Raymond Hartjen, Ph.D., 86, is a man of action who does not allow the grass to grow under his feet. When he finishes one community project, he is on to the next.He procured $450,000 to build the Hartjen–Richardson Community Boat Shop, home to the East End Classic Boat Society since 2008, and negotiated with East Hampton Town to lease the land for $2 year for 20 years. Dr. Hartjen is there every Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. when it is opened to members.
I stopped by the light-filled building, overlooking the dunes behind the East Hampton Town Marine Museum on Bluff Road in Amagansett, last Wednesday and found eight men poring over plans and making preparations for their next boat, usually a vintage dinghy, dory, skiff or tender.
Their new 12-foot Sunshine tender, complete with trailer, oars and sail, will be raffled off to a lucky winner during the East End Classic Boat Society’s annual holiday party on Saturday, December 9, between 3 and 5 p.m.—so there’s still time to buy tickets at $5 a pop or five for $20.
As we exit the building, Dr. Hartjen tells me the deck was harvested from local locustwood, a long lasting wood, also used to build the bridge at Pussy’s Pond in Springs, another one of Mr. Hartjen’s projects, completed in 2013.
We pass by Pussy’s Pond on the way to Dr. Hartjen’s home on Old Fireplace Road, smack on Gardiners Bay. It’s an unusually high tide and a very windy day. The sprays from the bay bounce off the retaining wall, creating a small puddle in his front yard and coating the windows with salt.
“Look at this,” he said, bringing up a video he shot from his home during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “You stayed here during the storm?” I asked incredulously.
“Of course I stayed,” he said. “My daughters weren’t too happy.”
The home was built in 1960 but his family first built a house two doors to the west in 1937. In his first memory of the house, he was being tossed over a clothesline by two young men, who told him, “You got to make sure your arms are crossed like this,” he said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
The cutest picture of him, about 6 months old, hangs on the wall. His mother was bathing him outdoors in a tub of water. The young man quickly graduated to vessels that floated, usually, and explored the waters around his home, including Accabonac Harbor and Gardiners Bay, all the way to Gardiners Island, the mysterious and forbidden 3,300 acres of pristine land, across the bay, desolate except for the guards who patrolled the private island.
“There are several buildings on Gardiners Island,” Dr. Hartjen said. “The main building burned down in 1947. I was a teenager and I was a little bold. I tied my boat to their dock, walked up and introduced myself as a neighbor.”
He was taken into a guest house and first noticed that each place setting at the dining room table had its own salt and pepper shaker. As a little kid from Brooklyn, that was new to him. The fireplace was so big he could walk through it and there was checkerboard painted on the floor for the British who were recuperating from sickness during the Revolutionary War.
Wonder has played a big part in Dr. Hartjen’s life. He dedicated much of his “working” life to academia, studying and implementing ways to improve education. He authored the book “Empowering the Child: Nurturing the Hungry Mind” in 1994. To learn more about his theories, now more relevant than ever, visit his website, educationfutures.org.
I first got to know Dr. Hartjen when he single-handedly brought “town” water down Springs-Fireplace Road. He went door to door getting signatures and didn’t give up until the ditches were dug in 2005.
Homeowners, including myself, jumped for joy. Before that, we had to deal with water so disgusting it covered our bodies, hair and everything it touched in a rusty slime that was impossible to remove, due to the heavy metals and high mineral content. We will always be indebted to him for clean water.
I ran into him while he was riding his bike a few weeks ago, and he told me about a new project. “There were 11 British man-o-war ships anchored right out there, in Gardiners Bay,” he said.
He had came across “H.M.S. Culloden,” a booklet written by Frederick Schmitt and Donald Schmid, and printed by the Marine Historical Association at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut in 1961. “I have fantasized about British man-o-war lying adjacent to Gardiners Island for some time,” he said. “Then when I saw the list of 11 in the ‘Culloden’ book, that just clicked with me.”
His Majesty’s Ship Culloden, the second ship to be named after the Battle of Culloden, was a “three-decker,” 170-foot warship sheathed in copper and equipped with an artillery of 74 guns, including 18 nine-pounders, 28 18-pounders and 28 32-pounders. Pounders being cannonballs. Originally launched from England in 1776, the Culloden anchored four years later in Gardiners Bay, “a perfect haven.”
“The 11 warships and several frigates had arrived in September, and they were moored in a line from Cherry Harbor Point to the Oysterponds (Orient Point), with their handsome stern-boards revealing their names—Culloden; Royal Oak; Robuste; Bedford; London, which was Admiral Graves’ flagship; Prudent; America; Shrewsbury; Europe; Rising Sun; and The Swan—clear for all to see.”
“That’s what got me going,” Dr. Hartjen said of the above paragraph in the Culloden book.
The British warship did not see war while in New York waters. The sailors were stationed as guardians, the British having taken over most of New York State and Long Island. While awaiting their next orders, sailors who were not sick partied pretty much nonstop. “Drunkenness was a serious problem.”
Looking out toward Gardiners Island now, one could only guess the antics of thousands of sailors bored out of their minds and the havoc they may have wreaked on the island, shores and bay. “Gardiners Bay must have been one big cesspool,” said Dr. Hartjen half jokingly.
On January 20, 1781, the Culloden and the Bedford were dispatched to Newport, Rhode Island, to fight the French. It was fair weather when the Bedford sailed but by the time the Culloden set sail on the 23rd, the weather made a change for the worse. “The tempest raged through the night” and the “powerful Culloden had run fast around.”
The Culloden came to her resting place at what is now called Culloden Point in Montauk. The dive site, 150 feet off shore, is a New York State underwater park, dedicated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
“Neither of the boats got to Newport,” Dr. Hartjen said.
His goal is to commission an artist to paint all 11 man-o-war ships in Gardiners Bay. “I would like to engage in art,” he said. Long Island artist Doug Zider has painted many historic sailing ships and seascapes around New York and is the perfect choice. Now Dr. Hartjen just has to raise $7,000 for a 20-by-40-inch depiction of the scene just off Gardiners Island.
The painting will be put on public view at the boathouse or marine museum, clear for all to see.