C.B: “How did you learn how to build boats?”
V.P: “I’ll tell ya now… you just never had to be afraid to start.”
When the Pettens needed a new larger fishing boat, Henry Petten began to consider who they would hire to build her. “We’ll do it ourselves,” said his son Vernon.
Having built a number of smaller boats, known as flats, Vernon Petten began construction on the thirty-five foot Shirley & Beulah in 1955. It was the same year the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador enacted the 1955 Fishing Ships (Bounties) Act. “She was one of the first bounty boats. They’d pay you so much per foot,” said Vernon.
Launched in Port de Grave in the spring of 1956, the Pettens harvested timber for the stem, knees, timbers and planks. The keel was purchased at Chester Dawes in St. John’s. “We cut the stem and sternpost. We cut the plank and that was sawed at the mill. The timbers were sided and the rest were marked, cut out with an ax and planed. That’s how it was done then. In later years, well, we bought a bandsaw. I still got the same bandsaw now.”
When nearly finished, the Shirley & Beulah was brought down to the cove to complete the final stages of construction. “When I got her down there, this older man down in the cove, he’s long gone now, he came out and looked at her. Uncle Esau was his name. I said, “Uncle Esau, what do you think of her?’ And he looked and her and he says, ‘She’s not going to be any good.” I said ‘why do you say that?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ’she’s not the right length. She’s too long for two lops and not long enough for three.’ And when I’d be out and it was windy, that was always in my mind,” Vernon laughs.
The Shirley & Buelah was fished for five years before being replaced in 1961 by the forty-five foot Fish Fin, followed by the forty-five foot Iris & Donna in 1969. “We always wanted one bigger,” said Vernon, but they were subject to government regulations. “They wanted us to follow whatever they got drawn on paper and that’s it.” Vern said. “We wanted to them higher. They wanted a certain height to the stem and we knew it wasn’t high enough.”
In 1971, the Sea Clipper was launched. “That one was supposed to be forty-five feet but we had her forty-seven and a half feet long. We went bigger. We couldn’t get her big enough, because, ya know, you used to land a lot of fish then, see?” Vernon explains. “We were going back and forth in the bay a long ways, twenty miles, in all kinds of wind. We made her longer in the middle.” Vernon explains that they lengthened her by adding an extra bends of timber at midship. “Now in later years, we wouldn’t have gotten away with it.”
As years went on, regulations changed to allow for larger fishing vessels. In 1981, Vernon built the fifty-three foot Avalon Clipper from plans drawn by master shipbuilder and designer Reuben Carpenter (1911-2001). “I used to have a lot of mackerel and herring aboard of her, cause I’d have them on deck too. You probably couldn’t do that now. I’d have 90,000 pounds on her,” Vernon said.
The last wooden longliner built by Vernon was the Marine Clipper II launched in 1988. She was designed to be fifty-eight feet, but Vernon added one extra foot. “They’d always be against us, didn’t want us to build a big boat and we wanted a bigger one,” said Vernon with a smile.
Vernon built ten longliners over his fishing career, progressing in size from thirty-five to fifty-eight feet. When asked if he had a favourite, Vernon named the Avalon Clipper. “She was a good seaworthy boat.”