the AJ Meerwald, a 115-foot Delaware Bay oyster schooner, undergoes the second major refurbishment in its 93-year history in Belfast, and the public could see the work in progress during an open house at a temporary building at the Front Street Shipyard on December. 18.
The Oyster Dredge is New Jersey’s official tall ship and is in the hands of Lincolnville Clark & Eisele Traditional Boatbuilding for its woodwork. The vessel, built in white oak with a cedar deck, underwent a full restoration in 1994. After being used as an educational vessel for the past 25 years she was in need of another overhaul, so she was sailed to ‘in Belfast from New Jersey by John Gandy of Blue Hill, who participated in the Meerwald since 1986.
Garett Eisele, who owns Clark & Eisele with business partner Tim Clark, is hopeful that with the help of his “awesome crew,” the million dollar restoration will be completed in June. The open house was the first in a long series, as the company hopes to hold one every month or two so the public can see the Meerwaldprogress. Eisele was delighted with the “fantastic” participation of people to see this “neat piece of history”.
The tall ship is owned by the nonprofit Bayshore Center in Bivalve, which was started by former marine merchant John Gandy and like-minded friends when Gandy acquired the Meerwald in 1986. “It was a wreck and I had a dream,” said Gandy, and the ship is now the “official tall ship certified by the New Jersey Coast Guard.”
Brian Keenan, executive director of the Bayshore Center in Bivalve, is “very excited” about the catering. He came to Belfast for the open day and explained that it was the first time New Jersey has allowed a historic artifact to leave the state for restoration. “New Jersey takes historic preservation very seriously,” he said.
In an effort to promote the schooner’s restoration and publicize its history, a book was published in November with $ 10 from each sale supporting the repair effort. “The AJ Meerwald and New Jersey Oyster Industry,” by Rachel Dolhanczyk and Constance McCart, describes both the history of the vessel and “the unknown story of the New Jersey oyster industry,” according to Keenan. He added that the Garden State’s oyster industry is the second largest in the country.
Those present at the open house also enjoyed music from the jazz quintet Plus Four, who performed a variety of instrumental pieces for the crowd. Light refreshments and baked goods were served, and souvenirs were for sale.
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