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Buy An Oyster Knife; Build A Sherwood Mill Pond Sharpie

Three years ago, Westporter JP Vellotti helped turn century-old deck planks from the Laurel — at the time, America’s oldest oyster boat still sailing — into handsome and useful oyster knives.

The production run was limited. Many folks missed out.

One of Jean Paul Vellotti’s oyster knives.

Now Vellotti is back, with an updated version of the Laurel oyster knife — and a new idea. It satisfies requests for more knives, celebrates history and gives back to the community.

Vellotti hopes proceeds from the new knives will help fund construction of a Sharpie. That’s the type of old-school vessel that for decades was part of Westport’s oystering and maritime traditions.

Sharpies were stable enough to carry heavy loads, with sails large enough to go across Long Island Sound.

A double-masted Sharpie, on the Mystic River.

Saugatuck River Sharpies were used to “tong” and “rake” for seed oysters. Vellotti hopes to register his Sharpie with the state as a seed boat. It would be the first Connecticut-built sail-powered craft used in oystering since the 1950s.

“The neat thing about a Sharpie is that it doesn’t draw much water,” Vellotti says. “It can sail inside the Sherwood Mill Pond with the centerboard up, and around the islands with it down. It can also go all the way into downtown at any tide.”

He hopes to offer rides on the Sharpie — perhaps as a quick spin around the Mill Pond, or a pre-Levitt Pavilion concert sail.

A Sharpie model built by Harry Runyon, caretaker of the Sherwood Mill Pond island house.

“This is not an overnight project,” Vellotti notes. “But I’m 100% dedicated to it. If the community can support me, I’ll deliver a boat we can all enjoy.”

Soon, he’ll take classes at Maine’s WoodenBoat School. He has all the power and hand tools required; he just needs to learn skills like lofting and cutting a stem rabbet.

Vellotti’s instructor grew up 3 houses down from the Staten Island yard where the Laurel was built. His grandfather helped construct it — an amazing coincidence.

In an undated photo, a Sharpie (foreground) sits on braces near the old Sherwood Mill Pond grist mill. The mill later burned; a private home has replaced it.

Vellotti plans to draw the lines and make the patterns this winter, and calculate the materials needed. Construction starts in the spring. If all goes well, the boat will make a splash — literally — next summer.

“Sharpies are not the hardest boat to build,” he says. “This is an attainable goal.”  He’s getting help and support from other boat builders and woodworkers.

His Sharpie is not yet built. But Vellotti is already looking ahead, beyond his boat and the Mill Pond.

“If all goes well, this might start a chain reaction of small, traditional wooden craft in our waters,” he says.

“I have a Cornish Pilot Gig in mind. It would be a great team builder, and look fantastic rowing down the Saugatuck River.”

(To order Laurel oyster knives — or for more information on the Sharpie Mill Pondo project — click here.)

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