered while Russell
tinkered with the engine. We figured that by cutting corners you could
make the trip in about nineteen miles. Again you learned a lot about the
rocks off Nichols Point, the flats off Cockles Harbor, what eddies to use
to take advantage of the tides, important to an eight-knot boat.
Powerboats proliferated, nearly all powered by tempermental
make-and-break ignition engines. The Gafga engine was built in a small
plant in Greenport, a great favorite as it was a good job, two-cylinder
being preferred. They were all balky creations sometimes almost unstartable.
At first they only had an air valve and later Shiebler carburetors. One
boat I knew would never start until you put a life-preserver on the battery
box and kicked a certain seat panel -- unfathomable! Two little flat-bottomed
jobs, quite similar, were at the dock and we would race them. By introducing
a thin piece of cardboard between the breaker points, the spark was advanced
and you got more revs, but if you overdid it, the engine would cough and
run backwards -- end of race!
After Benjieís death, the dock, due to changing
times, gradually declined and at a later date, was razed.