08/16/13 5:00pm


The Crew, as I call them, came out recently. It comprises my wife’s son and daughter, their spouses, two kids (son) and two dogs (daughter). Excellent humans and animals all, but there is, for me, a disorder dynamic that accompanies their arrival, which I have been working on to handle, not that anyone would recognize this effort.

This time, they came out on Friday and we came out on Saturday morning and spent a perfect day at Wades. The son’s wife had purchased one of those tent-like beach enclosures, large enough for all of us to recline in our chairs without fighting for our small circles of individual umbrella shade. It felt like the Ritz.

On Sunday morning, as is his wont, grandson Max arose early and crossed the second floor landing to tentatively open our bedroom door, which reliably creaks to announce his arrival. I say, “Hi, Fuzzball,” a reference to a time not long ago when we shared amusement at a Harrison Ford moment in a Star Wars movie when he upbraided his Wookie sidekick. This remark no longer has any effect and I will retire it. He climbs between us, into The Cave, where in the past we have imagined wild animals benignly threatening him from outside. From deep brain recesses, I resurrected my guttural tiger snarl, which like the failed Fuzzball gambit, no longer sends him burrowing to the back of The Cave for safety. It’s mostly iPad games now.

My wife asks him what he wants to do. A couple ideas are thrown out. He says, “I want to play baseball with Grandpa.”

We go to the garage to select a bat. There are two slender yellow Wiffle Ball bats and a fat red one that seems appropriate for Sammy Sosa in his juicing days. We go with one of the Wiffles and a styrene ball from the recreational spheroid collection.

We head to the diamond, which is in fact the turnaround of the cul-de-sac we live on. My pitching is terrible, too often inside or low. But he whacks away, spraying balls to the first and third base side, to which I say, “Good hit, but I think you nailed a fan.” He pays no heed to my chatter. He does have an innate sense to make me fetch a ball in the tall grass, somehow grasping the notion of bugs and ticks.

My wife comes out and we go into a pitcher/catcher mode that speeds up the action big time. She quickly takes over the hurling duties and puts me to shame, laying in gopher ball after gopher ball. Then Dad and then Mom show up and we have some actual fielding going on. I make several sensational plays but no one seems to notice. The one-on-one grandpa/grandkid spell has long been broken, but you take what you can get.

Next up is the Coecles Harbor Marina pool, where a dear friend allows us entry. Mom and Dad are with the one-year-old girl so we still have custody of Max. The idea is to go swimming, but Dear Friend offers to take us out in her Whaler. This is a no-brainer, but I wonder how Max will react. His sister, if magically endowed with speech and sufficient cognition, would eagerly assent to sky diving. Max has a more deliberative world view.

We inch out of the marina and the time comes to put on some speed. Dear Friend has been in this situation dozens of times. She tells Max it’s all about his comfort zone and gives the throttle a little push. He’s cool with that and then she adds a bit more and then we’re flying. On the phone we record a big smile, absent two front teeth. We bounce through our first wake. The smile endures, bigger maybe.

As we head to Reel Point, Dear Friend asks him to step up to the wheel and he grabs on. He understands this is serious stuff and affects an ancient mariner pose. Then Dear Friend starts a lazy right-hand turn and he’s totally into it as we head back to the marina.

Next up is the Whale’s Tale. He is no young Tiger Woods. His game is all mulligans and herding the ball into the cup. Then, mid-way through, we encounter a hole with no gimmicks, obstacles or undulating carpet. He puts his orange ball into the dimple. From the instant he starts his tiny back swing I know he made unconscious calculations for force and speed and the ball takes off accordingly. He drains it, a no-doubter.

Jubilation? Nope. He wants a do-over.

We’ll take a do-over of the entire day.

07/16/13 10:00am

MACKENZIE NEEDHAM PHOTO | This rare and beautiful creature was found dozing in yesterday’s heat.

Mackenzie Needham spied this extraordinary creature  when she was at work yesterday at Coecles Harbor Marina.

Known as a  a regal moth, it had about a 4- inch wingspan.

The regal is common in Dixie, but  lately has become rare around these parts.

Thanks to Mackenzie, for finding hidden beauty on a hot summer’s day.

03/04/13 8:15am

John Needham,

PETER BOODY PHOTO | John Needham, president of Coecles Harbor Marina, is master of every aspect of is business.

John Needham, president of Coecles Harbor Marina ever since his father died in 1987, sings the praises of everybody but himself.

