Mystic Seaport completing restoration of floating New York City restaurant
Mystic — Mystic Seaport Museum is completing the restoration of the Pilot, a historic wooden schooner that now operates as an upscale oyster bar and restaurant docked in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the mouth of the East River.
The 124-foot-long Pilot and its sister ship, the schooner Sherman Zwicker, docked on the Hudson River in the city's Tribeca neighborhood, which also has an oyster bar, called Grand Banks, have earned rave reviews from publications such as Travel and Leisure, Bon Appetit, Vogue, CNN and New York Magazine, among many others.
Long before it became a oyster bar, the 98-year-old Pilot had a long and storied history.
During a tour of the schooner Wednesday morning, Christopher Sanders, director of the museum's Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, explained the Pilot was designed by William Starling Burgess, whom he called the preeminent yacht designer of the 1930s, who designed three America's Cup yachts.
Sanders said a group of people from Boston approached Burgess to "design the fastest schooner on the planet" to compete in the prestigious Fishermen's Cup race that initially included Canadian and American fishing boats.
"And this was the result," Sanders said of the Pilot. "This boat is a piece of history."
It then went on to operate as a pilot boat in Boston Harbor for 50 years. It also circumnavigated the globe twice in its role as a research vessel.
In 2019, the Seaport shipyard worked on the Sherman Zwicker, replacing planks and frames. Last year, the Pilot was at the shipyard during the winter to have 38 planks replaced. It returned last November to have additional work done. This has included replacing decking at the front of the schooner, shoring up the beam shelf, bulkhead work and a new breast hook. Sanders said three to four shipyard employees have worked on the Pilot since November.
The work is slated to be completed in 10 days, at which time the Pilot will head back to its berth in Brooklyn Heights, where it is slated to reopen for the season on May 1. Patrons aboard the Pilot enjoy sweeping views of the lower Manhattan skyline, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
While the schooner contains kitchen equipment, freezers, beer taps and a raw bar, Sanders said the biggest hurdle the shipyard had to face was making sure it completed the work, which was a bit more extensive than initially thought, in time for the Pilot to get back to Brooklyn and open for the season. He said its takes three weeks to prepare for opening the restaurant.
"We wanted to give them as much leeway as we could," he said.
Sanders said recent work on boats owned by other organizations such as the Pilot, Zwicker, the Mayflower II and others have proved to have a two-pronged benefit for the museum. The outside work not only generates revenue for the museum but also allows the shipyard to hire and retain the skilled craftspeople needed to do such work. He said the shipyard soon will begin work on a fleet of oyster boats from Norwalk, the official state of Delaware tall ship Kalmar Nyckel and the Draken, a recreation of a Viking longboat.
"When you have the talent here, you want to keep that talent here," he said of the 26 employees who work in the shipyard. "The nice thing about the outside commercial work is it's providing funding (to maintain) our own vessels."
This includes upcoming work on the 166-year-old Noank smack (a kind of fishing boat) Emma C. Berry and the 101-year-old fishing schooner L.A. Dunton, both major attractions at the museum.
Sanders said the museum has had to do "very little outreach" to promote its desire to work on wooden boats owned by other organizations. "The boats are coming to us. We have facilities that are unparalleled in New England and talent that nobody else has. No one else on the Eastern seaboard has a dozen seasoned shipwrights on its staff," he said.
He added that unlike other facilities that have to hire or train people for such work, the museum shipyard can get started "at a moment's notice" because it has the staff already in place.
He said many large wooden boats need the restoration and maintenance work the shipyard performs.
"It's a real niche market, but there's a lot of boats in that niche," he said.
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