Born 1864 and married at 24, Thomas Head lived in Joe Batt’s Arm on the north coast of Fogo Island, Newfoundland. Thomas was a fisherman all his life but, to eke out a living with his wife Phoebe, he would likely have turned his hand to many other things in the course of a year.
The distinction between a punt and a rodney, or if there is even a distinction to be made, is often debated among boat builders and enthusiasts.
Both punts and rodneys are small (under 25 feet) work boats with keel and rounded bottoms. Used in the inshore and coastal fisheries, the design of these boats varies between communities and builders.
For some, the terms “punt” and “rodney” may be used interchangeably to refer to the same boat. For others, a rodney is smaller than a punt. Sometimes the shape of the counter, or transom, is a defining feature.
What do “punt” and “rodney” mean to you?
“My first boat was what we call a rodney – a small boat about 12 feet long. We used to tow her behind the trap boats.” – Tom Abbott, Summerville
“A rodney is a little narrower, I think. And they’re a little more, what you call ‘cranky’… but the crankier they are the easier they are to row.” – Ray Boone, Summerford
“As I was told, a rodney is 14-16 feet. Once you go over that, 16-19 feet, it would be a punt. A punt is little bit bigger than a rodney.” – Stewart Sturge, Salvage
“I usually think of a rodney as something thats light, easy to row, easy to launch, usually with a little rocker in the keel, and cranky as ever could be… They’re fast, easy to row and light to handle, whereas a punt is more of a heavier, wider, not-so-graceful looking thing that was used for fishing and handling around salmon nets and everything.”
Sam Feltham learned how to build boats on Deer Island using cut timbers, but has been using steamed laths since moving to Glovertown in 1954. This punt, completed in August 2012, is just one of more than 100 boats built by Sam over the years. While Sam would normally cut his own wood, he finds it increasingly difficult to find suitable timbers. For this punt, Sam used store-bought spruce.
Typically, says Sam, “we would cut a knee in the woods – a flaring knee, with an angle about 18 degrees – for the stern.”
Built in Pasadena in 2008, Max Pollard constructed this punt for his daughter with timber cut in his own backyard. Used at Old Man’s Pond, Max made repairs in 2012 which included replacing a number of rotting timbers and the top two counter boards.
Puzzled by the disbursement of the rot, Max can only speculate on the cause. “I don’t know if freshwater makes that much difference to the wood, but she’s very rotten – in only four years.”
Samuel Andrews built this four-oared punt in Winterton during the 1930s-1940s. It measures 15’6” long and was used during the winter for hunting seals and sea-birds. Built with thin planking and a smaller frame, it was designed to be lightweight and maneuverable through the ice.
While the difference between a punt and rodney varies throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, in Winterton, the two are remarkably similar with only a few slight distinctions.