Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Trip to Saltaire in the 1960's

A Common Sight on the way across the Bay.

The following notes in italics were added by editors, not by Cosmo:

Contributor Beaver recalls

Robin Torrey and his family were one of the most memorable and beloved families that has passed through my life - either in Saltaire or across the bay in America. From the first time my family met the Torrey's(when their rented boat sank in a storm one night in '58 or '59) till the last time I saw Robin at one of my parents memorial service @ St Andrews.

Seeing Cosmo's posting of the GSB clammer reminded me of the summers that Robin was going to strike it rich digging clams. Early mornings when Capt Al would run the Islander across the bay we'd see over 100 clam boats plying the waters of the bay in search of clams. We'd leave Bayshore at around 10:20am for the trip back to Saltaire arriving around 10:45-11:00(depending on whether we'd have to stop @ Kismet). Entering the Saltaire marina we'd normally encounter Robin who, half asleep, would be heading north to the clamming grounds off Bayshore to ply his chosen trade. He'd normally be sitting in the boat strumming his guitar and steering the boat with his feet. Skinner's normal comment would be "look at that God Damn guy - any clammer worth his salt would have his day's pay dug by now and be on his way in - and what's he expecting to do with that guitar - serenade the clams to the surface and scap them in with a net?" Whenever I see the reruns of Forrest Gump on his shrimp boat and the guy says to him "if you caught a few more shrimp you could have a shrimp cocktail" I think of Robin.

JOH responds: Beaver: Your writing is improving. You end with "I think of Robin." Is that like "I think of Dean Moriarty?? (click "comments" below for the exact quote)

April 8: More on the history of Clamming in the Bay from the Beaver:

Here goes -

Clamming on Great South Bay

Clamming and the shellfish trade in general(oysters/scallops) was a major industry on the Great South Bay until the early 1970's when the industry essentially collapsed. The reasons for the collapse can generally be attributed to pollution(run-off from commercial/residential land on the south shore), the brown tide(algae), and lack of sufficient flushing of the bay eco-system by water flow from the ocean.

The South Shore of LI was through the early 1900's one of the prime area's for harvesting oysters(the famous Blue Point Oyster for example). That industry, as a result of pollution, had largely collapsed by the end of WWII. Up until the early 1970's the waters of Great South Bay provided upwards of 700,000 bushels of hard clams which in turn supplied over 50% of the nationwide demand for these tasty bi-valves. Through the mid to late 60's it was not uncommon to see upwards of 100 clammers working the waters off of BayShore. A competent clammer, if I remember Capt Al's teachings, could harvest at least five to six bushels of clams a day. I think little neck and/or cherrystones would bring $10-15 or more a bushel in those days. It was a great way for High School and College kids to make a buck during the summer - although backbreaking work for those that did it year round in any sort of weather. Trucks from the city fish markets would line up on the end of Maple Avenue early each afternoon to buy the "catch" as the clammers came in

Clamming is essentially a forgotten pastime for VOS residents today. Many of the newer residents of the village wouldn't know what a clam was if you threw one at them and hit them in the head with it. I'm sure today you could convince these same people that clams are caught by using fishing poles with shiners as bait. As youths it was common to wade into the shallow waters nearly anywhere off the bay beach or Coffey Point and within a short time have "treaded" enough clams to make either clams on the half shell, clams casino, baked clams, or clam chowder. Also common, in Clam Pond Cove were succulent scallops. I remember every Fall Mrs. Torrey basically sweeping the bay bottom of the cove "clean" of scallops which she then shucked, put in Tupperware containers and then froze - providing the meatless Friday fare to Father Torrey, the Clam King(Robin), Kenny, Raymond, Brucie, and herself. In actual fact maybe it wasn't the pollution that led to the demise of scalloping in the Cove - maybe it was Mrs. Torrey.

Thanx, Beav. More comments below. Add your own, everybody

The Gateway to Saltaire.Awaiting the Flyer at the Bay Shore Dock.

From Beaver's History of the Bay, (continued)

The Fire Island Flyer actually was NOT a rumrunner in the true sense of the word. She was built in the Consolidated Shipyard somewhere in NJ with the intent for her to run rum - I remember Capt Al, a rumrunner himself, saying that she was supposed to be the "Queen of the Rumrunners" - She was 65' long and was supposed to have 3 Liberty airplane engines(about 400hp apiece). She would have been quite fast for her time - however Prohibition was repealed before she ever ran a case of rum. Capt Patterson bought the hull in the late 40's early 50's, turned her into a ferry and the rest is history. I believe they sunk her in the vicinity of Jones Inlet(also the resting place for the Fire Islander) as a fishing reef. I think though that she "broke up" after being sunk.


