John Remsen of Freeport is one of the few men on Long Island who builds
garveys, a traditional flat bottom boat used by baymen and recreational
fishermen in the shallow south shore waters of Nassau and Suffolk County.
During his lifetime he has built over 100 garveys. Like the generations
before him, John has spent his whole life maintaining a traditional way
John was born in Freeport in 1933, the son and grandson of fishermen and
baymen. As a young boy he helped his great grandfather Alanson Ellison
go haul-seining on the ocean, before it was outlawed in 1942. He also
went duck hunting, trapped killeys and crabs, and fished for fluke and
flounder. John spent countless hours at the family's bay house, eventually
building his own with his mother Ruth Remsen and Alanson in 1954.
When asked why he started building garveys John replied "It was a need
and a want that resulted in building a boat." Until the 1960s the garveys
were made of cedar planks and green oak. In order to build the boats they
air-dried the cedar at home. They also planed and sawed the edges of the
planks. The oak ribs were bent with steam. It took 1 hour per inch to
steam the green oak. They would put a pipe in a fire made from the sawed
edges that would expel steam onto the oak that was placed in a steam box.
Each oak rib was approximately 1_"x 5" times the length of the boat, typically
15 - 16-feet long. Only green oak was used because dried oak would crack.
Today John uses forms and patterns that he has made. He has made 20 -
30 patterns. Fiberglass is used today because it is faster to build the
boat. He started using fiberglass in the 1960s. As a result the boat is
lighter, and can be put on a trailer. The boat also does not have to be
Like other tradition bearers, John has passed his skills and knowledge
to his children and grandchildren. John Remsen Jr. works on the bay part-time
trapping killeys for local bait shops. John Sr. also owns a dragger boat,
the Miss Renee, which is docked behind his house. Both father and son
participate in LI Traditions maritime education programs and festivals,
hosting visitors at their family's bay house. John and his wife Grace
are also active in supporting the preservation of maritime culture in
Freeport, volunteering for Splash, a local environmental organization,
and the "Seaport at Freeport." We look forward to many more years of their
tireless efforts in preserving the maritime traditions of the south shore.