Guest Spot: Another historic ship lost in Greenport

02/16/2014 1:08 PM |
Fire Fighter is currently docked at the railroad dock in Greenport, but not for much longer. (Photo by Katharine Schroeder)

Fire Fighter is currently docked at the railroad dock in Greenport, but not for much longer. (Photo by Katharine Schroeder)

I was saddened but also amused by the report in your Feb. 6 paper about the fate of Fire Fighter, the fireboat with a decades-long history of service to New York City’s fire department. The fireboat was intended to be a platform for educating the public about firefighting history and service, but also a harborfront attraction for the village and its visitors. For sure, the fireboat sending geysers of water into the air from its many pumps was a unique sight to see.

But, according to The Suffolk Times, the fireboat is soon to be evicted from Greenport because of the inability of the boat’s backers to gain a permanent berth for it somewhere in the harbor. Apparently, a village/county jurisdictional dispute about the railroad dock is at fault, as well as fears that “something” might go wrong with the boat. But most significantly, The Times’ editorial identifies complacency and a lack of community support for Greenport’s failure to embrace an old boat with the long and interesting history.

Does this sad tale sound familiar? Does the name Regina Maris bring anything to mind?

Fifteen years ago, in 1998, the effort by an idealistic group of supporters to save the 1907 brigantine met a fate similar to that of Fire Fighter. The intention back then was to have the Regina Maris permanently berthed in Greenport so its masts, outlined against the harbor skyline, could be a calling card for the village. Its decks were to be used for displays to educate visitors about the 300-year maritime history of the village and the near 100-year history of the brigantine. And, most important, the success of the rescue effort was to be a valuable lesson to everyone about what could be accomplished by dedicated volunteers and civic and business leaders interested in both preserving history and promoting the village.

It was not to be. For sure, there were major problems with the Regina Maris, as there are with “Fire Fighter.” And there was indecision and arguing about where the ship could be berthed, either at a dock or in a dry-dock setting. As this issue remained unresolved, fears (largely unfounded) about safety arose and support for the ship among village and business leaders dampened. Then, community support for the rescue effort and fundraising to finance repairs disappeared. Complacency and indifference set in and the ship’s presence in Greenport came to an end.

In a last-ditch effort to save the Regina Maris, it was transferred to Glen Cove. Unfortunately, after a short time and for reasons that are too complicated to relate here, the ship was scrapped. Its masts, figurehead and a couple of other artifacts were placed in cement in an inept effort by Glen Cove to create a replica of the ship on dry land. Over time, the replica was neglected and became a safety hazard.

So because of Greenport’s lack of interest, the Regina Maris, a truly unique piece of maritime history, disappeared. Here’s hoping Fire Fighter meets a better fate and that, wherever the fireboat ends up, there will be better support for the rescue effort than could be mustered in Greenport.

Mr. Higbee, who was born and raised in Greenport, is a former federal government employee. He is retired and lives in Southold.