Muriel J. Smith
Muriel J. Smith
Muriel J. Smith

HIGHLANDS –  For years, the JAKBAR was a familiar site docked at Bahrs Landing near the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge. There’s a story behind this former fishing boat and heroine, as well as her connections with the Starbound, a 65 foot long sloop framed and built at Pier 7 during the mid-1940s.

Fishing boats sailing out of Bahrs Landing were commonplace in the early days of the waterfront boatyard, and the JAKBAR and Lucky Strike were two of the most popular, frequently in the fishing columns of local newspapers, including Stew Van Vliet’s Surf, Field and Stream column which ran regularly in the Red Bank Register. The daily menu at Bahrs Restaurant in the 1940s reflected the catch from the JAKBAR, as anglers aboard the open party boat brought in fluke, stripers, bluefish and more and the restaurant featured their own catch broiled, fried or in chowders and soups. 

Capt. Ed Volk was Captain of the JAKBAR, inviting anglers to be aboard before the 8 a.m. sailing every day, and Julian’s Bait & Tackle shop, immediately adjacent to Bahrs, offered a ready supply of ice as well as ground and whole bunker for bait.

jakbar launchingPHOTO:  The JAKBAR at its Christening.  Photo courtesy of Bahrs Restaurant

Although the boat played an important role in the lives of many people and businesses for decades, it was her heroics in 1970 that garnered the most headlines. A large barge owned by the US Dredging Company had broken loose from its moorings in a heavy northwest wind and was slowly being pushed towards the Highlands Sea Bright Bridge. Alexander Bahrs, one of the three brothers operating the Bahrs family businesses, gathered his crew on the JAKBAR and was able to push the barge on to the Sandy Hook beach before any damage was caused to the bridge.  The result was no damage to either bridge nor barge and only an inconvenience for those delayed driving on the bridge while it remained open for the rescue.

Less well known was the JAKBAR’s service to her country. One of the added responsibilities she took on as a Bahrs boat was towing barges for the US Navy. The barges had huge targets attached with a 1,000 foot line and was used for target practice by sailors and Marines at NWS Earle honing their skills with firing explosives.

The JAKBAR was turned from fishing boat to cruising vessel for family and friends especially celebrating the Fourth of July each year as she became the floating theater for guests viewing fireworks spectaculars in both Atlantic Highlands to the west and upriver toward Red Bank as well. In July of 1976, she provided the perfect spectator spot for the Tall Ships sailing into Manhattan in honor of the nation’s Bicentennial and ten years later once again for the centennial celebration of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

The boat had other interesting careers as well, both for crabbing outings in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers as well as as a Love Boat. In July 1984, Municipal Court Judge Ronald Horan officiated at the marriage of an Atlantic Highlands couple aboard the vessel. It was truly a party boat that spread Bahrs Landing style good cheer up and down the river.

The Starbound was built at Pier 7 for J. Kenneth Whitteker, an engineer from Nutley who was fascinated with sailing, and notably the Spray, Joshua Slocum’s 37 foot oyster sloop. Slocum had received it from a friend, Capt. Even Pierce in 1892 as a rotting old oyster boat no longer in service. After taking it to Fairhaven Massachusetts for a major overhaul, Slocum retained the original name.

The boat had been used for oystering in the Chesapeake Bay, but with its deteriorating hulk and need of upkeep, it was lying derelict in a meadow when Slocum accepted it as a gift. Slocum spent 13 months and upwards of $500, in today’s world, more than $15,000 in repairing and refitting the vessel.  He then sailed it around the world, the first person to complete such a trip.    Over the next few years he reduced the mast height, lengthened the bowsprit, re-rigged the boat as a yawl and made it a featured attraction at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY in 1901.

On a trip bound from Massachusetts to South America, the Spray was lost with Slocum aboard during the winter of 1909.

Fascinated by the story, Whitteker commissioned William J. Deed, a New York naval architect, to draw the plans and have the Bahrs Boatyard construct the Starbound to simulate the Spray. The construction garnered numerous headlines and drew newspaper photographers to record the various stages of construction completed by the most skilled artisans of their time, carpenters including George Fay, Karl Kristensen, John Kristensen, and Olaf Olsen, with Ken Bahrs foreman in charge of the yard. The lumber of the 300 pound stern was white oak cut in Lakewood. The Starbound went on to sail around the world twice with her owners Gordon and Nina Stuermer who went on to write popular cruising books including one named “Starbound..

All good things must come to an end, and thus it was with the Pier 7 Boat works as well. It closed during the depression as NAD Earle need skilled boat workers and waterman for pier construction and maintenance and other work at the pier. That, coupled with the change in boat craftsmanship from wooded to fiberglass hulls led to the end of an era that saw work, pride, patriotism, and fun.



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Muriel J. Smith

Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, in...