Tips and Techniques from Gander River Boat Builders

Timber

Juniper (Tamarack) is a strong softwood that grows mostly in wet swampy areas and is the preferred timber for the ribs of the Gander River Boat. Builders heat thin strips of juniper in steam or boiling water to make it pliable to bend the wood to the desired shape.

“I usually put about half a gallon of Javex in the water with it. That makes the juniper pretty soft.” – Eugene Saunders, Glenwood

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Ern Hodder

Ern Hodder
Ern Hodder at his home in Gander Bay

Ernest Hodder was born to Archibald and Clara in Davidsville, Gander Bay in 1933. The oldest of seven children, Ern followed in his father’s path working as a guide on the Gander River in the summer and spending the winters working in lumber camps. “I enjoy it out on the river. If you’re getting paid for something you love that’s the way to go.”

“In my father’s early day, there was no outboard motor. They had canoes that were the same on both ends.” Born in 1905, Ern’s father Arch was almost forty-years-old when he got his first 3 horsepower outboard motor.

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Calvie Meadus

Calvert Meadus was born in Loreburn, Trinity Bay on December 23, 1927. As a boy Calvie recalls watching his father Keid, Uncle Lige [Elijah] Price, and others as they built boats, using a three piece mould to shape every frame before assembling onto the keel.

Learning the Craft

“There was an old fella down there, Uncle Lige Price, he used to be in always building boats. That’s all he done, most all his lifetime. I used to watch him, and then I thought I’d build a boat too. When I started I was fifteen, I wasn’t yet sixteen. I was sixteen before I got her finished.”

First Boat

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Everett Saunders: Strip Planking Method

Carvel planking on traditional wooden boats relies on the wood and caulking between the planks swelling to seal the hull against leaks. Since the 1950s numerous marine sealing compounds and adhesives have been developed, allowing progressive boat builders to modify this traditional construction method to take advantage of these new products.

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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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Bill Feltham

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Cod drying on Deer Island

William James Feltham, better known as Bill, was born on Deer Island in 1938 to Noah and Daisy Feltham. His paternal grandfather, Caleb Feltham, was one of thirteen men tragically lost on the schooner Little Jap in 1909, shortly after the birth of Bill’s father Noah. Bill’s grandmother remarried to Avlin Feltham, the man that Bill would know as his grandfather.

Bill fished on Deer Island with his father Noah, his grandfather Av, and his Uncle Ralph from eleven to eighteen years old.

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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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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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