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Life on a Garvey

by Jay Willrick
(Daytona Beach, Fl.)

Back in the day on the Great South Bay

Back in the day on the Great South Bay

Back in the day on the Great South Bay Wally W. Jr., My grandfather Wally Willrick Sr., Brud Skidmore. Me & my ’54 Willys panel wagon in Florida.

As kids growing up on the Great South Bay we lived amongst millionaires; our grandparents were slaves for them. Being from East Islip, Long Island we were middle class regular folks, from hard working backgrounds. Work ethic was the drill as my dad was a US Marine, so I had to keep a job. Any job.

From summer into fall we would tread clams in warm weather, rake in cool weather all during our teen years. While doing so collect scallops, blue claws and occasional flounder called fluke around the island. I remember eeling through a hole in the ice with grandpa on Champlain Creek and grandma’s cod fish stew and pickled eel in jars in the pantry.

Can’t express what freedom we had being our own bosses in those days it was great. Our fathers, granddads and uncles were all baymen, duck hunters and fishermen. They built their own boats for their passions and their own handmade decoys. If you find a decoy in some antique store marked WW it was made by either my grandfather or uncle. Their shot guns were sacred and polished, locked up in the gun cabinets displayed in the living rooms because that was normal.

They hung around a potbelly in winter evenings in the old East Islip lumber yard back in the 50`s & 60`s whittling ducks, geese, and building garvies, a style of bay boat. These boats were built to last; thick enough to bust ice, work off, and play on with a small wheelhouse for rain, sleet or any other crappy bay weather.

The hull had a squared off bow, wide gunnels for walking, and a beefy transom for holding a large outboard. 100 hp Evinrude was the biggest you could get then and they were a tank of an outboard if you have ever tried to raise one from in the boat. Boats over 23 feet had a small inboard and were used to drag the duck scooters out past the ice.

I live in Florida now and still own an old garvey built by those guys back then it has seen better days but I can’t part with it. Wood boats glassed over or not don’t hold up down here. Some day the old garvey will be incorporated into my barn house dream I’ll build here on my 5 acre lot of pines. Perhaps part of it will be a bar or a desk or just hung up in the rafters from chains for a guest bed in the loft. Next to the old “Broadbill” I’ll display some of my south bay memorabilia, decoys etc. For now I’ll keep buying new tarps to keep it dry.

I truly miss the Great South Bay and don’t get up there as much as I would like. Florida has nice winters but summers are steamy hot and we hide in the AC like Long Islanders hide near their stoves in winter.

I would rather be back on the bay drifting across the flats behind East & West Fire Island, eating a raw clam with ketchup and an ice cold Bud, the way life should be with my trusty lab Chally, named after the old watchman at the East Islip Anglers boat club that we called home port for so many great years.

Love that place and wish I could still afford to live on Long Island. Anyway it was the best place I can think of to grow up.

About the middle picture above...
Brud Skidmore co-owner/builder of the ''Broad-bill 2'' pictured above
also owned the East Islip lumber yard during the 50's & 60's, so they had a good supply of lumber to build what ever they wanted.

The guy below in the shot is Wally Willrick Jr. also co-builder on the boat. He later inherited the Broad-bill after Sr's passing and made it into a convertible after bringing the boat down to Florida in the early 80's.

Wally Jr. is a craftsman of all things wood and in these guys days they were some of the best bay men, duck hunters, and fishermen on the South shore. They all were long time members of the Sportsman's gun club.

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May 24, 2014
As time goes by NEW
by: Bill Riley

I lived in Bayport now in Phoenix Az........Thank you for bring me back to the "good ole day"...Yes, I remember the green and grey painted garveys on the bay the early morning clammers. My cousin build his own garvey and fished and hunted on the bay for many years. We would fish for blues and stripers using the tides as our guide. Time may go by but I will never forget the many happy days my garvey has given me..........

