I first met Edwin Bishop in September of 2015. When I pulled into his driveway, I was greeted with an open garage door and the stem of a small boat barely visible in the sunlight. Freshly planked and without paint, it was a clever looking boat that revealed a particular attention to detail.
The inside rooms were painted a deep blue with white accents on each side. Edwin was working diligently in the back corner of the shed, but was eager to stop and chat about his project.
At thirteen feet long, fifty-two inches wide and twenty inches deep, Edwin’s design is a modification of a catspaw dinghy, a vessel that caught his eye in a boat building book. Attracted by the idea of a flatter bottom, he moulded the design together with what he knew of traditional Newfoundland rodneys.
“I really don’t like changing stuff a whole lot. There’s some fellas that come around and say, ‘why do you build your boats like this?’ and I say, ‘I build my boat like this because it’s how I learned it.’”
Edwin’s enthusiasm for boat building reaches back many years into his childhood. “I think I can honestly say that everywhere there was a boat, I had my nose into it somehow,” he explained. Edwin grew up in Heart’s Delight, born in his family’s home which he now owns.
Edwin built his first boat with his brother at sixteen years old, eventually building one on his own at the age of twenty-four. He learned from his father, Hayward, who would design boats with a pen and paper. Drawing one half of the vessel on a folded piece of paper, Hayward would judge the drawing by eye and make modifications until the desired shape was achieved. Once satisfied, the paper would be opened up and the boat would be scaled up to proper proportions. Using a scale of one half inch equal to one foot, measurements taken at the forehook, midship bend and afterhook would then be transferred onto a larger piece of paper to make full-sized moulds.
“I built flat boats, plywood boats, strip plank canoes, fibreglass boats… I’d say I’m close to thirties or more. But this type of boat… This is the biggest mistake I ever made with boat building, is that I gave up building this type of boat and went at the fibreglass, because, even though I did some nice fibreglass boats, I didn’t enjoy doing it like I enjoy the wooden boat.”
Traditional materials such as oakum and sawn timbers, are still high priority for Edwin’s boat building, but they are not always available. Finding that access to suitable timber was scarce, Edwin used steam juniper bent frames for this rodney. In place of oakum, he used a marine-grade caulking compound. “This here will be the first boat that I ever built without having oakum in the seams… I’m kinda suspicious!” He admitted. “Knock on wood, I haven’t put a leaky boat out yet. If it works, my God, look at the work it saves!”