'I'll stay here'

Aaron
Aaron Beswick
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Art of the wooden boat survives in a few Northern Peninsula sheds

"Please God, if I'm alive, I'll have her done by summer," muttered Roland Flynn as he clamped a riser against the ribs of his 13th wooden boat.

You can count on Flynn having the 24-foot trapskiff out of his shed and out of his hair by summer. Listening to the man curse the shed's small size with a heavy Croque accent as he scrambles about the boat, you'd swear the project was nothing but a nuisance to the retired fisherman.

Croque's Roland Flynn with a template he made for a set of ribs for his 13th wooden boat. - Photo by Aaron Beswick/The Northern Pen

St. Anthony -

"Please God, if I'm alive, I'll have her done by summer," muttered Roland Flynn as he clamped a riser against the ribs of his 13th wooden boat.

You can count on Flynn having the 24-foot trapskiff out of his shed and out of his hair by summer. Listening to the man curse the shed's small size with a heavy Croque accent as he scrambles about the boat, you'd swear the project was nothing but a nuisance to the retired fisherman.

But a close examination of his craftsmanship and pride tells another story - one of addiction to the art.

"'Spose I like to work with wood," he admits. "I think she's got a nice shape."

There's plenty of sweep from a high bow to high stern. Up forward the hull flares out for protection from heavier seas. Although built by eye, this skiff isn't just a creation of Flynn's, it's the product of generations of trial-and-error learning.

Flynn started his apprenticeship early. His family lived on the Grey Islands fishing during the summer and moved to Conche annually before winter.

"Grandfather had never seen anything like it - a speedboat."

Flynn hauled the planking from the forest by dog team and going against the advice of his grandfather built a flat-bottomed speed boat - as opposed to the rounded punts which were the norm.

"I painted her white and green," recalled Flynn of his first boat. "I was proud of her."

But he wasn't proud for long.

"We was hauling her behind the motor boat, storm of wind on the go and she filled with water and Grandfather chopped her off."

Flynn, then a teenager, brought the big boat around and tried to save his handiwork to no avail. A round hulled, narrow-sterned punt might have fared better when towed with a following sea.

"'Spose he did the right thing," he concedes nearly 50 years later. "Joey Smallwood moved us a few years later."

Resettlement landed him in Croque. He married, fished and raised a family. Winters found him in the woods or in a shed, learning the art of the working boat.

Unlike fibreglass, the wooden boat is a balance of opposing pressures. The planks would rather stay as straight sticks, but are held in shape by ribs.

The force on each individual set of ribs is spread along the length of the boat by the planks which join each set from stem to stern. This protects the keel, which would otherwise snap under the weight of thousands of pounds of fish slamming into walls of water.

Benches or thwarts divide the boat into thirds - known as the forward hook, midship bend and afterhook. These thwarts run perpendicular to the keel and hold the boat's shape (the curve of the hull) along with the covering board (a grown timber that caps the ribs and planking). Inside the hull, for extra strength, a batten is run from stem to stern.

The opposing and balanced pressures of the hull's construction withstand the battering of North-Atlantic seas - tonnes of oncoming water that slam against, then wrap around and God willing, pass by the clever constructions of men.

Keeping the boat water-tight is again a matter of balanced pressure. Planking sticks are cut, milled and left to dry. When wood dries, it shrinks. The planking,- of an inch on Flynn's trapskiff, is shaped and nailed as tight together as the boatbuilder can manage. But even this wouldn't keep the water out, so using a cauling (corking) iron, he pounds oakum (tarred and twisted jute) into each seam between planks. This pushes each plank tighter against the ones above and below it. Then, when the boat is launched, it soaks up water for a day or two, each plank swells and pushes tighter again.

"Grandfather and old Uncle Cyril Flynn had no trouble to knock a boat together," said Flynn. "I miss he, lot of stuff he'd tell me if I went astray."

But at 65 Flynn is working on being an oldtimer himself, an authority on the craft who in years gone by young fishermen would have come to for advice as they built their own boat and started towards independence. But fiberglass boats built in shipyards by other men's hands have largely replaced wood and Croque's K-12 school with its three students closed last year.

The future has moved west, leaving Flynn singing and cursing in his shed.

"I went to Fort Mac to help my young feller build a house," said Flynn. "Hates it out there, I does. No one understands me, tells me I talk to fast when they're listening too slow. This is a good place, I'll stay here."

Geographic location: Croque, St. Anthony, Grey Islands Conche Fort Mac

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • M
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    What a truly heart-warming story!

