Frank Mina Pix
The Village of Saltaire insisted that the ferry that serviced the Village be berthed in Saltaire at night, and its captain be available at all times in case of the need for any emergency evacuations. Skinner was given a small apartment next to the ball field, in what is now part of the Fire House. Its porch opened onto right field. Hence Skinner was more than a crew member of Fire Island Ferries. He was in fact, a full time resident of the Village. A central figure in those days, besides running the Islander, Capt. Al was everybody’s favorite working class hero. An acerbic wit, a great fun time guy, raconteur of bay stories and Saltaire gossip, men would crowd into the wheelhouse of the Islander to hear his latest ramblings, and during his free hours, Villagers, men and women would often congregate at his “Shim Shack” for revelry and talk. His shack was filled with risqué pictures and years of birthday cards. And lots of shim.
Not least of all, Captain Al loved people, and loved the Saltaire kids.
The biggest gift of Captain Al to all the kids of Saltaire was his birthday party. On his tab, he would buy and ship over from Bay Shore enough watermelon to feed every kid and grownup in the Village. Everyone would show up at the field, the watermelons were sliced and there was always accordion music by Captain Al himself.
The Summer of 1969 was Captain Al’s last year with us, so 40 years after Captain Al last crossed the bay in the Islander, and last treated the whole Village to watermelon, and last sang his raunchy songs, we still honor his wonderful legacy.
We never forgot you, Captain Al.
August 1, 2009
Sene Thorp says:
I will always remember Captain Al sitting in the shack with his accordion and if you came in to honor him with a hello or a cake he would make up a song for or about you.
"Molasses, molasses, icky sticky goo; molasses, molasses it always sticks to you" was always the refrain (it started and ended every little ditty)
He sang one about my dad when I brought in my cupcakes...the verse was: "we all know Jack Thorp, he's the guy that everyone knows, and when he gets all full of beer he reminds you of a hose!"
I will never forget that!
Sene (Thorp) Bostrom
James Connolly reflects:
I worked as mate on the Fire Islander and grew to appreciate how good a sailor Captain Al Skinner was. We traveled in all kinds of weather – wind , rain and worst of all fog. Al hit every mark on the nose every time in the fog and we mates would stand on the bow staining to pick up the next nun, can or flasher. Al was always in charge and never once lost his confidence.
Al had a fondness for alcohol and his shack in the Athletic Field was nicknamed the Shim Shack. A surprising number of people frequented Al’s Shack where the gossip flowed as freely as the booze. That said, Al never missed a boat and was never impaired on the water. Al seemed to know everything about everybody which worried more than a few.
Al played the accordion with enthusiasm. There were several Al Skinner nights at the Yacht Club where he regaled the crowd with the songs he wrote such as “Bring back some of Gilly Clark’s Chowder” as well as pop tunes with unsparing lyrics about some of Saltaire’s prominent citizenry.
Al had colorful nick names for grocery items that were frequently brought on board. Most of these names don’t bear repeating. Fair to say Al concentrated on paper products of various types.
Few people knew that Al was married and worked as a toll taker on a highway in Florida over the winter. I never met his wife and know nothing about her.
Al was crotchety on most days but underneath his crusty veneer he empathized with people especially when they underwent hardships notably polio and other misfortunes.
I have some old photographs of Captain Al's watermelon party circa 1960. It was the highlight of the summer for most Saltaire kids. Includes pics of Uncle Pete carving watermelons, Gaby Thorpe, my brother John, one of the Dunseiths and others I no longer recognize. The anecdote I have of Captain Al was how he used to blow the horn on the Islander to hurry the latecomers along. Captain Al had a schedule to keep and a drink at the end of the road and he wasn't about to be denied. So when he saw some tardy person coming along he would let that horn wail (man it was loud) to hustle them along and then they would really sweat to make it. (If you look at a) a Saltaire summer ferry schedule from 1960 what's interesting about it was how few ferry runs there were in those days. Most days there were three departures / arrivals for the entire day in the middle of the summer. We concluded Captain Al didn't have too demanding a work schedule.
Cathy Bucheler Lund:
“I remember Captain Al giving me a dollar every birthday because he first brought me to Saltaire when I was 13 days old!”
--- Kathy Bucheler Lund
BUT MOST OF ALL, SKINNER IS REMEMBERED AS A PROFESSIONAL CAPTAIN, AN EXPERT SKIPPER WHO GOT US TO AND FROM SALTAIRE SAFELY FOR SO MANY YEARS.