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If I Had a Boat...

Photos by Sophia Marie Bianculli

Buffalo Maritime Center offers a multitude of ways to get on the water

Looking for something to do this summer? And would you like to have a boat of your own? Or do you just like boats? Consider building one at the Buffalo Maritime Center. Your own boat, or one of the many boats the center members/volunteers are constantly working on, for a variety of purposes and objectives, like the current contract to supply the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation with five small craft for general use in the harbor/Commercial Slip area.

Including three Buffalo Harbor ferries—a craft historically unique to the Buffalo Harbor—a kind of punt, with double square ends, each end notched to accommodate a skull oar, which is how the boat is propelled, a little like a Venetian gondola. The notch at either end allows change of direction without turning the boat around, particularly useful in the old days in navigating the narrow channels between the many large ships and barges that crowded the harbor. The two other boats being built for the ECHDC are skiffs—pointed prow, square stern, standard rowboat form, and may be equipped or not with a mast and single sail.

The Maritime Center is located in an old industrial complex at 90 Arthur Street, in the heart of Riverside, a block from river. They offer classes on topics like boat carpentry and working with nautical blueprints. Or you can start right in working on a boat—or your own boat—with old hand volunteers, who will show you the ropes and how to proceed, according to master boat builder and center director Roger Allen.

Some other boat construction and refurbishment projects currently ongoing in the huge main boat shop include:

• Refurbishment of the Center’s handsome Scajaquada, a two-masted Lake Erie shallop—a shallop is an open boat propelled by oars or sails or both, the word is from the French chaloupe, equivalent to sloop—another historically unique boat to this region, according to Allen, who said it was an all-purpose boat primarily used for commercial fishing on the Niagara River. The Scajaquada has been and will continue to be moored at the entrance to the Commercial Slip, and free rides are given, first-come, first-served basis. Check the center website ( for sailing dates and times.

• New construction of a replica of the War of 1812 armed cutter USS Trippe, with single swivel cannon, one of the participant vessels in the famous Battle of Lake Erie under command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, and one of three vessels in Perry’s fleet that had been outfitted at Black Rock. The Trippe had a single mast and single gaff-rigged mainsail—four-sided sail, boom below, gaff spar above—plus three magnificent triangular foresails stretching from the mast to an extra-long bowsprit.

• A replica War of 1812 bateau—the French word for boat—one of two such craft that will be used this summer in war reenactments. Each will be equipped with swivel cannon, and require six to eight volunteer rowers, which the center is in the process of recruiting. “We may be attacking the Coast Guard Station,” Allen said. “We may be invading Canada.” Details on the website about all reenactments.

• Also for the ECHDC, a replica “White Electra Launch,” the type of motorized open boat that plied the waterways of the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition. Free rides available on this boat, also. Again, check the center website for details.

• Refurbishment and repainting of the Scajaquada Canoe Club’s Native-American-type war canoe, to be featured in a war canoes race, Lockport to Buffalo, this summer.

Other boats in storage awaiting the time and resources for refurbishment. Like a Canadiana lifeboat, and wide variety of canoes and sailboats and historical fishing boats. Allen said there is also a plan to develop plans—historical plans don’t exist, but lots of pictures do—for an Erie Canal packetboat, the canal passenger barge, with enclosed cabin. In the heyday of the canal, you could travel by packetboat from New York City to Buffalo. And after the plans, maybe build the actual vessel.

There’s lots of other work around the center for anyone wanting to help out in any way, Allen emphasized. The former industrial complex contains numerous separate work areas, most in the process of renovation (in the wake of some vandalism when the building stood vacant for several years before the Maritime Center acquired it) to accommodate a number of associated or associating organizations, such as the Niagara Frontier Antique and Classical Boat Society, the Traditional Small Craft Association, the Great Lakes Watersports Institute (which provides boating and sailing and fishing outings for handicapped persons), and Buffalo Urban Outdoor Education (which does boating events for kids, to teach about seamanship as well as water quality environmental issues), the Scajaquada Canoe Club, and the Buffalo Model Club, as well as a library and office space for the center, and a boat museum (being developed in conjunction with the museum study program at Buffalo State College).

Another associated organization is the Buffalo Metalworkers Club. In conjunction with the metalworkers, the Maritime Center is developing a bronze foundry to manufacture hard-to-find authentic bronze boat hardware. The center owns a digital 3-D printer, to be used in conjunction with CAD design equipment at Buffalo State.

So many boats, so little time. You can get in touch with the Maritime Center and/or Roger Allen via email,, or at 881-0111.

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