1949 Chris Craft, 1934 Dodge under restoration. Photo by Anthony Sorrentino
 Jay Scott with a 1949 Chris Craft and 1934 Dodge under restoration | Photo by Anthony Sorrentino

Jay Scott with a 1949 Chris Craft and 1934 Dodge under restoration | Photo by Anthony Sorrentino

A wooden boat enthusiast, refurbisher, and collector, Jay Scott, back when he was in his thirties, lived on a 41-foot Chris Craft at Manhattan’s 79th Street Boat Basin and at Liberty Landing in Jersey City. “Every time I stepped on the boat, I felt like I was leaving the city.”

In taking over Silly Lily Fishing Station in East Moriches, Scott is staying true to his big dream, and to the fishing station’s hands-on and family-friendly legacy: “It’s a celebration of the everyone-pitches-in mindset of the early 1930’s when Silly Lily first came to be”.

Clamming, fishing, sailing, kayaking, standup paddling, summer dockage, winter storage and a food truck offering crab cakes, clam chowder, fried oysters and lobster salad are all here.

In Jay Scott's boat warehouse: A 1959 Whirlwind, Chris Craft Sportsman, & a Lyman Skiff

In Jay Scott’s boat warehouse: A 1959 Whirlwind, Chris Craft Sportsman, & a Lyman Skiff

When did you realize you loved wooden boats?

Like when did magic happen? I remember that moment so well. I was sitting on the dock of my grandfather’s old place up at a little lake called Hedges Lake in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

It’s fly-fishing and open power-boat country. I was watching the water shimmering early one morning (I was waiting for my dad to finish getting the boat ready because we were going perch fishing), and I remember staring out at our mahogany boat, and in that moment I realized the boat was made out of a tree and I thought, “I’m looking at this thing that was made out of a tree. It’s in the water and somehow it floats. This is the most beautiful thing!”

1959 Whirlwind

What did you find so attractive about them?

A lot of other kids had fiberglass boats, and I thought those were cool, but there is just something about wooden boats: the way they rock in the water and how they need to be continually preserved.

And there’s this smell to them, too; when you uncover them–it’s there–it’s this sweet, sweet smell. Most of the ones at the lake were made of cedar, but sometimes you’d uncover one made of mahogany, and it had this very distinct smell, something like the scent of tropical oil.

The process of swelling old wooden boats so they can stay afloat has always been intriguing to me as well, because keeping them alive is truly an art. And so is keeping them afloat because they’re always “working” to keep the water out. A lot of this has to do with the construction of a wooden boat.

What about the construction?

There are ribs in them, just like in human beings. The ribs run throughout the boat with an outer skin that holds it all together. Everything is bolted together with silicon bronze screws and then coats of varnish on top of that, and caulking between the seams. Then, there are all these bits and pieces that have to come together and work together to keep it floating and moving.

Deck of a Chris Craft | Photo by Peter Buckingham photography

Left: Restored deck of a Chris Craft | Photo: Peter Buckingham Photography; Center: boom; Right: dodge cleat

Is there something unique about owners of wooden boats? Do you feel some deeper connection with them?

Some would say we’re boatstruck – it’s a contagious passion for the beauty of gleaming wood moving through the water. It has to do with the way their elegant hulls do this effortlessly with little vibration as the wood flexes. We see wood boats as more connected with water than fiberglass boats.

As for a deeper connection, I think owners and enthusiasts of wooden boats connect in a special way. We see ourselves as the stewards of these classics until the next person takes over. We share a common respect for the craft: how the boats were built and the intention for their use. So to us, wooden boats just make sense.

expoy-paintsTell us about restoring a wooden boat. What’s going through your mind when you’re working on one for a client?

Well, when I’m working on a restoration, I approach it with the same care and detail I would use as if I were restoring it for myself. I also want them to be used; not to become “garage queens.” After all, they were built to be used and cherished for years to come. I don’t think the builders and designers were imagining how they’d look in a garage or warehouse, right? I want my boats to have the best fasteners, wood, varnish and paint I can get my hands on. I’m constantly studying how they were constructed and what it must have been like to live in the height of the wooden boat construction era when materials and craftsmanship were plentiful and of the highest quality. Often the supplies I choose are still carefully hand crafted the way they used to be. I also look for areas where modern glues, tools and methods can improve upon the original construction plans. During the restoration process, I often find myself constantly dreaming about the end result and how the boat will move through the water, and what it will sound like under wind or power.

