Few communities throughout this island are without the skeletal remains of a flat or a dory.
Wander a back cove or an abandoned home anywhere and you’re likely to see one left to return its once saltwater joys back into the earth if just left in peace to fall to pieces long enough.
Paint peeling. Once bright colours long faded. If the once seaworthy vessel has sat for a decade or longer, stubborn though sturdy weeds may even be poking through some part of the hull. Rotten wood. Flakes of pine or spruce ready to hook an explorer’s clothing as well as their curiosity. Fine for a snapshot or a splinter, but not for a sail.
Author, musician and friend Darrell Duke sees things a little differently. An abandoned piece of history is what he spies when he sees a dory, and restoring these treasures to their once proud state has become his passion.
On this Sunday, he gets a chance to show off and we sail from where he grew up – Placentia, though he has a fine sea-worthy collection back home in Clarenville, too. With a crew that include Duke’s daughters, Emma and Jessie, we head out for a row and a yarn. With the magnificent Placentia lift bridge as our backdrop, Duke rows.
With make-shift oar hooks tied with twine as an almost-comforting while on the north Atlantic workaround, Duke dishes his passion for passing on the dory tradition. He picked up restoring and rowing almost by accident a few years back, he shared as the oars slapped the sea, just because he hated to see pieces of our heritage left to rot.
Rowing is not for the faint of heart. The strain of movement – forward. Dip. Strain. Lift. Water dripping. Back down they go. Lift one oar out of the water. Dip. Strain. Lift. Turn.
The sweat equity invested in order to capture a snap from the shore as we turn port side towards the wharf then starboard for that perfect lift bridge selfie is intense on this once calm day.
WALK ON WATER
Like the fisherman of yesteryear as the song Ditty Die Day by Atlantic Thunder portrays with the line, ‘a fear in their eyes as they make up their minds,’ we’ve set sail in walk-on-water calm, but quickly realize the waves and the wind are now against us. In a dory, you are truly at the mercy of the sea and can quickly become a victim to the wind.
Even the tiniest spider that decided to show itself to Emma is enough to unsettle this fine fiberglassed piece of history. Seated in the bow of the boat, Emma’s slight movements to avoid an eight-legged encounter is enough to literally rock the boat. Combined with the wake roughness in the harbour, it’s a reality check, not just for us that it’s time to head in, but to realize what our forefathers had to endure.
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FACING THE DEVIL
Not catching a fish during the recreational fishery is a bummer, but not catching a dory load back in the day was a disaster worth facing the devil to avoid. Duke rows us back. Safe upon the shore, there’s a few more snaps to capture the day. Am I disappointed we didn’t get the day we planned? Not at all. I feel blessed to have been one of that day’s dory mates as we rowed about in one of the ‘ghost skiffs of time,’ a piece of this province’s long-standing history that, thanks to Duke’s efforts, can still delight the soul of this fisherman’s daughter.
They were heavin’ their thunder before Cabot’s time,
Holy oh roly oh ditty die day;
And I know they’ll be rollin’ down long after mine,
Holy oh roly oh ditty die day.
Pam Pardy, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing [email protected]