Folklorist Nancy Solomon has documented the maritime culture of Long Island through these interviews spanning the years 1987 – 2016. The collection includes baymen, fishermen, boat builders and other maritime tradition bearers.
Don Bevelander, a seasoned bayman from Long Island, has a long history of working in the Great South Bay. He began his career at a young age, around twelve, learning the trade of clamming alongside his father and brother. By the time he was fifteen, he had become a tonger, working long hours on the boat with his father. They would embark from Bay Shore early in the morning and often work until 8:00 PM, spending their entire week on the boat. Don would take on the role of the cook during these trips. They would have a break called "Dutchman's Lunch" at 9:00 AM, where they would enjoy sandwiches. Don's father, originally from Holland, immigrated to the United States, but the family did not speak the Dutch language. Don's grandmother, however, only spoke Dutch and maintained the household. The Bevelander family also engaged in oystering on the eastern side of Long Island. In the winters, when his father retired from bay work, Don worked for Bluepoints. However, after returning from the war, Don found that Bluepoints did not have a boat for him and could only offer him a meager monthly salary of thirty-six dollars. Consequently, he teamed up with his brother, and they began fishing using fyke nets they had crafted during the winter. While they also continued clamming in the bay, they became renowned for their fyke nets, which they produced in their cellar.
Scope and Content Note
Don describes the design and usage of the fyke nets, noting that a single net could hold a box of fish. They would typically earn three to five dollars per box, but during difficult times or when others couldn't venture into the ocean, they could fetch up to fifteen dollars per box. Don recalls that the fish they delivered to market were so lively that they would jump out of the box. They never tarred their nets but stored them in the cellar when not in use. Don expresses great admiration for his father and older brother, the latter of whom was an innovative thinker, always finding ways to make the job easier. However, he laments the current state of the bay, describing it as being in ruins. Don attributes the destruction to pollutants and specifically criticizes Bluepoints for their use of dredge boats, which he believes have played a significant role in damaging the bay. During Don's time working the bay, there were numerous boats on the water, making it almost possible to walk across the bay to the beach. He worked various areas, including the "lead," West Island, the "flats," and the vicinity of the bridge. Interestingly, Don mentions that he never witnessed the Brown Tide phenomenon during his time as a bayman. They used to purchase their tongs from a man in Patchogue, and when he passed away, they found another person who would repair their tongs overnight, becoming their reliable support. Don and his brother were the first baymen to use a metal oyster tong, a design created by his brother. For Don, the independence of working the bay and relying on oneself were the most appealing aspects of the profession, qualities he inherited from his father. He recounts a story about working on the bay when the hurricane of 1938 began to blow in, highlighting the unpredictable and sometimes dangerous nature of his line of work.
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