Beaver adds:

"I know that Derf has expressed affection for both the water Taxi Socks and the original Fire Island Flyer"

The Socks had, originally, been a 38' Chris Craft commuter(an original restored sister ship used to anchor off of the lighthouse dock in the early 60's). Socks was at some point converted to a water taxi. She was owned by Dick Gunther who purchased her after his original water taxi lapstreak skiff was rammed and sunk one night off West Island by some drunk in a boat coming out of Kismet. Next Socks sstory - I remember getting so drunk at Gils one night with John Glascock that we couldn't find our car and ended up sleeping on the Socks. Anyway, after Gunther gave up the taxi business she was purchased by some guy named Frank "Monkey" Mina. He extensively refurbished her and in the years he owned her probably never took her out on the bay. When Frank eventually sold it the boat left the greater Bay Shore area. Eventually a former F.I. Ferries captain named Will Brogan purchased her. At some point in the past 15 years she changed hands again and according to Frank Mina she is somewhere out in eastern Long Island.

The Fire Island Flyer - During the time that I worked as a feryboat captain I had three memorable trips on the Flyer
  1. One Sunday afternoon coming out of I think Fair Harbor I was diverted to Kismet to pick up an overflow crowd that the main boat couldn't handle. The old wooden boats weren't the dependable marvels that the new steel boats are today. The center engine was a "pusher" - no gear box so you'd shut it down approaching a dock the port and starboard engines had throttles that had what they call "stops" on them - essentially the stop was a pin installed in the throttle assembly that prevented you from pulling the throttle back past the stop thus stalling the engine. Well, unbekwonst to me no one told me that the stops were broken. As I approached the dock I pulled the throttles back(unwittingly past the stops), the engines all stalled and "Baboom" I hit the dock hard splintering and breaking a hole in the "gunnel" on the port side. Shaken, by this crash I had to have Capt Patterson, who sitting on the porch of his house in Kismet, had witnessed the crash landing of The Flyer. Beaver later added to this story: " After I slammed the Flyer into the dock that day, I was too shaky to run the boat on my own and Capt. Patterson ran it back to Bay Shore for me".
  2. One extremely foggy saturday morning I was taking a trip out of Saltaire/Kismet - at the time the radar sets on the ferries were less than dependable(i.e. most of the time they were broken). I didn't realize it at the time but the deckhand had placed a metal squeegee behind the compass so that when I pulled out of Kismet the compass disk just started spinning like a record on a record player. I was immediately lost in "pea soup" fog. Not knowing where I was, other than somewhere immediately north of Kismet, I ran hard aground on Farm Shoals. At that point I noticed the squeegee, removed it and the compass stopped spinning. Much to my surprise I was able to extract the boat off Farm Shoal and then proceeded to Bay Shore.
  3. Fire on the Fire Island Flyer - one sunday afternoon I ran a trip out of Ocean Beach - it was a full boat(117 people +2 deckhands). While running down the east way I smelled burning wood, I noticed an inordinate amount of smoke emanating from the center "dry" exhaust(which vented through the top of the cabin midship). I sent the deckhand to check, coining the old adage that "where there's smoke there's usually fire" he came back to inform me that yes the boat was on fire. I asked him to very quietly take the fire extinguishers(being carefull to not alarm the 117 passengers and causing a replay of the General Slocum tragedy) and attempt to extinguish the fire. This was done, I shut down the center engine and eventually got to bayshore with none of the passengers any much the wiser.

Running those old wooden boats was much more of an adventure than the current steel boats. Talking with George Hafele (the recently retired president of FIFI) he said "Gee Beav, it's not the same today as running the boats when you worked here, today they won't let you run them while you're drunk"

Looks like Derf is not the only Flyer Lover...Cosmo O describes this trip across the bay.

I recall a Friday afternoon in September or October. I was late and missed the One o'clock and the next ferry wasn't scheduled to leave until 4:30. Resigned to a long wait I retired to the bar at Porgie's for a few beers. Shortly thereafter, Warren (whose last name I do not recall) walked in and said hello. I described my predicament and he said that he was going across for a scheduled run back from FI, and offered to take me across. I grabbed a couple of extra beers and the two of us took off on the Fire Island Flyer. We were having a grand old time in that little wheelhouse, drinking beers and whatnot.....Well it turned out that there were storm conditions on the Bay. The winds had to be blowing in excess of 40 mph and the waves were quite large. The Flyer would rock all the way back and forth, with the gunnels hitting the water on either side. The only way I could stand without being thrown to the deck was to stand in the little wheelhouse with my hands pressed against the walls. Warren mentioned that his only worry was the Flyer getting either caught between two waves or on top of a wave, which he claimed could cause the boat to twist in two pieces and quickly sink to the bottom.

