January 02, 2014

Time flies when you’re having fun — or so the saying goes.

It was almost exactly a year ago, on a random run out to the Hogfish, that Ryan and I first saw a dilapidated fishing shack set back on a dusty lot in “downtown” Stock Island. A lonely for rent sign hung on the front door — one that, for all we knew, could have been there for a decade or more and whose phone number had once connected to an old rotary phone that had since been disconnected and forgotten. But there it was, still legible and staring me down as if to say, “pull out that fancy phone you got there and call. I dare you”.

Ten digits and some 30 minutes later and COAST was becoming more than the napkin scribbles I’d dreamed about for the past two years. Rick, the owner, arrived and told us that the old shack had some real history to it — a boatbuilding operation that his family had owned and operated throughout the 80s and 90s explained the fibreglass crust and cured epoxy puddles inside and outside the shanty.

More recently, he mentioned, it was a fisherman’s hangout. Something between a workshop, storage space for traps, and an evening speakeasy I’d imagine — especially considering the lot was littered with rusty green, Grolsch bottle caps that must have taken the better part of decade to accumulate so thickly. Though, knowing the beer-guzzling prowess of said fisherman, it could just as easily have been a few extended cold fronts the prior year that did the damage. Either way, they’d had their fun.

And, if we could work out the details, we’d have ours as well.

Details were sorted and our work commenced. A six month restoration project ensued and early into that, we found a second Billy — Mr. Billy Litmer — to join the crew. As an aside, Billy is without a doubt the most popular name on Stock Island.

But I digress…

From here on, ideas, paint and power tools swirled feverishly into the late night hours and the daydreaming of years past were formalizing beneath our sweaty brows and calloused hands. A magical (r)evolution was taking place in an often forgotten corner of paradise brought to life by our own inclinations, innovations and, perhaps, idiocy.

But an opening day party on June 1 that celebrated the last 5 months of work, unveiled the space and, more importantly, introduced the evolving vision for COAST to others started to quell the notion that we were working towards something that no one, except the three amigos on Front Street, could comprehend.

Out here, there’s still nothing set in stone and if things go to plan, there never will be a hard line drawn in the sand that says COAST is this or that. COAST is, and always will be, a work and an experiment in progress. What are we capable of, where can we take it, how can we involve others in the experience, how do we make it work? Unanswered questions that start to make more and more sense with every swing of the hammer, stroke of the brush, or evening of celebration.

At this point in the story, from June 1 onwards, evidence exists as to what we’ve been doing out here — posts, parties and posters have left a paper trail that shows the progress. And, if you squint your eyes or listen to the small voice inside your head that comes out when your head hits the pillow each night, you too can imagine and dream of where the good ship COAST and crew are heading.

So join us in celebrating our first year as we take a look back on the top 10 COAST Projects from 2013 while looking forward, eagerly, to voyage ahead…

10.) Concrete-casted Conch Shells, built for Sculpture Key West 2013

Artists: Joel Erland and Kate Kamen
Time frame: Mid to late November

Joel Erland in his wife, Kate Kamen, rolled into town in late November towing an early 1970’s Airstream Argosy trailer stuffed full of foam molds and a loaded with miles of smiles. Upon arrival, they quickly gave us a run through of where they’d come from (Philadelphia), what they were planning (to cast conch shells in concrete and fibreglass with the foam molds), and when they were splitting town (in a “couple of weeks”).

Work commenced quickly and efficiently thereafter. The shells were cast and subsequent discussions about cheesesteaks assured us that they were, in fact, from Philly. But as I write this, and stare out at a beautiful vintage trailer, I can’t ignore that they failed on the last bit of their story.

As is the case with so many people that make it to the end of the road down, they fell in love with our little island and decided that they may want to spend a good enough portion of the year down here that it made sense to leave the RV where it looks like it was made to be.

You can check out the conch shells at Higgs Beach — just next to the West Martello building. And you can check out the trailer at our next event. All they ask is that you sign the ship’s log!

9.) The Skiff

Builder: Alex Yuknat
Time frame: Mid to late October

Alex Yuknat, a young man of 26, rolled into town — seems like a common beginning to these stories — on fumes in an ‘86 Volvo 240 station wagon just as we were getting on our feet. He stumbled upon Billy (Litmer) when he’d hauled his Sharpie (schooner) out of the water at Spencer’s Boatyard. Alex had a fondness for the Reuel Parker design, a need for some quick cash, and, to Billy’s delight, he seemed to have a life’s worth of mariner’s knowledge. From sailing to boatbuilding, ropework to sail making, he could really talk a good game. A couple of month’s later Alex fixed up an old step van, found a parking spot at COAST and set up shop.

Alex also has a classic wooden sailboat that he calls home out in the mooring field, but needed a new skiff to shuttle himself back and forth. And that was all the motivation he needed to embark on a two week, marathon build of a 14 foot classic, wooden boat.

It is a beautifully simple design and has proven to be his trusty companion for late night and early morning skips to and from the dock and back.

