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Long Island Traditions
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Charlie Balsamo: Master Boat Builder, Restorer and Mentor
Patchogue, Long Island

Charlie Balsamo, manager of South Bay Boat Repair, is dedicated to the vanishing art of restoring and maintaining historic wooden craft. Balsamo was born in Gibraltar and became a carpenter’s apprentice when he was twelve years old, working on boats at the docks and for the British government.

When Balsamo arrived at South Bay Boy Repair in 1959, “there were between the painters, mechanics and carpenters about 26 people working on the boats. They had three people in the office, 5 to 6 people in the stockroom, and the owner Eddie Wayne worked too.” During Charlie’s tenure at the yard, approximately 75 boats were built and repaired, including commercial fishing boats, coast guard vessels, and ferry boats. Like other yards, demand decreased in the 1980s as fiberglass replaced wooden boats. In 2007, Charlie Balsamo was named the South Shore Estuary’s Steward of the Estuary. Despite Balsamo’s objections, the owner of South Bay Boat Repair removed the historic marine railway in 2008 and a historic “barn” on the property in 2009 to create a marina.

“People got rid of wooden boats because marinas are scared they are going to sink. I like wooden boats. It costs more money than a fiberglass boat because it takes longer to make. They’re made piece by piece. Every day is a different thing—you learn as you go.” In addition to boat building and restoration, Charlie also values the importance of preserving the tradition through mentorship. According to patrons, “Charlie could always do whatever you needed done. Charlie is the best in the business. He always took time out to explain things; he’d make a great teacher. Charlie has an unlimited knowledge of shipbuilding and boatbuilding.”