A Man, a Plan, a Catamaran

David Ryan, founder of Sailing Montauk
David Ryan, founder of Sailing Montauk, stood inside the charred cabin of his Catalina 38, which was struck by lightning in August. David Ryan

    A week before Tropical Storm Irene ravaged the East Coast, David Ryan, the owner and founder of Sailing Montauk, was left with a lightning-charred Catalina 38, damaged beyond repair in a serious thunderstorm. But in the wake of that storm he turned his attention toward plans for a new and bigger boat — a 30-person catamaran that, when completed, will be the East End’s only United States Coast Guard-inspected sailing vessel legally allowed to carry more than six passengers, according to Mr. Ryan.
    He and his wife, Amelia Ryan, along with their two daughters, have been making passages together to the Caribbean and ports up and down the East Coast for years. They decided that this summer, they would take Mr. Ryan’s master captain license and lifelong love affair with the ocean and try to make a business of it. In June they launched the charter sailing business Sailing Montauk, outfitting his sloop, S/V Intemperance, as a family-friendly cruiser. By the end of the season, the S/V Intemperance had made almost 100 trips and carried 500 passengers.
    “It’s a return to something from my youth,” said Mr. Ryan. “But you can’t support a family on a six-pack charter boat. This summer was an exploratory season to see if there was business to support it, and there is. I get so high from how good it makes people feel, they’re so enraptured with it.”
    The reception was so good, in fact, that in mid-July Mr. Ryan started looking into building a bigger boat — he was tired of having to turn large groups of people down. When he discovered the storm-induced damage to the S/V Intemperance on that fateful morning, it only solidified his determination to get serious about what he is calling the Mon Tiki Catamaran Project.
    “I had had a full day with three trips and the next day we had two trips, one in the afternoon and then a sunset cruise — I was looking forward to sleeping in,” Mr. Ryan said laughing. “But the phone rang in the morning and my wife asked me if I wanted to do a trip. I thought to myself, ‘This is what we do in the summer. If you don’t do it now, you’ll regret it in February.’ ”
    Mr. Ryan agreed to take a woman with her two teenage children out, but they had to pick him up — his car had died that morning. Driving down to the water with her, he said, “The wind was coming out of the north. It was one of those beautiful days, so crisp and dry and clear, but suddenly there was a smell of burned plastic. I thought there must have been a fire over in the harbor area.”
    The night before, Mr. Ryan and his daughter had shut down the boat, closing hatches and through-holes with deliberate care. They knew a powerful storm was brewing.
    “We started motoring out slowly, and the smell was getting stronger and stronger and stronger,” he said. “Then I noticed a weird shadow on the companionway — it wasn’t coming from the right angle from where the sun was located. Then I realized the ‘shadow’ was blackened boards. My boat was the source of the smell!”
    After taking his clients back to shore, he dashed down the companionway and sprayed it heavily with a fire extinguisher.
    Mr. Ryan isn’t exactly sure what happened, but believes that there was a flash ignition caused by the lightning’s electricity entering the wiring system of the boat, as there was no damage to the mast whatsoever.
    “I think it lit one of the breakers on fire. It looked as though it burned slowly and made a canopy of combustible gas, but everything was closed up so tightly it extinguished itself,” Mr. Ryan explained. “That burst put soot everywhere and the whole cabin roof, liner, and wiring is destroyed. And all the windows were melted.”
    The adjuster declared it a total loss, as the cost to bring the boat back far exceeds its own value.
    “Her financial ashes will be the fertilizer for a new project,” Mr. Ryan said, adding that the Mon Tiki Eco Catamaran will be a boon to the local economy.
    “Our sailing trips bring people out into the community and drive dollars into the community,” he said. “Sailing Montauk guests book hotel rooms and dine in Montauk restaurants. Having the bigger boat will only bolster this. This is a part of the tourism infrastructure that we are lacking.”
    The new boat will be a James Wharram-designed Tiki 38, a schooner-rigged 38-foot open bridge-deck catamaran capable of transoceanic passages, but well suited for day sailing trips. Mr. Ryan, a boat builder himself, but not on this scale, explained that because of the ship’s twin-hull design, the Tiki 38 could offer high-speed sailing with virtually no heeling, reducing the prospect of seasickness. The Wharram catamaran “is a very forward-thinking hybrid of traditional and cutting-edge technology that gives the craft capacities and passenger comfort that nothing available ready-made offers,” Mr. Ryan wrote in an e-mail. “No Wharram has ever been put through U.S.C.G. Marine Safety Center certification before, and once that’s done we’ll have an absolutely unique vessel, the only one of its kind anywhere on Long Island, anywhere in the U.S., in fact. We don’t just want to build this boat, we have to!”
    Financing has been secured and the full building plans are under review by John Marples, an expert in the construction of boats that can pass the U.S. Coast Guard Inspected Passenger Vessel Certification. Mr. Ryan anticipates a final approval at the end of October, with the four-month construction slated to begin in December.
    He is looking for a construction site for the Tiki, hoping to have it built on the East End by local craftsmen using low-impact materials. He believes the boat will serve as a “working testament” to the skills and ingenuity of the local community.
    “If we can’t find something on the East End, we’ll have to pivot and try to find some space in Brooklyn. But how wonderful it would be to say, ‘This boat was built here.’ ”