Jay ScottYou must feel a great sense of pride and satisfaction when the restoration is complete. 

I wouldn’t say I feel satisfied or proud, because when it comes to wooden boats, you are never really satisfied, you are more fulfilled in my opinion…for me there’s a better purpose behind the passion. When they are finished and they leave my hands, a slight nervousness takes over because I am about to send a beautifully restored boat back into the world to be used as it was originally intended. It’s important to keep wooden boats on a maintenance schedule so their value continues to increase annually. With the modern varnishes, epoxies and caulk, maintenance on a wooden boat is far less than it once was. However, they don’t have lights on the dashboard that say, “oil change”, or “varnish due” etc. They just have to be maintained on a regular schedule. In fact, one of my “children” as I call them returned to my main dock for engine service today and was carefully delivered by her recent new proud owner. “She just wouldn’t start for some reason,” he said. It turned out to be a simple fix—a case of a “loose nut behind the wheel” as they say. LOL.


How did you get drawn into your new life at Silly Lily?

Since I was a child I always knew I would own a small boatyard where I could build and restore beautiful old wooden boats. I have an appreciation for pretty much any wooden boat. Some are workboats; some are built for speed, and some are just built for beauty and grace—as a masterpiece to have at the end of your dock.

I knew I had to have a place where all of these boats could come together. And, one day, a good friend of mine approached me and said, “Why don’t we buy a yard?” It was another yard, not this one; it was a lot more money and the deal didn’t go through. Then another friend mentioned this little yard for sale out on Long Island. He said the name and I said, “I’ve been there before, when I was a kid.” I remembered a funky, cool little boatyard; I must have been twelve or thirteen years old.

Anyway, I came out to look, and when the broker brought me over, the minute I pulled in, I said, “This is the yard. This is what I’ve been waiting for.” It had that salt-of-the-earth feeling, and it felt a lot like how I grew up. It was the right scale and it had personality. It’s called Silly Lily, for Christ’s sake, and I like things that have a touch of humor to them and are a little off-kilter.

Are there places or boat shows where wooden boat enthusiasts gather?

Yes, quite a few actually. The Antique Boat Museum in the Thousand Islands—every day is like a free wooden boat parade. The Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport, Long Island Maritime Museum in Sayville, Newport RI, and the Herreshoff  Museum in Bristol RI, just to name a few. We also have the Amagansett wooden boat community at the East End Classic Boat Society right here in our backyard.

 Amorita, the famous New York 30 racing yacht, in Newport | Built: 1905 by Nathanael Herreshoff

Amorita, the famous New York 30 racing yacht, in Newport | Built: 1905 by Nathanael Herreshoff

Are there wooden boat races? Have you ever raced one?

Every year there is the Greenport Classic Boat Regatta that’s very popular. There are also several wooden boat races out of Newport and Nantucket’s famous Opera House Cup, August 21, 2016. Bristol, RI also has a very strong classic wooden boat community. I have raced in classic regattas, and to see some of the world’s most beautifully crafted yachts race is breathtaking as much as it is thrilling.

If you hadn’t bought Silly Lily, was there something else you might have done?

I may have gone to work for a fine classic yard leaving me living someone else’s dream. Therefore, I held my course and made sure I purchased an old boatyard. You only have one shot at this thing called life, right? It was my calling and my chance to evolve my biggest dream, to find the perfect little yard.

And before we sign-off, what is it that you wish people knew about life on the water?

I can only answer that from the way that I feel about the water—when I look out at it the way I’m looking at it now: it’s mesmerizing and ever-changing; it truly allows the rest of the life’s stresses to just evaporate.

There’s a unity among the people who are surrounded by water—they kind of just fit together and work together, and you find friends that you share a lot in common with. And they are the same kinds of friends and connections I had as a kid on the water. Those of us there understood it; we respected it; we loved it. The water just brought everybody together.

Jay’s suggested wooden boat links:

East End Classic Boat Society
Classic Boat News & Information: woodyboater.com
Wooden Boatworks (extraordinary wooden yachts, in Greenport)
Off Center Harbor (wooden boat advice & videos)