account of a shipbuilding adventure involving Cumberland County natives Aaron Beswick of Tidnish, and Mike Boiduk of Brookdale, both now living in St. Anthony, Nfld.
I first met Ray Elliott when his rusty old pickup broke down along the highway outside St. Anthony.
I was new to Newfoundland and picked up the 72-year-old fisherman hitchhiking back to town.
After helping him curse the truck, we started talking. He grew up hauling wood in the winter by dog team and fishing on the Labrador coast in the summer from a 45-foot longliner he'd built with his brother.
He never married or raised a family and now spent his time doing free carpentry work for those around town needing help, being the town's unofficial and unpaid taxi for those without cars, cursing the government for not letting him net a salmon and reading National Geographic.
Michael Boiduk and I (Aaron Beswick) had too much free time.
Out of boredom, we started building a boat - the old way.
We cut all the wood, milled it with his old sawmill and put it together in his shed over the course of two years. The project became an obsession and every minute of free time went into it.
Now she's done, a 26-foot boat built more like an icebreaker than any pleasure craft. We've been using her to prowl the shores for trees grown into the right shape for ribs on our next boat. We'll start on it this winter.
We were fully prepared to cast both dignity and moral scruples aside to beg, borrow and steal all we could for the Spiteful Lady. But it's hard to do either when everybody is giving, loaning and offering help.
At the risk of forgetting something, I'll mention that we've been given oakum, a steering mechanism, exhaust hose, sails, tools, two fuel tanks, a lot of other's time, good advice and bad advice.
We also had at least six offers to carry our boat to the water on flat beds and boat trailers. If it weren't for this generosity, building a wooden boat would have been prohibitively expensive for Mike, Ray and I.
So it is that I'm offering an explanation of why we launched the Spiteful Lady without calling anyone.
The Spiteful Lady has never been on time ... it's not her style.
She was originally supposed to hit the water last May. But that didn't happen because I bought first an Eight Acadia, then a 42 h.p. Volvo diesel motor from an old trapskiff, necessitating a mid-construction change in hull design which we left to Ray.
Then she was supposed to go in the water last fall, but we decided to put a house on her and plank her inside - a project which took all winter.
So it was a strange twist of fate which saw us launching her two Sundays ago. In an equally strange twist, it all went well.
For while building a boat isn't a joke, Ray often reminds us that our lives will depend on her, foolishness has often surrounded her construction.
And, in truth, she almost didn't make it to water at all when we discovered what a nice flower pot the Spiteful Lady would make.
We'd spent two days preparing a footing to haul her out on, taking out the end of his shed and hauling her out with block and tackle when Ray and I sat on the bank looking at her.
The Spiteful Lady sat on top of a rock overlooking St. Anthony Harbour. With all 26 feet of her covered in bright red, blue and white paint she looked more like a monstrous lawn ornament or a misguided arc than a boat put together by our own hands.
It had been two years of work, first in the woods, then at Ray's mill and finally in the shed.
Even Ray, who prefers to predict doom, kind of smiled and said, "It's nice she's done. She looks alright."
But the old fisherman's peace would be short lived.
I immediately took his assertion and ran with it, knowing his penchant for understatement, I figured that she's the most beautiful boat ever.
Needless to say I began sharing my opinion and the many visitors managed to quiet their disappointment - having come to see 'the most beautiful boat in the world' and instead finding the Spiteful Lady.
Then things started to happen fast - Maurice's Service Centre tow truck with moveable deck was available.
When the truck showed up, cars started stopping, men poured out and without a single phone call we had a large team of men to slide the brute sideways and back onto the truck. Normally this might have been a safety concern, but middle aged men in the St. Anthony area all seem to be experienced moving large, tippy, heavy objects.
So it was that the Spiteful Lady entered St. Anthony Harbour. She floats well and her sea trials have begun over the past two weeks.
Due to her narrow stern, largish motor (for a trapskiff) and deep keel, she handles interestingly. Her bow lifts up high on the water but her full-length keel means she turns sluggishly at higher speeds.
We haven't clocked the Spiteful Lady yet, but early indications are about nine knots with the throttle wide open. But she's most lovely at about 3/4 throttle, when she's putting along to the steady tumble of three cylinders - Mike and I have fallen for the charm of diesel motors.
There's a lot of work left to be done - we need to add mast and sail, lights and other electronics - but so far, so good.
Except for running out of fuel in the middle of the harbour on our maiden voyage and towing ourselves back with the tender.
Aaron Beswick is a reporter with
the Northern Pen newspaper (www.nourthernpen.ca) at the reaches of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.