Oyster Farmer Steven Schnee has always loved the water.
“I’ve been boating all my life,” he said.
It started at a childhood day camp, where he first learned to sail. After a 40-year career in media, he returned to the water and started Founders Oyster Farm, which supplies oysters to many of the North Fork’s most popular restaurants.
Now, Schnee is offering a new way to enjoy these local oysters. In two weeks, he will be leading the first of many private cruises on The Half Shell — a 31-foot Chris Craft Yacht from 1936.
Passengers on board can choose from several sightseeing destinations on the North Fork, including a private oyster tasting above Schnee’s local oyster farm.
Located about a half mile off Founders Landing Beach, Schnee’s underwater farmland is marked by buoys. There, passengers can pop open some complimentary bubbly and learn how to shuck oysters.
“People are really curious about how oysters are grown and how oysters are harvested,” he said. “I could answer those questions and give a little oyster 101.”
To Schnee, The Half Shell is as much of a rescue project as it is a new business venture.
While most modern boats are made of fiber-reinforced plastic, the 1936 yacht is wooden — a modern-day rarity and a symbol of the North Fork’s maritime culture.
“It’s a piece of history you just don’t want to see die,” he said.
During the early to mid-19th century, Greenport was a major whaling and ship-building port. More than 500 registered vessels were created at Greenport shipyards in the 20 years spanning 1830 to 1850, according to the East End Seaport Museum. The village was also headquarters for the offshore Picket Patrol, a group of donated wooden sailboats that helped the US Navy during World War II.
‘It’s a way of immersing yourself a little bit more with the maritime history of the region.’Stephen Schnee
Schnee’s wooden yacht was built in Michigan and purchased by a family from Amityville. For three generations, it remained in that lineage and cruised the Great South Bay.
“It actually was in better shape than I had expected it to be,” said Schnee, who took on the project after spotting the yacht at The Boatyard at Founders Landing. “The engine runs like a clock — a Timex, not a Rolex, but it runs, you know.”
For Schnee, The Half Shell was a labor of love. Over a span of six months, he spent roughly six hours a day, seven days a week, restoring it.
Several features of the yacht — like its cabinets — are original. Others, like the icebox, bathroom and safety equipment, have been modernized.
Schnee is offering both daytime and sunset cruises for up to six people that can be booked for either two or four hours. A two-hour tour costs $875 plus gratuity, while a four-hour session costs $1,475 plus gratuity.
“It’s a way of immersing yourself a little bit more with the maritime history of the region,” said Schnee, who hopes that his background as an oyster farmer and the historic yacht will create a unique experience for his passengers.
For those who prefer to have their oysters on land, they can find Founders Oyster Farm oysters at a contactless stand along Founders Path in Southold. Schnee can also be spotted shucking oysters every Saturday at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic.