After a lifetime of hard work, it must be nice to retire to a cozy spot on the Mystic River, close to the center of town, watching boats and tourists mosey by all day long.
Such is the happy fate on Anne (pronounced “Annie”), a 19th-century oystering sloop that also hauled goods, animal waste, and everything in between, from one end of Long Island Sound to the other. Lovingly restored and kitted-out for pleasure-boating, Anne now plies those same waters, under the command of Geoffrey Jones of Mystic.
“She’s a real pleasure. When you’re in a harbor, she handles like a launch, and when you’re in open water, she acts like a much bigger boat,” said Jones, who worked on restoring Anne with his father, and Anne’s current owner, Stephen Jones, of West Mystic Wooden Boat Co.
Now docked at Schooner’s Wharf, she has been through several owner-captains, as one might expect, since she was built in Smithtown, N.Y., on the North Shore of Long Island, back in 1884. They include Tom Jonke, an oar-maker at the Mystic Seaport, who began most of the boat’s major restorations (hull, deck, and cap rails) during the 1990s, and two generations of Malloys, oystermen out of Greenport, N.Y., who worked the waters of Long Island Sound for much of the 20th century.
Technically, all 48 feet and 16 tons of Anne’s oak, hard pine, cypress and angelique (a teak-like hardwood) belong to the estate of an anonymous, 19th century swell from New York who owned property in Smithtown, including a swampy, white oak forest.
A nearby general store owner, many of whose customers owed him money, was looking for an easy way to transport goods from New York in those horse-and-buggy, pre-Long Island Expressway days. He struck a deal with his debt-crunched customers: if they would build him a boat, he would tear-up their tabs.
Lacking materials, but not moxie, the customers took the store owner’s suggestion to pilfer the lumber from the oak forest, figuring they could get the job done before the landowner showed up in the spring. It actually took them two years to complete, during which time they covered Anne’s emerging hull with leaves, which not only hid her from view, but kept her from drying out. They even fashioned wooden pegs (treenails, or trunnels as shipbuilders call them) from nearby locust trees to bind her planks to her hull. Capt.
Lawrence Malloy Sr. assured Stephen Jones — a friend of the family — during the 1960s that these original treenails still held many of the ship’s planks in place. As her 16-foot-wide decks were designed to carry freight, Anne hauled all manner of products in her day, without question or complaint.
“They’d load her up with manure for one trip, then hose down her decks and load them with cabbages the next,” said the elder Jones, who observed that oyster boats like Anne share a pedigree with Hudson River sloops, which are, in turn, of Dutch origins.
“She has this big, bosomy bow, like you’d see in the canals of Holland, with the windmills and the tulips and the cheese barges,” he said. During most of the 20th century, the Malloys used her to drag for oysters in beds from Noank to the Thames River, to Gardiners Bay, N.Y.
Originally wind-driven by a gaff-rigged (trapezoidal) sail, Anne has since been powered by steam and a variety of gas engines. Today, a 6-cylinder, 200 hp John Deere diesel engine, which the Joneses installed, sits squarely in her hold — an upgrade that led to further, significant, restoration.
“We had to remove and replace the wheelhouse, which wasn’t original anyway, just to get the engine in,” said the younger Jones.
But in a pinch, he said, Anne still does nicely under sail, and has made long-haul pleasure cruises (under power), from Mystic to the waters of the Canadian border. Still, it’s nice to see the old gal finally getting the rest she deserves at Schooner’s Wharf, letting other boats do the heavy-lifting for a change, while rocking gently in their wakes as they pass her by.
Next week: the oldest commercial fishing boat in Stonington Harbor.