8.) Reclaimed Wood Yard Projects

Builders: Ryan Muntin and Nolan O’Connor
Time Frame: Late November

Sprucing up the surroundings out here is more of an art than a science. Too nice and it doesn’t fit the vibe, too shabby and it won’t last. Neither is a good outcome. So when we needed to give a “nice” lift to opposite ends of the lot — the very back left corner and the absolute front right corner, we needed to keep these issues in mind. It’s something we’ve been “perfecting” — though not sure that’s the right word for it — since we started.

At any rate, a month back Ryan whipped up a radical deck/dock in the shaded area of The Projects from nothing but reclaimed wood and found fasteners. Three nights, a few saw blades and couple of cold beers later, and the deck was complete. It’s built to last, didn’t cost a dime, and fits seamlessly in with the old truck and the converted pigeon coop that it helps to connect.

Following Ryan’s lead, our boy Nolan, took the scraps from the backyard project a few days later and built a raggedly awesome raised plant bed and bench to help divide the “parking lot” from the front of the building. It’s part of an ongoing “beautification and fortification” project for the front perimeter of the property, so keep your eyes open at the upcoming events to keep tabs on the apprentice’s progress!

7.) Unearthing the Step Van…

Project Leaders: Billy Kearins and Ryan Muntin
Time frame: March and then August

The workspaces were always a part of the plan at COAST, but we needed to consider how to put roofs over people’s heads because completely open-air workspaces rarely make sense — especially in this neighborhood. Budgetary constraints, however, put a barrier on what was actually possible. Being resourceful folk, we used this to our advantage — and kept our ears and eyes open for opportunities.

One such opportunity presented itself when I responded to suspicious ad on Craigslist. It said something to the effect of…

Vintage step-van, Old Town Key West, $150 — been sitting for 30 years. If you can move it, come and take it.

I called and spoke with a really sweet lady — said she was cleaning and clearing out her mom’s yard on the corner of William and South. The truck had been bought by her dad some 30 years ago and was supposed to one day be fixed up and taken on the road with the family. In the meantime, other projects got priority, a rubber tree had taken over the shiny aluminum body, her dad passed away and the old project was officially shelved. Thereafter came the ad — written in such a mysterious way that I suspect Susan may not have wanted to sell the van at all.

But with my assurance that the truck would go to good use and after a few bittersweet tears, she has happy to say goodbye knowing that her dad’s project would, in some way, live on.

After some intense wrestling from a commercial wrecker, the mystery machine was dropped in the backyard, cleaned out — a number of skulls and skeletons had accumulated inside over the years — and set-up as a workspace that Adam (Russell) now spends quiet mornings painting amidst the peace and love that still exists in that old project.

And Susan and her mom, still drive by to check on the old truck once in a while — with proud smiles and watery eyes.

6.) Kristian’s Christmas Present -- a 5’5” Simmons surfboard for our smallest worker

Designer/Shaper: Billy Kearins
Time frame: Late December

In the lead-up to Christmas — we’re talking September — I asked Kristian what he wanted for the big day. Without hesitation he said, “a surfboard!” And that answered was echoed for the next couple of months, so come December, I made plans and set aside time (late at night) to shape and glass it in time for the holy grail of kid’s holidays.

It started with a modified Simmon’s design — a classic shape known for it’s ease of paddling and ability to ride smaller waves; and with it being shorter than even most shortboards, it seemed like a perfect fit for my best bud.

Three separate (long) nights — one for shaping, one for primary glassing, and one for the fins and finish work and it was completed

And with one day left until Christmas, it was ready for a red bow, some wax and a few waves.

These things came in quick succession and by 10:30 am on Christmas day, Kristian’s first wave on his very first board was caught…

5.) The Glynn Archer Tiger

Artist: Cayman Smith-Martin
Time frame: Ongoing

When we picked up Cayman as our first committed Projects tenant we were pretty stoked. He fit the bill of what we are doing out here to a T. A successful commercial artist with a renegade past and lifelong bond to Key West, Cayman could tell us a thing or two about whatever we asked him about. Fittingly, he also has an appreciation for the sea and for classic design which present themselves in the form of his Herreschoff Schooner, Meadowlark.

But it wasn’t the boat he towed on to the lot that got us all giddy — it was the 10 foot metal tiger that called Glynn Archer Elementary School on White Street home for decades. Cayman had offered to restore the rusting paws and gaping holes in the mouth for free — claiming simply that the tiger was a big part of his childhood and that he wanted to give back to the island he’s called home for his whole life.

A quick sandblast and an immediate prime gave the tiger a robotic look and from there it was welding time. Late night welding sessions filled in the holes and at the moment, Cayman is making the final prep work for the paint job.

Since it was dropped here a few months back, it’s been the source of a thousand photo-ops, a playground for the kiddos, and topic of conversation for everyone that passes through.

We’ll miss it when it’s gone, but will be happy to see it back out there in all of its glory.

