Accessible only by boat until 1974, Twillingate Island has been home to skilled boat builders for generations.
“Mr. Young – across the tickle – Don Young, he just lived over across the way there, he was building boats, and one or two of his brothers built boats. They were the closest ones to me that were in the business of boat building,” Alf recalls, “But there were lots of other people around. There was Mr. Watkins, over across there, he built speed boats. Good speed boats. And of course, the Pardys of Little Harbour. They’ve been building them since… well, I don’t think they were involved in the ark but they go back pretty far,” he laughs.
Born in 1939, Alf can trace his Twillingate roots back seven generations. “This interest in wood, I think it was born into me.” Standing in the shed that once belonged to his great-grandfather, Alf recalls his early interest in boats.
“Well I started out here, getting the axe when dad wasn’t looking and chopping out a boat out of a piece of wood, going down to the beach and floating it, getting my feet wet and going home to get a lecture from mom,” he remembers.“If there was anybody building a boat, I was always curious about how they were doing it.”
Learning to Build
Growing up, Alf remembers when trap skiffs and motor boats were more commonplace than pickup trucks and ATVs. As Alf entered his teenage years, outboard motors were becoming more widely used around the Island. “They were great big motors then, 7.5 horsepower Evinrude,” he laughs, “The old fellas figured all the young crowd were going to be drowned tearing around in these boats!”
The first outboards were mounted on the sterns of rowboats.“‘Twas easier than rowing, but was not the answer,” said Alf. “Who built the first speed boat? I don’t know. I remember one of the first ones I saw was built by Lloyd Elliott… He used to build speed boats and they’re much the same shape as they are today with a wide stern and flat bottom.”
Today, when asking boat builders in Twillingate what makes a good speed boat, the most common response was, “have you see Alf’s? That’s a good speed boat.” So we asked Alf, what makes his speed boats so good?
“Not because I had anything to do with it!” he laughs. “The credit goes to the man who designed them [Francis Lane]. The shape is right… He’s got a pretty good eye for what a boat should be.”
Over the years Alf has had a hand in building punts, speedboats, sailboats and longliners up to fifty-six feet. At the time of our visit in 2014, Alf was working on a 21 ft. motorboat.