We made it to Fair Harbor and picked up a group of passengers and proceeded to Saltaire. Warren told me to get up on the bow and jump on to the dock when he got close enough. I successfully made it on to the dock and Warren left for Bay Shore. I don't think he found out until he was half way to Bay Shore that there were about a dozen people on the Saltaire dock waiting to return to the Mainland he had left behind. They asked me when I got off what was going on, but I just shrugged and walked off.

Our resident Fire Island Ferry expert, Beaver responds:

Cosmo it could only have been Warren Bonavia, the old Flyer was Warren's favorite boat.

The best Warren Bonavia story I recall is as follows - Warren was running the old Firebird to Fair Harbor one Friday night - I don't remember if I was going to the beach or coming back but..........we're tied up by the spring line to the slip in FH - there's two people that were saying goodbye (one going and one staying) - the one staying couldn't tear themselves away from the person leaving - Warren yells "last call all aboard those that are leaving all ashore those that are staying" He's now running late and he tells the deckhand to shut the gate. He throws the engines into reverse and starts to pull away from the dock. The guy that had been saying goodbye to his friend is still on the boat. He yells to Warren "What am I supposed to do now, how can I get back to Fair Harbor?" Warren responds "For all I care you can jump overboard and swim to FH" At which point Mel Brooks, who's in a seat up forward ,stands on top of his seat, starts waving his arms in the air and screaming "Jump! Jump!" At Mel's prompting the people on the boat start yelling "Jump Jump" The guy is getting antsy by this point and he asks Warren what should he do to which Bonavia responds "I don't care if you swim back to Fair Harbor we're going to Bay Shore" The guy puts his glasses on the deck and jumps overboard to the cheers of Mel Brooks and the crowd, He's in the water and yells to Warren "Hey, what about my glasses" Warren picks them up, throws them in the guys direction and says, "Here Catch"

The Saltaire Market c. 1960


Thanks, Cosmo for Great Pictures that started great postings, particularly from Beaver.

More postings on this subject or any others always welcome at


JOH said...

These are fine pictures, Cosmo.

Could someone chip in and leave a note about how the Fire Island Flyer was a rumrunner.

Can someone else explain to thouse too young to remember clam boats in teh bay????

jimmy said...

No, I didn't say this. You know who did: in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty, I think of Dean Moriarty.

Anonymous said...


With the reference to Dean Moriarity do you mean to infer that Robin Torrey is a bum/hobo/vagrant??

JOH said...

Dean Moriarty was one of "the best minds of my generation" (who said that???).

Anonymous said...

Dean Moriarity quote attributed to Lenny McGahey

COSMO said...

Cosmo says - I didn't realize that you could catch clams on rod and reel. I thought you caught them in a net

JOH said...

Robin thought you could catch them with a guitar

Anonymous said...

One of the other lines that Capt Al used to come up with when referring to Robin "The Clam King" Torrey was that

"his best plan would be to wait until a full moon - on the full moon the clams all "school up like fish" and swim to the surface - when they do that all he needs to do is "scap them up in a big net"

cosmo said...

I want to know who is posting comments under my name and without my permission. Who's running this blog anyway?

JOH said...

DERF and JOH run the blog and are Editors. You are a treasured contributor. We could not do it without you.

WE liked your posting so much because it caused others to comment and put up more stories. That is how we envision the blog to work. We are not interested in any one person's point of view when we can elicit ideas from the whole blogosphere.
The comments you seem to be objecting to are by Beaver and JOH and they were inspired by your fine reporting. They were posted by editorial decision.
They make you look good. They make the blog work.

Now write us some more good stuff and get more neat pictures and we will all be happy.



BEAVER said...

Cosmo strikes again -

The best way to catch clams on rod and reel is to troll for them using umbrella rigs(that way you can catch upwards of six at a time)

BEAVER said...

A "Mina" correction on the Fire Island Flyer story - My memory of the Flyer's construction was from the mouth of Al Skinner who said she was powered by 3 WWI surplus Liberty engines. Frank says in fact she was to have 5 engines - 4 Liberty's totaling 1600HP and a small "quiet" engine to be used to slip past patrol boats. Her design speed according to Frank was over 60 knots(that's over 70mph)

Rich G said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.