Edwin Bishop’s Rodney

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Rodney under construction in Heart’s Delight, 2015

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.
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Punt or Rodney?

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

Stewart Sturge, Salvage


“With a rodney, the timber is slighter, the plank is thinner, and she’s lighter… A punt is heavier.” – Jack Casey, Conche 
 “Same thing. Some people call it a punt and some people call it a rodney… Same shape outside probably just [the punt is] bigger scale.” – Harry Pardy, Little Harbour, Twillingate

“What they call a punt is a little bigger than a rodney. A punt they used to use years ago for towing behind the trap boat. A rodney they used for sealing and gunning and stuff like that.” – Noah Patey, St. Lunaire-Griquet

“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.”


Tom Abbott

Tom Abbott displays oakum that can be rolled into strands and used to cork the seams of the boat
Tom Abbott displays oakum that can be rolled into strands and used to cork the seams of the boat

Born in Summerville in 1928, Tom built his first boat at the age of 12. “It was what we called a rodney – a small boat about 12 feet long. We used to tow her behind the trap boats.”

Tom spent 15 years fishing with his father for cod, mackerel, herring, squid, salmon and whatever else was in season. He learned how to build boats watching his neighbour Abe Fry as he worked in his shed, “I would spend hours. I helped him to plank a boat. I’d go in there in the nighttime and help him – he lived alongside us. I’d hold onto a plank for him, and he’d show me that, then show me something else…it was right fun for me.”

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Steaming Laths in Glovertown

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Rodney built by Stewart Sturge using steamed juniper laths

Steam bending wood is a technique used in boat building to shape the ribs of the boat. While most builders in Glovertown learned how to build using sawn timbers, they switched to steaming juniper laths when this method gained popularity in the 1950s. Those who grew up on Deer Island recall James Feltham (1883-?) as the first to use steam on the island in the late 1940s. “He was that kind of person,” remembers Sam Feltham, “He liked to try new things and was always up for a challenge.”

In Salvage, Stewart Sturge switched from timbers to ribs when he started building speed boats in the 1960s. “It’s much quicker,” Stewart says, “you could have a rodney ribbed out in a day, but if you were using timber it would probably take you a week.” Edgar Butt also switched from timbers to ribs, saying that “it’s harder to get all the timber and it’s more work.”

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Stewart Sturge

Salvage, 2012
Salvage, 2012

Stewart’s grandfather Peter Sturge was born in 1888 on Flowers Island in Northern Bonavista Bay. His great-grandfather participated in the inshore cod fishery and land-based seal hunt, an economy that was in decline by the time of Peter’s birth.

In 1890, the family relocated to Salvage where Peter eventually married and raised his own family. Salvage would be where the next four generations of Sturges would call home.

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Seal Hunting in the Grey Islands

Each spring, Jack Casey of Conche would set out in his rodney and row twelve to fourteen miles to the Grey Islands in search of seals. “It was a long row,” he remembered. “The worst part was when you wanted to come home,” he laughs, “if you could find seals to chase it’d be alright, but sometimes we wouldn’t see a seal for miles and miles.”

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Jack Casey: Building with Moulds

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Michael Casey’s initials found on a rising board in the set of moulds passed down to Jack Casey.

P092712_Jack-Casey-29When building boats, Jack Casey uses a set of moulds that once belonged to his grandfather, Michael Casey. When Michael Casey arrived in Conche in 1850, he made a set of moulds which he used to build his fishing boats. Passed down to his son Michael Patrick, and from there to Jack, these moulds were used to build rodneys and punts for 160 years.

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Jack Casey

Jack Casey
Jack Casey

John (Jack) Thomas Casey was born on July 2, 1922 in Conche, a small fishing community on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. One of eight children born to Michael and Nora Casey, Jack started working in the lumber woods at only seven years old and was fishing with his father by the age of thirteen.

The Casey family, including Jack’s grandfather Michael Casey, moved up the coast from St. John’s to Conche in 1850 to be closer to the Labrador fishing grounds. Jack spent all his life in Conche, earning his living as a fisherman in the summer and working in the woods in the winter.

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Learning the Three Piece Mould

By Jerome Canning

The three-piece mould is an old method for designing and building boats. A lot of the first boats to come off our beaches and take to the fishing waters were boats built with these curved sticks of wood. The method was widely used in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1800s. Moulds still survive in some communities; but mostly as items saved from the old boat sheds of our past builders.

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Three-Piece Mould

taylor-mouldDavid A. Taylor describes the three-piece mould method used by boatbuilders in Winterton, Trinity Bay. Similar to whole-moulding, Taylor describes these moulds as, “a wooden, three-piece adjustable template used to draw the shapes of the three principle timber pairs”.

One of three methods of design Taylor observed among Winterton builders during his research in the 1970s, the three-pieces were referred to collectively as “moulds”.

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