Port de Grave painter re­builds fa­ther’s boat

Port de Grave painter spends decade re­build­ing fa­ther’s boat


When Gary Kennedy’s dad Clay­ton died in 2006, no­body knew quite what to do with his fa­ther’s old boat, which had seen bet­ter days. For­tu­nately, Kennedy put his skills to good use.

PORT DE GRAVE, NL — Port de Grave vis­ual artist Gary Kennedy had not an­tic­i­pated tak­ing time from his work to build and paint a 13-foot, 20-year-old flat that Clay­ton, his fa­ther, fished in dur­ing his re­tire­ment.

The old fish­er­man had not been well for a while. He died on a grey Jan­uary day in 2006. His boat lay face down near the Hibb’s Cove (Hole) launch, shrouded in snow un­der a frosty blue sky, worn out like its owner. Its pad­dles and sculling oar had been stowed in the base­ment rafters of the home Clay­ton had built in the 1940s for Lil­lian Up­shall, his young bride.

Dur­ing Clay­ton’s fish­ing years he had drawn blue­prints for boats in his base­ment so pre­cise that the in­spec­tor, out from St. John’s, had been amazed. Renowned for their boat-build­ing

Wooden boats have more to do with art and cul­ture. Build­ing a boat is not like build­ing a shed. Ev­ery part is dif­fer­ent from stem to stern. — Gary Kennedy

skills over the years, he and his brother Jim built many skiffs, long­lin­ers, punts and flats. For­mer Pre­mier Frank Moores com­mis­sioned one long­liner. The flat had been Clay­ton’s last boat. Now it ap­peared to have had its last ride on the ocean.

Then Gary, Clay­ton’s youngest son, re­mem­bered days out in his fa­ther’s boat, times fish­ing for cod un­der the gloom of a foggy morn­ing or in the daz­zling light of sun­shine on blue seas and the times he skirted the dark precipice of Hibb’s Cove, slip­ping in and out of dul­li­fares, tak­ing pho­to­graphs as wild birds wa­vered through the sky and skimmed the cove wa­ters. “I’ll wait ’til sum­mer, then I’ll haul her to the base­ment and work on her,” he promised him­self.

By sum­mer, the flat lay al­most hid­den by long grass, moss push­ing through its cracks. The boat had “fair” rot­ted from rain and snow erod­ing it, and strong winds nudg­ing rocks to rub against it. Some tim­bers were so de­cayed Gary could put his fin­gers through them. Left alone, the boat was ready to be dragged limb by limb to a fire on Bon­fire Night.

Gary had re­fused a fish­er­men’s of­fer to buy the boat and fiber­glass it. He be­lieves that fiber­glass boats are built for eco­nomic rea­sons. “Wooden boats,” he says, “have more to do with art and cul­ture. Build­ing a boat is not like build­ing a shed. Ev­ery part is dif­fer­ent from stem to stern. When she sits on the wa­ter wob­bling up and down, it’s as if she’s alive. The water­line on a boat is like lip­stick on a woman. It sets her off.”

The boat was hauled into the base­ment of the old home­stead where Gary de­cided to repli­cate it by re­mov­ing one old plank at a time, re­plac­ing it with a new one. He har­vested black spruce from his own land and white spruce from the woods. He scribed each piece to match the worn out pieces, smooth­ing each one with a plane as care­fully as his fa­ther had done. He marked out knees scrubbed clean of knots and skin, white flesh mak­ing an old boat with a unique and im­pres­sive curve to its sides into a new boat. He was care­ful in bend­ing the tim­ber to the right ten­sion to bring the same curve with­out split­ting the wood. The scent of newly cut wood and old oakum min­gled as Gary painstak­ingly re­placed his fa­ther’s flat piece by piece, his hands where his fa­ther’s hands had been, hold­ing tools his fa­ther had used, sweat­ing as his fa­ther had sweated. He gently in­serted each stain­less steel screw. Dis­carded rusty nails lay among cob­webs or in bot­tles in the musty base­ment, old tim­ber scat­tered about to be used in the wood stove. The only parts of the boat not re­placed were the stem and scrub­ber.

When the boat was fin­ished, it was a mir­ror im­age of his fa­ther’s flat with its own name: The Dul­li­fare (faire) mean­ing a pas­sage be­tween a cliff and a rock large enough for a small boat to pass through.

On Aug. 5 fol­low­ing a decade of work, the Dul­li­fare slid off the rick­ety and bar­na­cled Hibb’s Cove launch into shal­low wa­ters, buoy­ant like a boy tak­ing his first dip of the year. Gary turned the sculling oar in the score and the boat’s strong limbs moved through snaky kelp and dart­ing smelts and headed in stride out into the open mouth of the bay.

Jel­ly­fish floated along the flat like white doilies, while sea waves blew bub­bles that burst un­der the sculling oar. The ocean like wrin­kled blue silk ironed it­self out far be­hind the boat’s wake.

Gulls and cor­morants twirled and squawked un­der a cloud­less sky, wings spread as they waited for a meal of of­fal from the cod on Gary’s hook. The boat rocked gently, as if it re­mem­bered the slosh of wa­ter at its sides and the touch of the fish­er­man’s line as a writhing cod­fish was dragged over the gun­nel, chris­ten­ing it.

An old boat had been made new again.

Clay­ton would have smiled his ap­proval.

Love your lit­tle heart

Love your lit­tle soul

Put your lit­tle boat (punt) down in Hibb’s Hole. (Hibb’s Cove ditty)

Nel­lie P. Strowbridge, an au­thor of sev­eral books, is from Hibb’s Cove, Port de Grave.


The Dul­li­fare slides off the Hibb’s Cove launch. Gary Kennedy spent a decade work­ing on his late fa­ther’s boat in prepa­ra­tion for this mo­ment.

The boat as it looked prior to restora­tion.

Gary Kennedy re­moved and re­placed the planks on his fa­ther’s boat us­ing wood he per­son­ally har­vested.

Clay­ton Kennedy’s old boat in use.

The Dul­li­fare is chris­tened with a catch of cod.

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