On the Hard

They're buying up every inch of this island and building condos

Location City Island
Price $232,000 in 1991
Square feet 2,900 (three-story 1878 former farmhouse)
Occupants Wes Rodstrom [owner, Consolidated Yachts]; Krista King [office manager, Consolidated Yachts]

What's going to happen to the seashells, scrimshaw, and blunderbusses?[Wes] We're going farming. We're giving up this nautical shit. [Krista] I can't fit the groceries in the back of the car. He has harpoons in my trunk. [Wes] I bought this house in '91, the year of the perfect storm the rest of the street was under water. I own the oldest still existing boatyard in New York, a few blocks away.

It's one of the last boatyards on City Island, which, by the way, is one and a half miles long off the Bronx in Long Island Sound.The truth is I don't know if I'm selling. I'm under contract. I've chased out developers for years. I insulted them and they walked. Other groups came like wolves. [Krista] They're buying up every inch of this island and building ugly condos. [Wes] Look at this old outboard motor. I got about 80 total. I just sold eight to a guy in Egypt.

Pale green outboards—the smell of gasoline on a summer day.The guy wants to buy my wooden piers and ship them to his place on the Nile. My father bought the yard when I was five. Before that my dad ran the City Island Yacht Club. My Uncle Jack used to keep horses across the street. We rode them between the boatyards. At one time, City Island was one of the great yachting capitals of the world. You know what this is? [He's waving around a long, heavy, pointed white thing.]

It's from a swordfish. It must be so exhausting for the swordfish to have that on its body, carry it around.With a boatyard, if you have a piece of property, it's always very easy to collect. I just bought a farm in Delaware County.

Move inland? You're so salty.Where does a guy like me go? My property taxes for the business since '99 are more than what my father paid for the boatyard. They undertax residential and go after commercial. Over $100,000 a month in taxes and operating costs. The environmental issues to have a boatyard today—I had to take a federal pesticide course. My father said—to quote Curly—get out with dignity. [ Krista] We don't have a real community sense here anymore. [Wes] The houses went from father to son to son-in-law. The people coming here for the nautical life are killing what they're coming for. Clam diggers are the people born here. Actually, I'm a mussel sucker. I was born in Westchester. See this? This was J.P. Morgan's favorite pond yacht. My grandfather was J.P.'s captain for years. My Aunt Adeline founded the City Island Museum. The farm—I bought 58 and a half acres from a third-generation dairy farmer. He's selling his property to send his three kids to school. [ Wes wanders off and starts playing with a buoy or something .]

I saw the gate where the ferry takes the dead to Hart Island, last of the potter's fields. A sign read, "Prison—keep off." Do prisoners still take the dead out there?No, they all come home with me. [He waves a skull.]

I heard you have all these cats and they're inbred so their legs are shorter and .. .The gene pool gets pretty tight. I just buried Hot Rod. [He gets emotional.] I take care of about 28 cats. City Island was just ringed with boatyards in the past—100 years of cats. Now they're all in my yard. I've got to feed those cats. No way I can leave the animals. [We go to the boatyard with the 1930s office and sheds.] They built PT boats, minesweepers here during the war. I've got 12 boats of my own, 14, 15 cars here. Here's a red surf car. I've surfed California, the Caribbean. I've lived in shacks for $9 a month. [He looks down at his nautical artifacts.] When I die, just throw me in the pile.

Oh now let me sing you a sea shanty like the kind you all sing on the boats: "Oh the times was hard and the wages low/ Leave her, Johnny, leave her /And the grub was bad and the gales did blow/ And it's time for us to leave her."

 
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