CAPTREE CLASSIC
A fire once gutted the boat, but now it has risen from its own ashes.
By Tom Rock

Nick Manzari has been working on party boats since he was a teenager in the late 1960's, pitching in on his grandfather's boat out of Island Park whenever the opportunity arose. He's been working out of Captree since he graduated from St. John's University in 1973, skippering boats around the bays and even owning his own boat. But he had never been involved in something like this.

His latest venture quickly turned into an adventure a year ago when he sold the boat he owned for 12 years in order to buy what amounted to a blank canvas. This spring, Manzari unleashed his creation: The Island Princess, a 65 ft. party boat that was literally risen from its own ashes.

A fire gutted the boat, then known as the Apache, in December, 1997. For two years it was owned by Charlie Hart, who operates a boat yard in Sayville. Hart's people - carpenters, machinists, fiberglass workmen - salvaged the hull, putting a new skin on an old skeleton. In May Manzari purchased the boat and renamed it Island Princess, taking the name off the older boat he sailed for all those years (that the boat is now called the Captree Princess and sites a few slips down the marina).

"This kind of thing is a rare opportunity these days," said Manzari as he stood in the cockpit of the boat, monitoring the instruments and electronics that his grandfather's party boat had never seen, It's so expensive to build a big boat like this that there are so few new ones being made. It's mostly used boats being bought and sold."

So, technically, is this one. The only difference is that everything from the new mahogany deck up is brand new. The aluminum ladders still sparkle in the sunlight. The hardwood handrails are still smooth as formica. The benches and tables in the cabin are still showroom new. There is even a new boat smell.

I never thought I'd have the opportunity to own something of this caliber, nevermind have a say in its design," Manzari said. "This entire boat was designed for maximum fishing comfort with an amazing efficiency of space. It's not a real huge boat, but it's low to the water and still has a nice flair at the bow for dock appeal."

Manzari loved his old boat. "There were a lot of good memories on it'" he said. But while the old Island Princess looked like a caddyshack, this new one ride like a Cadillac.

When it does ride, anyway. Manzari and his crew battled not only the weather this week, but engine problems. The transmission had to be replaced, which involved clearing out the new tables and benches in the cabin and hoisting the engine up. Manzari then decided to replace the reverse clutch plate while the motor was still up instead of waiting for the part to breakdown, so he ordered the piece from Texas and had it overnighted to Long Island.

The Island Princess was landlocked for three windy days before setting sail again on Friday with its regular schedule of two daily flounder runs. A third trip for weakfish at night will start in about a month.

Fishing continues to be slow, but it is picking up as water temperatures climb over 50. On Friday, only a handful of fish were brought on the boat during the morning trip, mostly by using mussels and worms. Crew members used long wooden poles to dig up the bottom, churning shrimp and worms and clams in what must look like an underwater buffet to a flounder. All were keepers - including a nice three-pounder caught by Rich West of West Patchogue - but what they had in quality they lacked in quantity. The fish have been staying away, but the crowds are starting to pick up. Not only does the new boat attract new customers, but it satisfies regulars who are loyal to Manzari.

"I've been fishing with Captain Nick for over 10 years," said Darius Perry of Sayville. "He knows his stuff like a lot of the guys here (at Captree) do, but I enjoy coming with him because he always has a great crew. Not only are they helpful, but very knowledgeable."

That wasn't the selling point when Manzari was working with his grandfather.

"It used to be whoever caught the most fish would get the most business," he said. "Now it's who has the cleanest boat, the sharpest crew."

In a world that is changing from fishing to marketing, Manzari now has a boat that can handle both.