May 19, 2014
clamming history record NEW
by: Rich Scheffer

I lived in Blue Point clammed from 64 to 1980, then I moved south to florida. I never lost my love for the Great South Bay, nor my connection with many of my old clammer friends. In my search for internet information on the bay I found two pioneering efforts to preserve our past. This fine site and Steve Kuhn's "Clam power" site. Quite by accident I found third. This is the Woodenboat forum thread "Life of a clamdigger, Long Island 1972". It is chock full of old pictures and stories from the Great South Bay "Glory Days" Check it out!, get involved, dig out some of those old pictures, post them! Rich

Sep 17, 2013
sayville,,browns river
by: bobbyc

OH YEA,, SAYVILLE,GREAT SOUTH BAY,,,I USE TO RAKE TO GET BEER MONEY AND HEAD OVER TO DAVIS PARK BARRET BEACH,,,,500CT,,19.00..WOW BOUGHT MERC 150 FROM MATT KENNEDY ,,FOR 1000,,,,TOWER OF POWER,,,,,

musha_cay_dog@yahoo.com

Sep 15, 2013
Sea Ducks on the Bay
by: Raymond Hansen

They came in like "buzz bombs" and could seem to find my silhouette decoys by duck radar or something. By the time we got home Bobby had to peel his Wincheter Model 12 out of the gun case as did I my awful Stevens side by side double. We cleaned them in the bath tub disassembled in hot soapy water with fine steel wool. Rinsed them in hot water , dried,re-oiled and assembled. I made a new stock for Bobs Winchester of good walnut and Bob had a good gunsmith in Texas re blue it via the old hot salt method. Visiting him in 1989 he pulled it from his gun cabinet looking like it came out of the Winchester custom shop,even my old stock refinished to perfection.

Apr 23, 2013
........You Got'em.......
by: Frank

That was the call. I ran a tong boat out of East Islip in the 70's, worked mainly between west channel and range channel. Remember thinking I wouldn't do anything else for a livin. Raised a family in Bohemia, live in Emerald Isle NC now and still get out and tong a few around Swansboro for our table. There was a tonger from Bohemia named Bennie Serveld that was older than I and I want to say I totally respected that man.
.....Wondering if the Bay Bum is still steaming, hello Frank Sloup........

Editor's note added June 10, 2013: Yes, the Bay Bum is still steaming and still run by Frank Sloup. Amazing, right?

Mar 23, 2013
Fisherman On The Great South Bay
by: M.Horn

I'm the decendant of a family named Schienke.They lived in Islip before early 1900's.He came from West Prussia around the 1870's.Married and had several children.They owned a hotel,named the "The Great South Bay Motel.Samuel Schienke,(propietor)his daughter,Emma was a bartender for him.
Most of his time although as a fisherman,would frequent the Great South Bay.
My dad and I did the research for 5 years through Ancestry.com and also old newspaper archives.
Anyway,the schooner was named the "The Mary S".Once in newspaper article,in 1899 caught a seal that came from Fire Island in his fishing nets.
Would love to know more on the history of how my family that came from Germany and to see photos of my Great,Great,Grandpa fishing on the Great South Bay.
The lived on 122 Maple Road with a few buildings today still stand today.Islip's historical society has provided the property that outlines where they had lived.I'm now at a dead end with no photographs of the Schienke Family or the motel.Also no history of the "The Mary S".

Aug 10, 2012
Clammers of the 1940's
by: Richard E. Kurdt

My father had a garvey built by Johnny Becker on S.Ketcham ave. Amityville NY it was overboard in 1944 or 45 she was 32' and I believe it was the first tunnel drive on LI I remember when a bushel of littlenecks was 4.50 a bushel and it consisted of
700-750 clams I started digging when I was ten so it was the summer of 46 that I began I wonder how many baymen are left as most of the diggers I knew as a kid were all vets of WW11.The Bay constable was
a man named Joe Trune I am not sure of the spelling but he ran a lap streak skiff and he was amazed that dads boat was faster than his. Dads was powered by a Chrysler crown engine. The whole boat cost I believe $2800 and the decks were fir countersunk brass screws then wood pegged. She was bought by Robert Searfoss of Lindenhurst who owned it for a lot of years.I repected Mr.&Mrs. Searfoss my whole life. He will always be remembered by this ex-bayman.