A Glen Cove native, the 59-year-old credits his sharp, skilled and seasoned staff for having always kept things shipshape fair weather and foul, good times and slower times, such as the last few years, when the staff hit a low of 30; it’s about 60 in high times.

He calls his brother Peter the “visionary” who developed the marina’s specialized boat building and wooden boat expertise beginning in 1983. It has delivered 53 lovely Shelter Island Runabouts into the world that keep coming back for service and upgrades.

He credits his wife Laura Tuthill, who first worked as a high school kid at the marina and whom John later hired to run the dockside operation; she’s now running her own horse farm with a partner at Hampshire Farms.
He also cites his clients and customers, who he says are the kind of people who aren’t looking for mopeds or discotheques shore side.

“It’s not a conscious thing we’ve discussed but Peter and I have tried to keep this place reflecting the character of Shelter Island with the type of boats we build and the type of clients we have.”

A member of the town’s Waterways Management Advisory Committee for so many years he doesn’t remember what year he joined, he has no agenda, he said, “except that I’d like to see the character of Shelter Island preserved.” That means the fewer docks, bulkheads and boat lifts the better.

He’s also on the town’s Ferry Advisory Committee because “I was sitting in the room when they decided they needed somebody.”

As for himself and the business, he’s just a tinkerer, he said. “I always like fine-tuning the mix of staff, clients, boats, equipment, trying to get that recipe to blend.”

One gets the feeling there’s more going on than that. Some marinas are not tidy places. Coecles Harbor Marina is spic and span in every hidden workspace and storage area.

It’s full of well-oiled machines considered junk when John’s father, an aerospace engineer laid off by Republic Aviation, bought the place in 1973; John restored all that equipment and keeps it running. The bays are also full of classy boats, many of them wooden, in for winter restorations and repairs.

He shows where the water has risen in big storms, marked on the housing of a big band saw, one of the so-called junk machines John revived. The worst came in the snowstorm of 1978, with the tide an inch higher than Sandy drove it last fall. That inch was the difference between water in the office in 1978 and a dry floor when Sandy came.

It was a “devastating” storm nevertheless that went on forever, it seemed, and tore up the marina’s docks. Two of the many boats that were hauled ashore into the yard tipped over in the wind and two of 13 riding in the harbor broke lose. The damage to them was relatively minor.

The staff, he said, has storm preparation down to a science. “Everybody knows the drill when John flips the switch into hurricane mode,” from hauling out boats to removing the motor of the band saw and putting everything that must remain on the shop floors up on blocks.

For the Needhams, it all started 40 years ago this spring. After he was ordered to lay off his own staff at Republic and then finding himself jobless, John’s father declared he didn’t want his kids to experience the same thing.
With his parents, younger brother and sister Cheryl — “She’s the brains of the family,” an astrophysicist who’s raised a family in Maryland and worked hunting for lost satellites because “they kind of disappear once in a while” — John had been to Shelter Island aboard the family’s 26-foot sloop out of Glen Cove.

“So we knew this place. Somehow my father knew the marina was for sale.” And in 1973, “By selling everything we had, the house, our boats, we were able to come up with a down payment. It was a risk I wouldn’t have taken,” John said.

He laughed when asked how his mother, Florence, felt about it. “Coming from the North Shore of Long Island to Shelter Island was a lot of adjustment,” he said — but not for the boys, who were in college then. “We started at the bottom. It didn’t matter how dirty the job: digging trenches, painting bottoms, it was on-the-job training” for everyone.

“Everything’s exciting when you’re 21,” he said.

Peter was going to Southampton College. He went on to get his degree in marine science while John decided to quit the University of New Hampshire to work full-time in the shop.

“I had my job fixing boats” and when his father tried to draw him into the business side John thought “don’t bother me with all these complications. Then he died on me.”

Their accountant Richard Ferraris helped them handle the blow, divvying up responsibilities “between Peter and myself and our spouses,” including John’s first wife, now Stephanie Saryani, with whom he had his “terrific” daughters Emily and Catherine.

“We worked our way through it. I was astounded at the bills” and all the rest of the paperwork and red tape. “It was endless; I just couldn’t believe it. And it still is.”

For fun, John ice boats on Coecles Harbor when the weather allows. “It’s magical,” but it’s been two years since the ice was thick. He’s got five rigs, one Laura’s own single-seater. Before their separate businesses made it hard to schedule vacations, they also enjoyed sailing the Caribbean and the British Virgin Islands, scuba diving off Honduras and chartering a lobster boat in Maine.

