When wooden boat close to a century old needs work, it comes to Greenport

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Workman Tommy Bernheart makes repairs to the Commander at the Greenport Yacht and Shipbuilding Company on Monday.

What port could offer the all-but-vanished skills and facilities to care for a 95-year-old wooden boat that was pressed into military service in World War I but still regularly motors up and down the Hudson River?

Greenport, of course.

The odd-looking vessel sitting on a cradle above the marine railway at Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding is called Commander. Built as a ferry in North Carolina in 1917, it now carries warm-weather sightseers out of West Haverstraw, N.Y. She’s a seasonal visitor, arriving with the cold.

“The age she is and being all wood, we have to be very vigilant,” said owner Kathi Krom of Hudson Highlands Cruises and Tours. When cruising season ends, Commander steams out to Greenport to be hauled out for a Coast Guard inspection, have any rotten wood replaced and receive a fresh coat of bottom paint.

“We’re not the oldest boat out there, but she is the oldest commissioned naval boat out there still sailing,” said Ms. Krom.

Commander’s initial service as a ferry between Rockaway and Brooklyn proved short-lived. The Navy leased the boat in January 1918, bringing it to the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where it outfitted submarine chasers and the barrage balloons protecting the Rockaway Air Station.

It was returned to its owners in 1919 and for the next six decades sailed as an excursion boat for the Rockaway Boat Line. Ms. Krom purchased it in 1982.

Built of yellow oak and pine, Commander weighs 70 tons, making it too heavy to be hauled out by straps, the method used in most marinas and shipyards. Ms. Krom said Greenport Yacht is one of only two yards in the region capable of bringing the vessel ashore.

The other is in Brooklyn.

“It’s not a museum piece,” she said. “She’s a basic boat; one engine, a single screw. Steering is by chain.”

At 60 feet long and 32 feet wide, “it’s almost like a saucer going down the river,” said Ms. Krom. “You really have to know your business.”

Commander is listed on both the New York and National Register of Historic Places.

“Some days I think I’m crazy,” Ms. Krom added. “It’s definitely a labor of love, but I’d like to see her make it to 100.”

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