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!”
9 thoughts on “Edwin Bishop’s Rodney”
Great article Jeremy! It’s always nice to see a write-up on local builders of traditional NL wooden boats. Edwin is a fine builder who has the skills to build them as they once were in the days of wooden boats. Gord Rowe
You build beautiful boats Ed our Dad, Hayward would be very proud of you. Love Emma.
Uncle Ed has such a talent and I was lucky enough as a young boy to be around him as he built some of his boats. He has skill at every thing he takes his mind to and was so nice to be around watching and lending a hand if I could. Great job Uncle Ed, real proud of the work you do. I’m sure lucky to have spent many a day watching you at this in the old shed in on Brigis Road up in Whitbourne . Great memories.
Very nice boat. I am also building a modified catspaw, 12 ’10” x 56″ x 20″ strip-plank 1 1/2″ x 1/2″ with the centerboard and plank inset for the entire keel length. I am curious about your modifications. What did you use for planking? Did you keep the skeg? How does she row?
This is so interesting and informative post about boat building. It’s so useful for us. Thanks for sharing this best information for us.
Beautiful write up Jeremy Harnum. You have truly captured the love and skill that Edwin has for boat building and in turn captured a piece of Hearts Delight History.
Edwin Bishop – your skill and love of what you put your hands to sure shines through in all you do. So glad I came knocking on your door a number of years back.
cus Emma 🙂
wow looks nice and sturdy, what wood did you use to make it?
Great article, sure enjoyed it. Edwin Bishop is my Uncle and I spent many many days with him in my early years. Watched him build boats, helped when I could, once I painted one or part of it, guess I won’t be asked to paint again, another story ha ha . So many good memories and oh so many many stories. Ed is a man with many talents and he masters them all and that big old Bishop grin he carries is right from the heart.
I was wondering if you are the same gentleman who built snowshoes whose story was in the February 2022 issue of the Downhome. If so I would like to ask you a few questions.