You got the feeling, though, that he likes getting up every day and walking 100 yards down Hudson Avenue to his job. About retiring, he just chuckled and said, “That does not compute.”

“I came here not knowing anybody. Now I’m related to half the island by marriage. If you married a Tuthill and you’ve got a daughter who married a Brigham, you’re up to your elbows with Clarks and Mundys and Kilbs.

“It feels great. People associate me with the boatyard because that’s where I am all the time but it’s really the relationships with people that are the most memorable and meaningful to me. I can point at the apartment upstairs and I know Ray Congdon’s father built that, and Peder Larsen put in that cesspool out there, and Reich-Eklund put that addition on over there, the Labrozzi brothers poured that concrete slab over there. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m spoiled by that.”

11/12/12 3:00pm

The mouth of Coecles Harbor the Monday after Superstorm Sandy with Sungic Point in the foreground, where extensive shoaling can be seen, and Reel Point across the channel — wider but flatter and perhaps farther west than it used to be.

One of many worries town officials wrestled with when Superstorm Sandy struck October 29 has been put to rest. At least for now.

What was feared was Sandy leaving in her wake a second mouth of Coecles Harbor from Gardiners Bay. With continued erosion at Reel Point, breaths were held, as Sandy’s historic high tides submerged the isthmus, which protrudes south from Ram Island toward Sugic Point and the Mashomack Preserve.

If the tides had cut a new inlet into the harbor, some officials feared it would lead to a reduction in current, triggering an increase in shoaling in the original inlet. This would further restrict access to boaters, who are already having trouble navigating the channel there because of shifting sands.

With the threat of a breakthrough on the back burner, attention is now focusing on the need for dredging the mouth of the harbor. The channel there is becoming more challenging to boaters because of the relentless southerly flow of sand along Reel Point, some officials say. That process is moving the tip of the point southward into the channel, making the currents faster and deforming the channel.

In a breakthrough of the bureaucratic red-tape variety, the county’s Department of Public Works recently told town officials it has committed its hydraulic dredge to be at the mouth of Coecles Harbor sometime between October 2013 and January 2014, a year from now. Meanwhile, John Needham — who runs Coecles Harbor Marina and is chairman of the town’s Waterways Management Advisory Council — believes something should be sooner.

Mr. Needham says he’ll be asking Town Highway Superintendent Jay Card and the Town Board to consider dredging the inlet this fall or early winter with a crane and a bucket, with half the dredged sand to be deposited on Reel Point to help stabilize it and the other half to be placed on the Mashomack Preserve property to the south, if its owner, the Nature Conservancy, allows.

As for a breakthrough of the isthmus, Mr. Needham said it does not seem likely to him any time soon. He said Reel Point, with its base of stone cobbles as big a grapefruits, looks stable and wider than it was before Sandy — but it’s also flatter.

The isthmus is owned by the Peconic Land Trust, which acquired it as a gift from Herb Stern in the 1990s, according to the Trust’s program adviser Hoot Sherman, who was town supervisor the last time the mouth of Coecles Harbor was dredged in the 1990s.

Mr. Sherman said the Land Trust would take all the sand the town wants to give it to shore up the property.

02/22/12 8:53am

GOOGLE EARTH IMAGE | Coecles Harbor marina.

Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard has announced that David Doody has joined the team as service manager.

Mr. Doody is well known to yachtsmen and the marine industry in the Northeast and brings a vast store of knowledge in both power and sail as well as over 60,000 sea miles to the position, according to the marina.

“CHMB is thrilled to have someone of David’s experience and reputation join our team in a management role.  He will be a huge asset in our never-ending effort to be the best we can be,” said John Needham, president and co-owner with brother Peter Needham since 1987.

Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard is a full service facility on unspoiled Coecles Harbor on Shelter Island, with a well established reputation for excellence in all aspects of boat maintenance, repair and restoration, according to the company’s announcement.

“CHMB is privileged to care for some of the most beautiful and well-loved yachts in the Northeast and the immaculately maintained grounds and facilities offer a swimming pool as well as transient and seasonal dockage, moorings and sundries,” the company said.

The boatbuilding division, CH Marine, is the builder of the Shelter Island 30 and 38 Runabouts (hull numbers 51 and 52 under construction and launching soon) as well as custom designs.

Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard is at 18 Hudson Avenue on Shelter Island, New York 11964. Its website is www.chmb.net . Call  631-749-0700 for information or email [email protected]