  • Helen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Excellent article! Quite a talent there, Roland! It's great that the art of boat-building is alive and well; it's a part of our culture that should certainly remain. My father and uncle used to build boats every winter; for their own use, and sometimes for sale. In fact, my Dad built a 16-footer last summer at the ripe old age of 87!

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    I would rather have 10,000 Roland Flynns in my life over the likes of one Williams , Kennedy , Browne , and so on .

  • The Good Old Days
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    This is a culture in itself. The language and the talents. Some of these gentlemen should be employed by the government to keep our history alive.
    This is as much a history of our culture and heritage as any other thing that comes out of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    There is the chance for employment. Lets step up to the plate.

  • Mary Ellen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    I know this man personally.He tells it like it is.Great story.We could do with some more reading like it.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Nice story. Thanks to the Telegram for showing you folks on the Avalon the cute face of rural Newfoundland before its entirely wiped out.

    Let's just get this de-settlement program over with...

    Everyone over to the right side of the boat! After all, what could possibly go wrong?!

    Daddy, what's a fish?

  • Old Salt
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Newfoundland's Roland Flynns are truly the salt of the earth. Us older types become concerned when we see old traditions die, when we see things change so fast. The over 60 set wants to hang on to the relics of what once was and I think there will be adequate opportunity to see, read, and preserve enough to satisfy us. I am not conviced that the younger ones who follow us really want or appreciate OUR window on the past. They will have their own different window and the reflection struggle will go on. That's life unfolding. Contribute, relax, enjoy and then pass peascefully on to your own eternal rest. The pattern has been and will continue to be repeated.

  • Telling it how Id
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Bridget Curran of the anti sealing coalition would have you believe that this man is better off relocating to the big city, working for a souless multinational corporation than living in squaller.

    Thank you Bridget for making our heritage extinct.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    The Telegram doesn't always get it right , but ,in today's front page story of Roland Flynn , they have managed to capture the true essence of a Newfoundlander . As a people , whether we live on or by the sea , or even if we are landlocked , the briny water surges through our veins , we cannot escape . The sea can be a heavy taskmaster , it is the giver and taker of life . Thank you Aaron Beswick , a fine story to be sure .

  • M
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    What a truly heart-warming story!

  • Helen
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Excellent article! Quite a talent there, Roland! It's great that the art of boat-building is alive and well; it's a part of our culture that should certainly remain. My father and uncle used to build boats every winter; for their own use, and sometimes for sale. In fact, my Dad built a 16-footer last summer at the ripe old age of 87!

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    I would rather have 10,000 Roland Flynns in my life over the likes of one Williams , Kennedy , Browne , and so on .

  • The Good Old Days
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    This is a culture in itself. The language and the talents. Some of these gentlemen should be employed by the government to keep our history alive.
    This is as much a history of our culture and heritage as any other thing that comes out of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    There is the chance for employment. Lets step up to the plate.

  • Mary Ellen
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    I know this man personally.He tells it like it is.Great story.We could do with some more reading like it.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Nice story. Thanks to the Telegram for showing you folks on the Avalon the cute face of rural Newfoundland before its entirely wiped out.

    Let's just get this de-settlement program over with...

    Everyone over to the right side of the boat! After all, what could possibly go wrong?!

    Daddy, what's a fish?

  • Old Salt
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Newfoundland's Roland Flynns are truly the salt of the earth. Us older types become concerned when we see old traditions die, when we see things change so fast. The over 60 set wants to hang on to the relics of what once was and I think there will be adequate opportunity to see, read, and preserve enough to satisfy us. I am not conviced that the younger ones who follow us really want or appreciate OUR window on the past. They will have their own different window and the reflection struggle will go on. That's life unfolding. Contribute, relax, enjoy and then pass peascefully on to your own eternal rest. The pattern has been and will continue to be repeated.

  • Telling it how Id
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Bridget Curran of the anti sealing coalition would have you believe that this man is better off relocating to the big city, working for a souless multinational corporation than living in squaller.

    Thank you Bridget for making our heritage extinct.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    The Telegram doesn't always get it right , but ,in today's front page story of Roland Flynn , they have managed to capture the true essence of a Newfoundlander . As a people , whether we live on or by the sea , or even if we are landlocked , the briny water surges through our veins , we cannot escape . The sea can be a heavy taskmaster , it is the giver and taker of life . Thank you Aaron Beswick , a fine story to be sure .