Apr 14, 2012
Intersting link about clam boats
by: Anonymous

Some of you might find this interesting.
http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?125664-The-Life-of-a-Clam-Digger-(1972-Long-Island)

Apr 10, 2012
Whistle'n Crixie
by: Anonymous


Cool site. .

My name is Mike Spahr and I just bought a 1979 16' all white cedat garvey. I'm so excited to get into the back bays of Westcreek NJ (where garveys were first made)and hammer the blue claw with a nice cold one! She's been in a barn for 16 years and I was finally able, after a year of persistance, to convince the old farmer to sell her to me.She was built in Beach Haven NJ back in 79. Theres nothing like a garvey. Old, wooden, and filled with history and character. I'm proud to say I own a one!

16'
jersey white cedar
bikini & blue ice (pettit paint)
25xd Merc Tiller

Mar 25, 2012
To Matt Kennedy
by: Anonymous

Matt. My name is Tom Gariepy. I'm sitting here with my girlfriend, caroline oakley, looking through this website. She said that you and her father, clyde oakley, were good friends. I'm a commercial fisherman on Long Island. I gillnet offshore 6 months of the year, run a partyboat in the summer months, and commerical rod and reel fish in between. Itd be easier to get a regular 9 to 5 job, but you know how it is, you can't beat the freedom of this lifestyle.

Mar 12, 2012
19 foot Garvey
by: Anonymous

I have a 19 foot Garvey (glass over plywood) that I was building until I had a bad skin reaction to the epoxie I was using. The boat is 90% done and is located in Tarpon Springs Florida. I am a master carpenter and was building the boat as a weekend project. It is built with the finest materials and to the highest standards. Contact me at rbjenkins60@aol.com if you are interested in buying it. PS It's NOT cheep!

Mar 02, 2012
Great South Bay
by: jeff

Grew up in N. Babylon and mostly raked (a little tonging for 2 years) and treaded the flats of the GSB off Babylon and W.Islip from mid seventies to early eighties on an absolute POS boat. GREAT TIMES that I look back on fondly...allot of us were kids, but worked our tails off and made decent money (I out earned my Dad many days and he worked for the LIRR). Over 50 now but still have rocks for forearms from those days....In my opinion it was primarily greed that killed the GSB... clammers pressured NYSDEC for years to open the "cove" to digging (it was off limits due to contamination/run off from the mainland). I still remember the first summer day they did so; you could almost step from deck to deck all the way from Babylon dock to the Robert Moses Bridge in the "cove"! Clams were thick as gravel in there and everone was doing multi-count bags. Price started in the AM from previous day $36/count and by late afternoon was below $20. Was it worth it??? Profits were not that much greater due to supply and demand and we effectively destroyed the seed beds of the entire bay in a matter of weeks. Also remember cutting holds in the ice in the winter to dig. Those were the days!

Mar 02, 2012
Good Old Days
by: Henry Marcley

Tom, your video brought back some good memories. You caught a shot of one of my garvies. It is the white one with the oak decks and a 135hp merc at the W. Sayville marina. I remember the time when a bushel an hour was the norm. I live in Blue Point now, and see some baymen doing three to four count bags. My wife and I go out and scratch rake enough to eat. I am 68 now and my body will not let me pull the old jerk rake any more. I remember a lot of the old Dutchmen from Harry's Marina and W. Sayville marina. I remember your uncles boat. I think it was the "Special K". I could go on forever. Live in Port Orange Fl. in winter. Thanks again. I remember you now that I have seen your pix. Never Knew your name.

