Friday, February 03, 2012

Messing about in boats

There's nothing like a wooden boat built by the hand of a craftsman. Atlantic Canada is full of them -- they're moored just off the shore or tied up at community wharves or private docks, showing off their beautiful, graceful lines to anyone with the eye to appreciate them. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: dories, punts, speedboats, rodneys, Gander River boats and so many more. They're built piece by piece in hundreds of boat shops and sheds, fitted together by work-roughened hands; built for fishing or for pleasure or simply for transportation from A to B. There are still places in the Atlantic region where a boat is the only practical means of transport during the summer months, serving the same purpose as the family car. More commonly, in areas where they're far from a necessity wooden boats are valued as a form of transportation that's also a work of art.
I love the lines of these hardy little vessels, and the way that each builder has a distinguishable style that sets his -- or her -- boats apart from those built by others. I love the tidy joints and sweet curves and suent lines that come together into a finished product that's not only pleasing to the eye but intensely practical and above all, seaworthy, for that's what the whole exercise is about. In a well-constructed wooden boat, form and function come together in a perfect marriage; neither takes precedence over the other. It's this inherent grace that appeals to me about them. One of the joys of traveling in Atlantic Canada is the wealth of opportunities to see these great little boats at their best, being used for fishing, gathering seaweed for sale, or being rowed hell-for-leather in races at community celebrations and gatherings, cheered on by enthusiastic crowds.
In addition to the many chances to see wooden boats in their prime, there are boats that have lived out their usefulness and have been abandoned, sinking into the earth that produced the trees they came from. Others have found their way into museums as static displays and tributes to the boatbuilders' skill. In southwestern Nova Scotia, the Dory Shop Museum, Shelburne houses a dynamic display that illustrates the building of these workhorses of the fishing trade. The Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador at Winterton, NL, has a collection that encompasses a wide variety of boat types used in the area. Both are well worth a visit. "I'm gonna build me a boat with these two hands, it'll be a fair curve from a noble plan; let the chips fall where they will, 'cause I've got boats to build." -- from the song, Boats to Build by Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson.

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