Messin’ around in wooden boats

Posted 8/25/21

KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — Blame it on the rat.

A few years past, Joe Freda and Zeke Boyle were hanging out at a lakeside eatery, savoring the beer and pizza, and they figured it was high time to …

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Messin’ around in wooden boats


KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — Blame it on the rat.

A few years past, Joe Freda and Zeke Boyle were hanging out at a lakeside eatery, savoring the beer and pizza, and they figured it was high time to start a landlocked yacht club, with the mission of restoring and preserving classic wooden boats for the generations to come.

In the wake of teaming up in 2013 to restore their first project, a 1948 Penn Yan Cartopper, under the eventually unfurled banner of the Beechwoods Yacht Club (BYC), they teamed up with a couple of other lovers of all things wooden, to establish WoodenBoatstock.

“We started WoodenBoatstock a few years ago as a tribute to the Woodstock Festival,” said Freda, adding, “We’ve held it on Thursday afternoons or evenings around that date, on the docks and water of Kauneonga Lake before the weekend crowds arrive.”

On Thursday, August 19, the crew gathered under lowering skies and passing drifts of slowly shifting rain showers for the fourth installment of WoodenBoatstock, and although the crowds were slight, the boats were a sight to behold, harkening back to the days when wooden boats ruled the water.

“We decided on the name Beechwoods Yacht Club as a tongue-in-cheek joke,” said Freda. “The water in the Beechwoods consists of farm ponds and small streams that eventually flow to the Delaware. Our motto is, ‘No yachts, no oceans, just fun messing about in boats.’”

In 2016, Freda took time off from the family real estate business to scratch-build “Wodon,” a 17-foot Chesapeake Light Craft rowing/sailing dory, while taking a class at the WoodenBoat School in Annapolis, MD.

Freda is the author of the 2003 novel, “The Patience of Rivers,” described by reviewers at the time as “an irresistible novel about an upstate New York river community, and a never-to-be-forgotten summer of change.”

As time passed, Bruce Bidwell, a master woodworker, and Steve Morse, a woodcut print maker, signed up—or were perhaps shanghaied—to join the club, which meets every Thursday for “Boat Night” to work on various projects and share a few IPAs afterwards.

At last count, the BYC has a fleet consisting of a 1900 Ruston pulling boat, a 1929 Old Town Otca sailing canoe, a 1932 American Car and Foundry cabin cruiser, a 1947 Penn Yan Cartopper, a 1955 Penn Yan Dynamold, a 1958 Thompson Sea Coaster, a 1999 Oregon cedar racing canoe, 2000 Narwhal sailboat, and a 2016 Northeaster rowing/sailing dory.

There’s an ages-old saying among the world’s watermen that a “boat is a hole in the water, surrounded by wood, into which one pours seemingly endless amounts of money.”

That’s certainly true, but the passion for restoring vintage watercraft, or going the next step to actually building one from the frame up, goes a lot further.

Add a dash of devotion, a lot of blood, sweat and tears and a ton of heart, and you just might be headed into the next port of call with a finely restored or owner-built wooden boat, a thing of beauty on the water to be cherished forever by future generations.

Reflecting on the origins of the BYC, Boyle said they reached out to Bidwell for advice on restoring wooden boats, and after a trip to a museum, came back with pictures of a Penn Yan Cartopper. “So we had a guide to go by. Eventually, we sucked Bruce into this operation. It all comes down to a love of wood, but man, when it comes to working on boats, that’s a whole different challenge,” he added.

On the topic of restoring wooden watercraft, Bidwell said, “The woodworking is a little different on a boat. If you don’t do your joinery right, you go to the bottom.

“So many of these wooden boats have just gone by the wayside. First of all, they’re wood and beautiful. I love the way they’re built and look.”

Morse said of his involvement with the yacht club, and on converting a sailboat from a Bermuda rig to a gaff rig, “I love boats and now I have more lines to pull on.”

Okay, so back to the rat. Not an ordinary run-of-the-mill ratty rodent, mind you, but a rat with a historical twist to its tail.

In 1908, Kenneth Grahame published “The Wind in the Willows,” in which Mole and Rat are rowing up a river in Rat’s boat, and Rat became forever beloved to children and watermen by saying to his rowboat companion, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

For more information about the Beechwoods Yacht Club, which accepts donations of old wooden boats, call Joe Freda, associate broker at Matthew J. Freda Real Estate, Inc in Callicoon, NY at 845/887-5640 or email

WoodenBoatstock, Woodstock Festival, Beechwood Yacht Club, wooden boats


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