March 1, 2024

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Updated: September 7, 2022 @ 11:57 pm
Jay Lesynski Jr., right, and his son Jay III, owners of the Merri-Mar Yacht Basin in Newburyport.
The Merri-Mar Yacht Basin on Merrimac Street in Newburyport.

Jay Lesynski Jr., right, and his son Jay III, owners of the Merri-Mar Yacht Basin in Newburyport.
The Merri-Mar Yacht Basin on Merrimac Street in Newburyport.
NEWBURYPORT — It is said that the best two moments of a boater’s life are when the vessel is purchased and when it is sold. But there is another poignant moment for owners, especially in a region with a short boating season: The time when the craft is pulled out of the water for the year.
The arrival of September marks the beginning of the end of the summer boating season, with the first vessels coming out in mid-month.
This has been happening at the 70-slip Merri-Mar Yacht Basin on Merrimac Street for 66 years now. It is one of the oldest family-owned boatyards in the region, and owner Jay Lesynski II is ready for the cycle to begin again.
“We’ve had an awesome season,” said Lesynski said, who took over the business from his father and mother. “If there is a positive thing about COVID, it is that it has brought out a lot of people. This is a busy time for boating on the Merrimack. We don’t have any vacancies.”
The story goes that Jay’s father, Wally Lesysnki, and his mother, Ruthann, in 1966 took over a property on Merrimac Street known as the Hathaway Boatyard.
It had once been the site of the Carrier-Townsend Shipyard, a legendary 19th century builder that manufactured the Dreadnaught.
The Dreadnaught is said to have been the fastest tall ship to cross the Atlantic in the mid-19th century. In 1853, it sailed from New York to Cobb Island, Ireland, in a record-setting nine days, 17 hours, according to a plaque on the property at the corner of Merrimac and Ashland streets.
When Jay graduated from Newburyport High School in 1979, he began working in his father’s business.
His son, Jay III, has entered the family business as well.
Newburyport Harbor hosts has numerous boatyards and/or yacht clubs, including the American Yacht Club, Bridge Marina, Cove Marina, Hilton’s Marina, Newburyport Boat Basin, Newburyport Harbor Marina, North End Boat Club, Ring’s Island Marina, and the Windward Yacht Club.
Each facility provides its own range of services, and the Merri-Mar facility seems to offer just about everything. The enterprise is a broker of used boats. It sells merchandise, and it repairs engines. It stores boats in winter.
Several years ago, it underwrote a major expansion of the sales and services facility.
“We needed to expand,” said Lesynski.
The year 2022 represents a high-water mark in pleasure boating on the Merrimack, according to Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg.
“The river is full,” Hogg said recently. “The private marinas don’t have any empty slips, and the moorings on the river itself are all taken. This has been a very busy summer.”
About 1,500 vessels are registered with the harbormaster in Newburyport. Hundreds more are in Amesbury and Salisbury, while scores of vessels are launched at Cashman Park each week after being brought in on trailers.
Fred Salas, a boat owner from Guilford, New Hanmpshire, who keeps his 48-foot Hatteras moored at Merri-Mar, said, “This is a good boatyard. The spot itself is protected, and it’s like a community with owners and staff helping each other.
“It’s a good place to hang out. If I were in the Caribbean, my dinghy would be stolen. Certainly the engine would be gone.”
One reason for the growth in boating is that the water is cleaner than it was decades ago. Starting with the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Merrimack carries less effluent than it did in the days when mills and factories dumped waste directly into the river.
“We walked down to the end of our pier recently,” said Lesynski. “You could see clearly down to the bottom, about 10 or 15 feet.
“When I was growing up, a lot of parents didn’t want their kids going near the river. They said it was too polluted. A clean river has brought many people to this community, and boaters go to restaurants, go shopping and spend money here.”
Lesynski said one of the today’s challenges is finding workers. He finds it difficult to hire willing hands.
The veteran mariner also expressed concern that small boatyards are being purchased by institutional investors or large boating chains.
Lesynski has developed a flourishing business on the Merrimack but added that more public attention should be paid to the river.
“Dredging the river (to ensure smooth navigation) has been an issue for years,” said Lesynksi, who has his own sailboat in one of the slips. “The funding for a dredging project is being discussed now but public officials should have an ongoing plan” for the river’s health and navigation.
Still, it appears these are the good old days for this venerable business owner who has spent his whole life on the Merrimack.
“What I’ve enjoyed most over the years is helping our boaters have a good time,” he said. “Boat owners are a special group – they love it, whether it’s being on the water or puttering around the boat when it’s on land.
“It’s been a great business for me, and now I am glad my son has followed me into the family business.”
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