Feb 14, 2012
building a garvey
by: Allan Horton

OK - I'm nominally in charge of a homesteaders' museum boatyard in Sarasota County, Fl. We build replica wooden boats of the pioneer era - late 19th to early 20th Century. We have a 23-ft, two-masted sailing sharpie (looks like a New Haven, but she came from a Cedar Key, Fl. boat recorded by Chapelle); and a 23-ft "picnic" boat we built from an ancient photograph (all we had to work from), powered by a Yanmar 3GM diesel, currently being renovated in our home-built shed.

We need a working yard boat and have decided on a 14-16 ft garvey as our first choice. She'll be glassed over marine ply 'cause she'll get rough use and we have a lot of unmarked oyster bars here. We'll use a donated 5hp Nissan OB until we can afford better (which won't be soon). WoodenBoat wants $400 for plans, which we can't afford.
MAL
Anyone have any bright ideas how to get this designed?

Dec 30, 2011
Don't Pull Up Your Rake...Until It's Full
by: Mark Reino


What great stories! I tripped over this site while looking online; hoping to find boat plans for a Volker decked Garvey I want to build. Perfect for use here in South Carolina, for shrimp and crabs. So many of those boats were out there once. Now... all gone. In 1968 when I was 14, me and my friend Charlie started by donkey raking off the small beach next to W. Islip Marina. That winter, we bought a sunken homemade decked over "POS" 16' Garvey frozen in the ice. We "repaired" it, worked Islip & Babylon until we got a slip at Bay Shore Marina, early in the spring of '69. We saved enough by summer to purchase a new 16' open Garvey, and few months later, a new 40hp Evinrude for $550.00. By summer's end we separated partnership, not friendship. Charlie bought me out of our rig, I bought a new 18' Garvey from a "backyard builder" named Kelley somewhere out on the Island, Bayport I think. It leaked from day one. Clams were so plentiful back then. The bay was dotted with boats of all sizes. Put in the time and work hard, you could make more money than the average adult! In 1968-69 we were digging 72lb bushels of top necks at $10-$12 each. Good money at the time. A full day for us was 2-3 bags of hard bottom top necks using 16-22 short tooth rakes. Good work for young bodies with hard muscles. I remember watching some "lifers" pull 26's and thinking how tough this old salt must be. Staying off his drift was probably a good idea. Mud was easier work with a long tooth 18 or 20. Ebony black clams with thin shells that broke easily and lots of cherries and chowders came from there. Unlike working in the later years, you kept pulling until the rake was full. I’ll never forget the feel of a full rake. Like shaking a hundred marbles in a cardboard box on the business end. What a rush when you hit a honey hole! If GPS was around then, instead of a Clorox bottle marker that was gone by the next day, we'd-a-bin truly dangerous. Time marches on...In 1970, I made enough to buy a car, left home, school and eventually the state. I moved back to the Island from Virginia in '80 and began digging again with another lifelong buddy Tom, who actually lives a couple miles from me now in SC. Clamming in the '80's paled in comparison to the heyday of the 60's. Like all good things, it came to an end. As Tom, Charlie, me and another neighborhood friend began clamming together; Tom was the only one who continued full time until the late 80’s. My wife of 30+ years who is from Virginia and I, married in NY in Feb ‘81. She had difficulty tolerating the cold, so with a bit of sadness, I left the Bayman's life again, sold my boat and headed back south that year…and stayed. I've been through good and bad times, and blessed in so many ways, but no thought brings a smile to my face as quickly, as those of my days spent on the Great South Bay!

