How the Basque build

Pla­cen­tia na­tive as­sists Spa­niards on replica of 16th cen­tury ship

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON edi­tor@CB­N­com­

Jerome Can­ning got his start build­ing boats as a boy grow­ing up in Pla­cen­tia, where he fished with his fa­ther and broth­ers.

Now a mas­ter boat builder him­self, Can­ning re­cently had the op­por­tu­nity to help out a group in Spain build­ing a replica of a 16th cen­tury Basque galleon that was ship­wrecked in Labrador in 1565 — the San Juan.

“For me as a builder to see a boat from that time — early 1500s to mid-1500s — was very im­por­tant, in par­tic­u­lar with our own his­tory,” said Can­ning, who works at the Wooden Boat Mu­seum of New­found­land and Labrador in Win­ter­ton as a mas­ter builder and boat­build­ing in­struc­tor. “It’s a tremen­dous project.” Can­ning met Xa­bier Agote at the 2013 Wooden Boat Con­fer­ence in Glover­town, where the lat­ter gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on the San Juan project — an ef­fort greatly en­riched by Parks Canada’s years of ar­chae­ol­ogy work at the site of the ship­wreck in Red Bay.

With fund­ing from the Wooden Boat Mu­seum and the Depart­ment of Busi­ness, Tourism, Cul­ture and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment, Can­ning was re­cently able to spend six weeks in Pa­saia, Spain. There, four mas­ter boat builders are work­ing with eight qual­i­fied builders to recre­ate the 30-me­tre ship. The group spear­head­ing the project is called Al­baola Fako­ria.

“They’re us­ing the same wood and ev­ery­thing,” ex­plains Can­ning. “For the most part, they’re us­ing tra­di­tional tools.”

His­toric ties

In terms of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, Can­ning cred­its Basque boat builders with in­tro­duc­ing the frame-first ap­proach, which in­volves plac­ing the boat’s frame down be­fore the plank.

“It was re­ally good to see how this was done, es­pe­cially with the re­search that Parks Canada had done and those guys over there then repli­cat­ing that.”

In re­la­tion to his own home­town, it was Basque mariners who first named Pla­cen­tia in the 16th cen­tury, call­ing it ‘Plazen­cia.’

Some of the old tools in use were ones Can­ning him­self had not en­coun­tered in years, and he en­joyed get­ting reac­quainted with them. Can­ning of­fered help and ad­vice where he could, but he gen­er­ally looked at the ex­pe­ri­ence as an op­por­tu­nity to learn.

“If we were to ever ap­proach a large boat again, es­pe­cially an old time boat, that’s a re­ally good his­tory that I learned — how it was con­nected and how it was de­signed too.”

Mas­sive project

It’s a mas­sive and ex­pen­sive un­der­tak­ing. Can­ning notes Al- baola Fak­to­ria also em­ploys six of­fice work­ers, and it’s still work­ing to se­cure the nec­es­sary funds needed to com­plete the project.

When that might hap­pen is up for de­bate. Can­ning said the orig­i­nal plan was to have the boat ready for 2017 and Canada’s 150th birth­day, with an ap­pear­ance in Red Bay ex­pected. While he says that might still be pos­si­ble, Can­ning notes the group did ex­pe­ri­ence a one-year de­lay in work due to a fund­ing is­sue.

“Th­ese guys on the floor are work­ing hard,” he said, adding there are work­ers on site daily. Can­ning hopes to go back there once or twice over the next cou­ple of years if he can man­age it.

“It’s re­ally nice to know that th­ese peo­ple are very, very pride­ful. They’re re­ally proud of their mar­itime his­tory, that’s for sure, and what they’re do­ing in terms of repli­cat­ing is re­ally phe­nom­e­nal.”


His­tor­i­cal ad­vi­sor Sabino Lau­cir­ica, left, and Jerome Can­ning at the work site in Pa­saia, Spain, where a dozen work­ers are build­ing a replica of the 16th cen­tury whal­ing ship the San Juan. The ves­sel was ship­wrecked in Red Bay, Labrador, in 1565.

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