Conklinís Dock
by Waldo Kraemer
A number of years ago, Waldo Kraemer who spent nearly all of his summers on Shelter Island in The Heights wrote his memories for the Historical Society. This short excerpt is about his activities as a child around Conklinís Dock.

     Conklinís Dock is a cherished memory. It took me at least a month to discover it and ingratiate myself with ìBenjieî Conklin, its builder. I have always understood that he had been a steward on a Cunarder. He  was not tall but very wiry, wore steel-rimmed glasses and was very trim. He ran a taut ship. A kindly man, stern on occasion, but he allowed no nonsense. He liked children, but you had to behave.  No swearing or bad language was tolerated from anyone, young or old.
    The dock was located at the turn of the road near the late Helen Brightís and extended out to the East for about eighty feet, then turned Northeast for another eighty, providing a lee side for boats to moor to in the prevailing Southwesters.  On both sides of the inshore end were floats for rowboats, the one to the North for working sharpies used to go out to the stakes and moorings. (At this time practically all the catboats, large or small, tied up to sturdy piles, as it was then possible to tie up close and put sail on. You could not reef easily at a mooring, with the boom trimmed in, the necessary sail you had up for satisfactory makeup caused the boat to sail widely.) The float to the South was reserved for a collection of well built and nicely maintained pulling boats which were for rent, furnished with cushions, varnished oars, etc., all very posh.
    The outer end of the dock had about twelve catboats, tied to it, all for hire at $1.50 per afternoon, $3.00 if you had a ìcaptainî. They accommodated 10 to 12 people. They were well maintained and you could have confidence in their rigging. Many of them Benjie had built himself in a shop back of his home. 
    My usual schedule was to go to the dock after breakfast. You pumped out boats after a rain, ran errands and made yourself generally useful.
    At the shore end of the dock there was a house, built over the water, with an overhanging roof on the dock side, forming sort of a porch with benches on both sides. The house itself had two rooms. In the smaller room, Russell, his son, had a bicycle shop and did a very nice business indeed, as it was at the height of the bicycle craze. In the big room was Benjieís standup desk with the reservation book on it. The room also contained sails, coils of rope, marlin, paints, assorted fittings, tar, caulking, etc. resulting in the grandest collection of seagoing smells that you can imagine.
    About eleven you headed for the beach and a swim, then back to the Oxford for a marvelous dinner, in 1901-1903 the big meal was at noon, and if you could get a second of huckleberry pie and ice cream your day was made -- and then back to the dock.
    About four oíclock, when there was no chance of renting any more boats, Benjie would say ìWaldo, I think the sail on the Kineu needs drying.î This meant that you could get sail on and depart with Benjieís final admonition in your ears -- ìStay between the point dock and the big rock.î He had 20-20 vision and a critical eye. On your return he might remark that it was a pity you had to jibe to miss a mooring -- a jibe that was, of course, utterly unintentional. 
    My skills and size grew and by the time I was fourteen I became one of his captains and took out parties. You were paid for it. I made $41.00 that summer. I had more money than any kid on the island -- milk shakes were only 5 cents. 
    The afore-mentioned benches, with the real captains around, were the real magic of the dock. Many of the residents had good-sized boats, large catboats (the Yolande was forty feet long) that had professional captains, all in uniforms, blue double-breasted and proper caps. These men kept their vessels in perfect condition, but in the afternoon had considerable leisure, just waiting around for orders. Henry Paine had Cassidyís Yolande, Quinn Cox Sheaís Edsama, Everett Cox, Coeís Martha, Fred Hopper, Behrenís Isolde, Wally Cox, Eckerís Ouray, etc.  But the main interest was in the talk. Little facts about wind and the tides, the latter very important as the boats had no power. Would the breeze drop out at sundown, how and when to moor, care of sails, when to varnish, where were the fish, the good points of the various boats, North River jibes and what have you. They were invariably nice to me. Benjie tolerated no rough talk. 
    When I started taking out the bigger boats (it took a surprising amount of strength to hold one of these big cats off the wind) they would advise me how to make things easier, coached me on the tides and eddies, how to keep your passengers dry (if you liked them) or wet, if you didnít. 
    Such funny things happened. Behind the hotel in the gingerbread house with the leaning tower lived a family by the name of Corse. Young Corse, about twenty-five, had a catboat that moored to a stake in front of the Helm house. At the hotel was a Colonel Nolte, a typical Kentucky colonel, with mustache, goatee, black felt hat and all, who hated water, declaring it was only useful under bridges. There was prohibition on the Island, but Claudioís in Greenport flourished like the green bay tree. Every fit afternoon the company of Corse and Nolte would take off in search of lubrication, with Nolte sitting stiffly erect, half paralized with fear. One afternoon, being filled with Dutch courage, Nolte decided he would catch the stake.  He elected to try the friction of the feet on the deck method. Corse, also befuddled, came in too fast, the breast of the boat hitting the stake. The stake bent, Nolte threw his arms around it, the boat bounced off and into the mud inshore, but our hero retained his grip, looking like an impaled butterfly -- but butterflies do not yell for help or swear. He alternated this cacophony as he gradually slipped lower and lower. About breast high in the water, his feet touched bottom and he stalked for shore. That the waters did not part, as they did for Moses at the Red Sea, was no fault of the language he was using. There was no help from the dock -- we just could not move.
    About 1905 Benjie built a fifty-foot launch, open except for a full length canopy and a couple of windows forward. It was powered by a single cylinder, ten horsepower, Lathrop engine, turning about three hundred revolutions. The ìLydaî was the first powerboat in Dering Harbor if you did not count Captain Braggís naptha launch, a very grand affair with polished brass stack and a lot of fancy gadgets. Every afternoon the Lyda went around Shelter Island, carrying maybe thirty at fifty cents a head. Russell was skipper and I often went along and steered while Russell tinkered with the engine. We figured that by cutting corners you could make the trip in about nineteen miles. Again you learned a lot about the rocks off Nichols Point, the flats off Cockles Harbor, what eddies to use to take advantage of the tides, important to an eight-knot boat.
    Powerboats proliferated, nearly all powered by tempermental make-and-break ignition engines. The Gafga engine was built in a small plant in Greenport, a great favorite as it was a good job, two-cylinder being preferred. They were all balky creations sometimes almost unstartable. At first they only had an air valve and later Shiebler carburetors. One boat I knew would never start until you put a life-preserver on the battery box and kicked a certain seat panel -- unfathomable! Two little flat-bottomed jobs, quite similar, were at the dock and we would race them. By introducing a thin piece of cardboard between the breaker points, the spark was advanced and you got more revs, but if you overdid it, the engine would cough and run backwards -- end of race!
    After Benjieís death, the dock, due to changing times, gradually declined and at a later date, was razed.