Feb 23, 2011
former bayman from sayville li ny from 1967 till 1982 and the to florida.
by: Anonymous

My name is matt kennedy and I was told to go to this site by another old clamdigger. I have lifelong memories of working the great south bay for clams and scallops and oysters on the north shore. these were the glory days fellas, I know youre still out there remember!! cash money, plenty of good working muscles, and a long line of beautiful ladies !!! yes sir!! I am presently in Iraq working for a security company, thats all I can say about that. My uncle george was a tonger out of west sayville. There is never a day that goes buy that I dont think back about the glory days on the bay , ! gentalmen I am positive you know what I mean. I visit my mother up in sayville every 2 yrs. HaH HaH guess what? I still live in florida and I have a chinnanique garvey in the water tied up behind my house. I have to be working here in Iraq due to the economy in the usa!! Craig claussen and Tom serveld I remember you both , how are things with you both. ?? I have skype and am able to call the usa cheap lets talk!! Its been forever. Heres my email, rmattkennedy@gmail.com

Feb 13, 2011
Yo Jay
by: Anonymous

Yo Jay! Steve Leonard here (peugeot). Nice article. Definitely make a bar out of it.
Let me help ya!
Drop me a line on my facebook. Might come down for the next shuttle launch, so give me a holler.

Feb 05, 2011
Garvey Clam Boat
by: John Mucciolo

does anyone have apicture of this boat. My brother had one made by "The Swede" in his garage. It was 14' or 16' foot with a console toward the stern. A squared off front. And he put a 40 Evinrude on it. East Islip. Who is the Swede and what does the boat look like? Around 1966.

Jan 17, 2011
The Good Old Days !
by: Tom Seerveld

I too remember the good old days on the bay. I grew up in West Sayville, worked on the bay until 1985. Started out raking then went to tonging. I had one of the fiberglass boats out of West Sayville. My uncle owned the Village Fish Market in Sayville. Ck. out Youtube - Life of a Clam Digger. That was my senior report. A lot of great memories.




Great video, Tom. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. -Bill Drago


Jul 08, 2010
My Heart Aches..continued
by: Rich Strauss

CONTINUED......Our boat took us everywhere, including the very west end of the Great South Bay. Running through the little bridge in Freeport the Bay would suddenly open up to us like in a dream. I was so impressed how big it was, how flat , how calm, only being used to the channels and Jones Inlet of my area. My dad taught us about the eel grass that was everywhere, and at times in our prop. I especially was impressed as a kid, running past the bay shacks that are still around today, and wanting to live all summer in a bay shack. Thats also where I fell in love with the Garvey the first time I saw one. A Garvey tied to a dock at a Long Island bay shack. Is there anything more beautiful? Not to me as a kid who will never grow up . Some guys still run garveys in Freeport. Traditional Garveys, wood, in pristine condition tied to very nice docks with million dollar homes behind them. There were also a few in the main channel in Freeport, a few houses out from Guy Lombardo's house. These were kept recreationaly by Freeport boys my age, 50 years and counting, who's grandfathers were the famous Rum Runners of the day. These garveys had 250 plus outboards on them. They had a home made tiller and a throttle mounted on the gunnel. Incredible boats. I can't imagine the thrill of opening one of those boats up on the glassy waters of the high tide mud flats. I am so happy to see them all alive and in use in any capacity, pristine, hot rod or waterman use. I have seen a few wood garveys in use by watermen , but they are becoming more and more rare. A friend who works the water out of Freeport has an old 19 foot Boston Whaler that was stripped out and beefed up, a great boat for his work, which I can understand fiberglass being easier to maintain than a wood garvey, and the Carolina Skiff being the now "off the shelf" boat for the waterman, but there's just something so special about the wood garvey being used as she was meant to, on the Long Island waters, to me anyhow.
I have been very lucky these many years in that I have always had a place to return to on Long Island to visit and enjoy the water like in the old days. My folks still have the house I grew up in since the 50's. I Live in Virginia since 1985, but return "home" and fish and hunt the waters, and sometimes just mess around in boats kind of like we used to. My son and I fish. We even drag a sein net and catch our spearing and killies, to catch our flatties, keeping those traditions, and they are simply the best of times. Another marsh rat in the making, imagine that!
Well, thanks for listening to me ramble on and on. Long live the Long Island waters and traditions.

