Cee Bee I Chemical Bank boat Est. 1981
The floating bank branch called Cee Bee I commissioned by Chemical bank in 1981 was originally a hydrofoil that shuttled passengers from Manhattan to Flushing for the Worlds Fair in 1964. The 36 foot boat provided Fire Island residents with complete banking services with the exception of safety deposit boxes. The idea was conceived by the Security National Bank which operated its own bank boat until 1975. Chemical Bank picked up on the idea in 1980 when it was suggested by Arthur Branwell a former manager. Cee Bee I provided banking services from April to October to residents in Ocean Bay Park, Kismet, Cherry Grove, Davis Park, and the Pines.
New York Time August 4, 1985.
A bank boat begs for a joke: liquid assets, floating loans, something fishy in the accounts. A customer comes aboard, giggling as she steps from the dock onto the fantail. ”This is the weirdest bank I ever saw,” said Gabrielle Schang, a day visitor to Ocean Bay Park on Fire Island. ”I’m a Chemical Bank customer, but I never expected anything like this. It’s charming.” Indeed, the Cee Bee, as Chemical Bank calls its boat, may be one of the few bank branches afloat, a 36-foot, 216-horsepower, twin-screw, diesel-driven counting house and depository that, from May to mid-September, travels the waters of the Great South Bay six days a week making port at four points on Fire Island.
The Cee Bee has a crew of three: Tom McNamara, the 44-year-old skipper and owner, a local salt with a trim seafarer’s beard who has been running power boats in these waters for 23 years; Jackie Gelston, 24, an accounts officer, and Melinda Reynolds, a 21-year-old college student who has been the teller for three summers and, by virtue of her time on board, can rightly be called the first mate. She knows how to tie a fast half hitch and can lash a line from piling to deck cleat as neatly as any hand along the shore. Nevertheless, there are some matters nautical that still elude her. ”I know that right is port and left is starboard,” she said. ”No? The other way around? O.K., I know that the front is the bow and the back is the stern. That’s important, isn’t it?”
Miss Reynolds is keen on her job. She gets that sense of self worth that comes from holding a responsible position. and, while young boys fish for snapper a stone’s throw from her mooring, she can create in her mind the aura of being on vacation. ”I love water-skiing,” she confessed. ”I wouldn’t mind throwing a line off the back and being towed.” Fire Island attracts a diverse crowd and is a place of varied styles of living. Miss Reynolds, who was raised on Long Island, is intrigued by this variety. ”There are some people who you just wouldn’t see on land on a branch on Long Island,” she said. ”My favorite place is Cherry Grove. It’s gay. It’s a real adventure to go there. Some of the men come on board wearing nothing but G-strings and a lot of suntan oil. Sometimes it smells like a pina colada in here.” Sea duty, of course is not for all bankers. Miss Reynolds says the cabin is often so hot she feels like she is making change in a sauna. And when the sea is rough, as it often is, ”things fly all over the place.” At night, her living-room floor seems to pitch and roll.
Joan Connolly, who is manager of the Chemical Bank branch across Great South Bay in Bay Shore as well as the Cee Bee, said one of her tellers had become so sea sick that she ”became addicted to Dramamine.” A hatch cover once fell on Miss Reynolds and she has a scar to show for it. And there have been a few times when the skipper left the slip suddenly and she had to grab for a rail to keep from being pitched overboard. Last season, as she was scampering up the back ladder, she struck her head on the edge of the hatch opening and spent three days in a hospital. ”People in the branches on land complain about paper cuts,” she said. ”I get concussions.” ”One day,” said Miss Connolly, ”a man at the dock in Kismet pulled his boat up next to the bank boat, and when he went to throw out his anchor, instead of throwing it in the water, he threw it though the bank’s window.”
The day is thick and gray and business has been slow. A few young waitresses come in to deposit their tips, thick rolls of ones, fives and tens. A man in bathing suit follows with a $400 check. ”I got here on Saturday with $700,” he says, ”and now I’m down to $300. It goes so fast.” At noon, an hour and half of banking has passed and it is time to leave Ocean Bay Park and move on. Power and telephone lines are disconnected from the dock and the skipper points the bow northwest toward Kismet. Ten minutes later, the lines are secured and the bank is again open. During an afternoon lull, there is time to talk about money and to explore the mysterious ways of tellers. For example, tellers turn their bills face up the same way when they count them because that’s the way the Federal Reserve requires them to be shipped. Counting that way also makes it easier for tellers to spot a counterfeit bill. A stack of bills can also be redolent, suggesting its last repository, ”like a fried-fish store or a pizza parlor or a gas station,” Miss Connolly said. Miss Reynolds does not think about money when she is counting it. ”It’s all just paper to me,” she said. ”I take in paper and I give out paper.” But she will admit to a certain curiosity and, at times, envy when she cashes paychecks. ”You wonder what people do for that great amount or that little amount that is on their check,” she said. ”It’s also hard giving someone more money than you make. Sometimes I hope they’re getting paid for a month’s work and not just one week.” At 2:30 P.M., Miss Reynolds and Miss Gelston tallied up the day’s receipts and Tom McNamara made ready to shove off. ”We’ve run aground twice and one day we lost one of the propellers,” Miss Reynolds said. ”We’ve also had days when the weather was so bad we’ve had to turn back and return to Bay Shore.
”And there have been times when I miss not being able to put on a dress and high heels and have my hair stay the same way it was when I left the house. But I see the sun a lot more than most people and that’s something, isn’t it.”