“You see, to we, a boat is only a boat. That’s all. It’s just nuttin’” Lance Short told us over tea and desserts served by his wife Pat. It was a chilly, damp October day and the crackle of the fire in the kitchen stove can be heard on the interview recording.
I first met Lance during boat documentation research in Trinity Bight in summer of 2014. We arrived at his home in New Bonaventure and explained our interest in speaking to him about boat building. Though he denied being a boat builder, he eventually admitted to building about twenty boats.
Lance was foremost a fisherman, and like many fishermen who built their own boats, he did not consider himself to be a boat builder. Just like mending nets and repairing fishing stages, building a boat was just a part of fishing.
Born in British Harbour in 1936, he started fishing with his uncle John Short when he was 12-years-old. Marking his share of the catch by cutting the tails as he hauled the fish aboard the boat, Lance earned $43 that summer. At the age of 15 he started fishing full-time.
Fishing with Uncle John
In 1967, during NL’s resettlement program, Lance and his family moved to New Bonaventure – only five kilometres over land from British Harbour – where Lance continued to fish the grounds he knew.
“You had to be handy to the fishing grounds you know. That’s the reason I’m here… It would have been no good for me to go over in Conception Bay somewhere, I would have starved to death!” Lance laughed.
Lance built his first boat in 1985. “This old boat was on the go, this old fella had it and I got it from him. I picked it apart and built it (repaired it) almost new. And after that I built one.”
The most recent boat built by Lance was tied up at his wharf in Old Bonaventure alongside two others. Locally known as a “bully boat” these boats were distinguishable by their washboard gunwales.
“That’s the real old fashioned one,” says Lance referring to his boat in the middle, the oldest of three. “That’s what we used to fish in years ago, with trawl, hand-line and that… that’s why we built her like that.”
Originally built in 1948 by Joseph King of New Bonaventure and owned by Sidney Miller of Kerley’s Harbour, Lance rebuilt her entirely in 2000. Outfitted with a 4 HP Atlantic engine, Lance took care to build the new boat identical to the original. The other two boats at the wharf were modified to accommodate their diesel engines.
As a young man, Lance spent two years fishing with Mr. Miller in the original boat. He recalls heading out to the fishing grounds early in the morning, regardless of the weather. “Whatever it was like, if it was foggy, rain, it was no different. You had a compass and a watch – a pocket watch – and an old lantern…”.
Fishing with Sidney Miller