Jul 08, 2010
My Heart Aches
by: Rich Strauss

... My heart aches for the old times on Long Island waters. I grew up a bit west of you guys. I was a teenager in the 70's and from age 13 through High School, ran boats all through out the marshes of Freeport, Baldwin, chancing Jones Inlet on calm days. As marsh rats, we'd clam and fish, crab and when someone would take us, we'd eel too. My brother had a good friend who's family went back into the 1700's who kept up the traditions of following the water, not as their income as in the past generations, but as their summer recreation. The Carmen's of Baldwin, Don taught my brother and he taught me how to jack for eels and many other ways of Long Island waters. Anytime spent on the bay was simply great and to learn a few of the old tricks, better yet. Dad bought an 18 foot Old Town boat as salvage one spring, from Scotties in Point Lookout for $125. It was rolled in the surf in Jones Inlet, Dad said someone drowned and it was kinda spooky as a kid for me to want to like a boat with a history as that, but within the first 5 minutes of zooming in it on the water, all creepiness vanished in the wake. As a family we worked on that boat for months scraping paint, then painting it the color " Buff" and the sides " Sky Blue " cause thats the traditional colors of boats that my Dad remembered as a kid. His family had a summer bungalow at the foot of the Atlantic Beach Bridge and he spent his summers with a small wood boat and a cranky outboard selling soda to fishermen. Working on the Old Town half this summer, Dad steamed strips of oak slats and bent them on his knee, and my brother and he bolted them next to the broken ribs and called them " sister ribs" like an old boat carpenter taught him...and they worked. We also 'caulked" the lapstreak seams with this new rubbery stuff called Thyocol that was developed from the space program. My Dad told me that and I pretended our boat was also a rocket ship, ha kid's imagination. Dad bought an old 50 hp Evinrude that had to be started by squirting a little gas into the carburator on a cold start with an old pump oil can. Hey, it worked and we were on the water. That old engine drank gas by the gallon. No windshield, just an old piece of waxed tarp, I remember that smell to this day, to pull up as we hit waves and got drenched, Dad at the helm, head to tow dripping with sea water and happy as a Long Island Clam. Best of family times, happy times that boat and those waters gave us....CONTINUED

Jul 01, 2010
remembrance
by: Anonymous

I grew up in East Islip. From a very young age I remember going to the "Great River" often to bring home a basket of blue crabs with my brothers and friends. We bought our bait from Pat's deli, tied it to a line, and for hours hauled in blues. When the snappers were running we hauled in large numbers of these also. Whenever we were on the water as youngsters we always clammed and likewise filled our buckets to take home. Fishing, crabbing, clamming, boating and sailing...we did it all. What a lucky childhood we had.

Nov 14, 2009
Shack
by: Mike Bell

I am a member of the East Islip Anglers Club for over 20 years. Its great to hear stories of the old baymen. Very few left today, about 2 or 3 guys left. The old shack from the lumber yard was moved to the present site, its been added to over the years. Still the best club around with a lot of great history.

Jul 30, 2009
Great Story
by: Joe Nielsen

My father was a clammer, he had 3 sons who went out with him on his 22' Volker built Garvey. Had a slip at the East Islip Marina for years then over to Champlain Creek and finished up at the Islip town Dock. Can't believe no more clams... A life lost. Sure wish I could make the cut between east and west island one more time.

Jun 27, 2009
How things have changed...
by: Bill Drago

This is a wonderful story. It always amazes me how things have changed in what seems like such a short period of time.

I was a teenager in the '70s and back then the '50s seemed like forever-ago. But there were still a lot of baymen, duck hunters, wooden boats, etc. around and I didn't really notice or appreciate the changes taking place.

Here we are 60 years later (hard to believe it's more then half a century) and I still can't get a grip on how different things are now and, I wonder what then next half-century will bring.

Jun 26, 2009
Garvey Guy
by: judy delaney

We who grew up on the Great South Bay, are related in a way, as we enjoyed the bounty to be had. I could just see your boats, and taste the clams. As a Blue Point girl, I know how you feel in your reminisence.

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