A TOUCH OF CLASS
Coceles Harbor Boatyard is one of the East Coast's most important centers for wooden boat repairs and Hinckley restorations.
Take the three "H"s--Hinckley, Herreshoff and Hacker. Add Nielsen, Newman and Needham and you have a mix that makes a small, nondescript facility a boatyard with an attitude. Coecles Harbor Marina and Boatyard, located on Shelter Island's east coast, is the place with a reputation among boating's elite that far exceeds the physical size of its plant. It's strange that such an isolated facility, flanked by the north and south forks of New York's Long Island, should command such loyalty.
One answer can be found in the motto mounted in every shed and barn: "It's the details." Another rests in the strong "we-can-fix-anything" attitude that prevails.
But it wasn't always so. The old marina at Coecles Harbor was hardly that -- a tiny bunch of docks and shacks that came on the market in 1972 when spacecraft engineer Peter H. Needham decided on a career change. With wife and two sons, Peter J. and John, Needham moved to Shelter Island. "I believe the reputation of the yard started when my father announced that we could fix anything," reports Peter J., who, with his brother, has run the yard since his father's death eight years ago. "In fact, our service manager complained that should a 747 crash in the bay, my father would certainly have rowed out in a dinghy and offered to 'fix it.' "
As word of the yard's abilities spread, times in the sailboat business were not as rosy. In 1983, Peter H. Needham talked Bob Hinckley into a first (and last) for the Hinckley organization. "We got a raw, unfinished Bermuda 40 hull," says Peter J. Launched three years later, Genesis was truly the start of Coecles' reputation for working on Hinckley sailing yachts.
In the meantime, Steve Corkery came aboard and brought with him a wealth of sailing experience and contacts. Restoration work from Mystic Seaport soon followed. Even now, two beautiful Herreshoff ketches--Araminta and Quiet Tune--ride gently on their lines, ready to return to the Seaport.
Through the restoration of Hinckleys (and some Aage Nielsens) has become a major occupation for Coecles, work on powerboats is also part of the mix. In 1992, the yard built a mahogany-and-oak sportboat from Hacker plans. Following Min came Alexa--a 36-foot BHM that Coecles built up for famed sports fisherman Billy Joel--who, by the way, sings as well.
Service, too, is part of Coecles' motto. But arguably the best story about Coecles' service involves a 36-foot Newman lobster-style yacht. It seems the owner past away and "left a trust fund to maintain the boat," says Corkery. "Every year, we haul her in the fall, paint her during the winter and launch her in the spring."
This type of trusted, custom work is exactly what the Needhams and Corkery want. "Our next step, "reports Peter Needham, "is to expand our custom boat building operations." And expand they will.
Story by DAN FALES, Motorboating & Sailing August 1995