4.) “Trading with the Enemy” -- The Smuggling Pigeons

Artist: Duke Riley and Co.
Time frame: March through July

I met Duke really early on — probably last February — through a mutual acquaintance. At the time, I had an idea of what type of artist or builder I’d prefer to have out here renting space at COAST and after speaking with Duke I honestly couldn’t say whether he fit that mold or not.

He talked vaguely about an art project that involved homing pigeons, said he owned a tattoo studio in Brooklyn, and talked and looked like he was straight out of South Boston — all more or less positive things, but since the project seemed pretty secretive, I was initially hesitant.

After doing a bit of research, I had found evidence of radical, renegade projects that Duke had staged and survived in the past and my decision was easy. This guy was exactly what we were looking for. Two days after we came to an agreement, he showed up with the most radical, found-material, repurposed pigeon coop I’d ever seen — made entirely from salvaged boats and debris from Robbie’s Marina right down the street from us.

The next five months Duke came and went, but nearly every day, a vagabond crew of production assistants would stop by the shop to feed, clean, and train the pigeons for their secret mission. In an odd addition to your standard homing piegon regiment, they began outfitting some of the birds with miniature USB video cameras so that we could literally have a “bird’s eye view” of their progress.

Eventually they were sailing out to the reef with the birds and they would magically appear less than an hour later right out back in the coop.

Towards the end of Duke, the pigeons, and the crew’s stay out back, we chatted about the final project and then it was revealed…

The birds had been sailed to Cuba with Duke and the crew aboard a small sailboat. Upon arrival, they prepared for the secret mission — using the pigeons to smuggle illegal Cuban Cohiba cigars back to the US. It was absolutely brilliant and was ultimately a huge success.

The project culminated with an exhibition at the Magnan Matz Gallery in New York and subsequent articles in the New York Times and other international publications offered the world a little slice of COAST.

3.) Prototype Wooden Paddleboard

Builder: Rich Blundell
Time Frame: November through January

Rich arrived in late November in a shiny new Mercedes Sprinter camper van filled with tools, timber, and templates. We’d been officially connected through mutual friends, but I’d been aware of the company Rich co-founded nearly 10 years ago, Grain Surfboards, for quite some time.

Rich had innovated a technique to build hollow wooden surfboards through a combination of his love of woodworking and surfing and his mission to create a more sustainable way to build boards.

Resembling, century old airplane wings, Rich’s tried and tested techniques have provided the basis for nearly a dozen original surfboard shapes — ranging from single-fin shortboards to 10 foot longboarding logs.

The goal in his travels to Key West were multifold. Primarily, he wanted to design and build a paddleboard, or two, specifically for use in the shallow waters surrounding our little island city. Secondly, he wanted to teach the technique so that once he leaves, we can make our own boards and hold our own workshops to teach others — in a general sense this has always been Rich’s goal: to spread knowledge and stoke.

All things considered, for the past month and a half, Rich has more or less been living at the shop, working on perfecting a ridiculously rad paddleboard that has caught the eye of every single person that has passed through the shop, while planning to follow it up with a second, slightly more rational paddleboard that can be built in days not months.

Once the first board is completed — likely within the week — we’ll celebrate with a sea trial and some suds, so stay tuned…

2.) The Little White House

Builder: Billy Litmer
Timeframe: June through present

Perhaps the most ambitious project to date is one that came in a spur-of-the-moment, whimsical vision by Billy Litmer. Upon the realization that, with a child on the way in October, his trusty liveaboard schooner, Skimmer, might be a bit too cozy, but also knowing that he loved the freedom of life on the hook, Billy set out to build what was initially considered a “really basic” houseboat for his new, and growing, family. Two hulls and a house top was all he needed — easy enough…

But the boat and the vision has since evolved and The Little White House is now a lot more boat than the original plans and ponderings had prescribed.

At the moment, the basic structure is more or less finished and it looks like, well a house — and a boat. Interior designs and plans are well underway and within a month, the boat should be preparing for the precarious pluck and plop into Safe Harbour.

We’ll certainly keep you up to date on the progress, especially as we get closer to completion and launch. And then, it’s time for champagne…

1.) The COAST Building Renovation

Builders: Billy Litmer, Ryan Muntin, and Billy Kearins (design lead).
Time Frame: January through June (though technically still ongoing)

With the takeover of the space at 6404 Front Street, we had our hands full with fixing up a nearly neglected building and lot that had been erected some 30 years earlier. No small job, but the vision for COAST kept us swinging and smiling through long, late nights and hot, humid days.

Without getting into too many details we took it from what you see in the early photos to what it is now with the help of an overabundance of found materials, salvaged mostly from nearby shipyards and marinas. Repurposed planks and pallets, discarded anchor line, bent nails straightened and re-used, rusty sheets of roofing and donated paint and plants provided ample material to get the building end of the job done, while late night ideation sessions and a solid vision paved the way for the design choices and plans to have it all make sense.

What you see now is the evolution of our special place in the world.

So, take note when you’re here to notice the small things, because we tried to think about how the details are what make the big picture so special.

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