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Master class

Building punts and preserving heritage in the Faculty of Education

By Moira Baird

A rodney, once a familiar inshore fishing boat and a common means of travel between coastal communities, is making an appearance on the third floor of the Education building.

The 16-foot, round-bottomed punt is being built by traditional wooden boat-building techniques that date back to the days of English settlers’ arrival in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Master boat builder

Since early January, more than a dozen novice boat builders have constructed the punt’s keel, placing moulds and battens, shaping timbers and attaching planks under the guidance of Jerome Canning, master boat builder with the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador (WBMNL); Jim Dempsey, president, WBMNL; and Dr. David Gill, assistant professor, Faculty of Education.

It’s the second year the faculty and museum have teamed up to offer the 12-week boat-building course to preserve the province’s boat-building heritage. Both times the course has sold out in a week.

“We had to turn people away. There’s quite an appetite for learning boat building in the metro region,” said Mr. Dempsey.

“Through our workshop program, we’re encouraging people to learn those skills and carry them on. This is not a museum piece — we’re encouraging people to take traditional boats out on the water and do something with them.”

1/ Team effort

Dr. David Gill, Jerome Canning (wearing hat) and Jim Dempsey fitting the aft end of the garboard plank. Located next to the keel, the garboard is first plank to be fitted and installed on the punt.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

2/ Details

Jerome Canning checks the garboard plank to ensure the line of its curve runs true.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

3/ Handcrafted

Shaping the bow end of the garboard plank with a plane to ensure a good fit.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

4/ Knowledge sharers

Dr. David Gill (left) and Jim Dempsey fastening and installing the garboard plank to the punt’s frames.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

5/ Simple and effective

Marking the limber holes. These small holes at the bottom of the frames allow water to flow along the length of the boat so it accumulates in the lowest spot for bailing.

Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Original design

The punt under construction in the technology education workshop in the Education building is modelled on a boat originally designed and built by Marcus French of Winterton, Trinity Bay.

“This is our signature punt for the museum — it’s the most documented punt ever in Newfoundland,” said Mr. Canning.

The museum has preserved both Mr. French’s moulds used to shape the hull of a punt and his boat-building know-how gleaned from archival interviews conducted in the late 1970s by Memorial graduate and folklorist David Taylor, author Boat Building in Winterton.

‘Whole moulding’

“The method that Mr. French used to shape it up is the same method that was used by his father and the father before and the father before him,” said Mr. Canning. “The shape of the rodney is “literally hundreds of years old.”

The boat-building method is known as “whole-moulding,” a technique employed by English shipwrights in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

From left, workshop participants Wesley Morris and Ken Snelgrove contribute to the project.
Photo: Submitted

The moulds were essentially three pieces of wood — two curved sticks and one straight stick — that were combined to determine the shape of the three main frames at each section of the hull. Pencil marks on each mould indicate the position of each frame.

“You put the three moulds together and by altering their positions you can determine the shape of each frame of your boat,” said Mr. Canning.

Library exhibit

When the boat-building workshop wraps up at the end of March, the Marcus French punt will be painted offsite and undergo stability tests. It’s destined to be used this summer by a Bonavista Bay tourism operator.

From left, Dr. David Gill and technology education student Dustin White apply marine compound to the aft deadwood, a piece of wood that sits on the keel.
Photo: Submitted

“Building this punt is not just an academic pursuit,” said Dr. Gill. “It’s going to be part of a working, living community and it will impact people’s lives.”

Before the punt heads to sea, it will be displayed at the university’s Queen Elizabeth II Library in the spring as part of an exhibition.

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