Rebuilding the dead: Old whaler shaped with new hands

A piece of Newfoundland and Labrador history is slowly coming to life by the Albaola Foundation, a sea factory in Pasaia, Spain, to celebrate the Basque’s achievements in exploration and marine history.

Halfway through the first year of its construction, the San Juan de Pasages, Canada’s oldest recorded shipwreck found submerged in over 30 feet of water in Red Bay, Labrador, is expected to take another two years to finish. Once seaworthy, the San Juan will take a tour of the ports around the world, with plans to stop in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“What I’m told is the first trips are actually going to be around Europe. So they’ll go to various ports in Europe and we’ll be the next summer after the launch, or probably the same year, that depends,” said Jerome Canning, Newfoundland and Labrador boat-builder for the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador, who visited Spain to help build the San Juan, sponsored by the boat museum.

The Albaola Foundation has welcomed people with experience from far and wide to help build the ship. The moment Canning found support from the Department of Heritage and Tourism, he was on the first flight out to help build the whaling ship as a representative of the province’s museum.

“When I left, there was just the first level. All the frames of the first floor were done and they were just starting on the second flood when I left. Then it’s onto the third floor, and then they’ll start the planking,” said Canning.

Canning has been involved in several boat building projects. He constructed a Rodney, a small Newfoundland wooden boat usually used for one man to go hook and line fishing, at The Rooms, which he invited the public to watch his progress. He’s also constructed boats in the Wooden Boar Museum in Winterton and the Boat House in Placentia.

In Placentia, Canning built a chaloupe during the 2004 French celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the French presence in the province. The chaloupe is a French boat with Basque origins, used primarily for hunting whales.

“He seemed to be very confident in what he was doing (while building the boat) and he’s also very friendly in dealing with people’s questions about the project,” said Tom O’Keefe, President of the Placentia Area Historical Society. “He was very good about talking to people (who came to watch the building process) if they wanted to know anything about what he was doing.”

Canning got his start in boat building when his father retired and spent his time as a fisherman. Canning and his brother visited to go fishing with their father but their boat was too small for the three of them.

So Canning made his own boat. For years after, Canning would build a boat or two every winter. And now he’s building a massive whaler.

For now, Canning has returned home to Newfoundland and Labrador but plans on returning to Spain to help if he can gather the funds again.

The San Juan played the important role of a whaling cargo ship. It went down in December 1565 while riding at anchor in the bay with other whaling ships. During a storm, the ship’s mooring broke and it struck the island. The blow led to the ship’s sinking with a full load of 1000 casks of oil.

Parks Canada archaeologist divers discovered the ship after Dr. Michael Barkham translated a Basque sailor’s will, which was found by his mother, federal archivist Dr. Selma Barkham.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Site, the Basque whalers of France and Spain hunted right whales and bowhead whales around Newfoundland and Labrador during the 16th Century.

For over 50 years, the Basque whalers lived in prosperity, capturing whales migrating the Strait of Belle Isle waters.

The whaling ships averaged at around 700 tons and were some of the largest yet slowest vessels sailing across the Atlantic Ocean at the time.

From 1978 to 1985, archeological teams from Parks Canada conducted underwater investigations of the historical giant and found she was in close to the same condition as the time before her sinking. This investigation revealed the expertise of the Basque shipbuilding industry at its peak and Parks Canada wasted no time in documented all the details of the ship’s structure and formation.

This ship will not be an interpretation. The Spanish organization responsible for the ship’s construction plan on building the San Juan as close to it’s original form as possible, all the way from collecting the wood used from the same trees in the same forest areas to using the same tar, pitch and tools like wooden nails and ropes used to keep the ship together.

“This ship in Spain is a ‘fine line’ boat. It’s exactly what was underneath the water,” said Canning. “We have a piece of history here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a whaling ship that has not only been uncovered in the physical evidence but the evidence was documented as well.”


Special to Telegram


Carpentry students showcase skills

Carpentry students had an opportunity to showcase their abilities in the Skills Canada Provincial Competitions.

Four carpentry students participated in the provincial competition. They were given about six hours to complete a miniature house. Volunteer judges would decide the winner.

The houses were required to be roughly four feet by seven feet. The houses included several design features that challenged the students, such as a roof with slopes on each side and an octagonal window.

“For me it’s a bit of fun. I’m primarily getting ready for my exams, so it’s also a bit of a refresher,” said fourth-year carpenter apprentice Kirstene Reyes, one of the four participants.

“I have a little bit of experience with residential and this is my second competition, so the experience really helps.”

The competition took place at the Carpenters Millwrights College in Paradise. Besides the carpentry competition, there was a millwright competition, as well as a competition in steamfitter/pipefitter and sprinkler systems installer in Mount Pearl, and the provincial competition in hairstyling in St. John’s.

The winner of the each event will be decided after the remaining competitions have concluded at the College of the North Atlantic – Prince Philip Drive campus.

At that time, the first-place holders for each competition will go to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in the 21st annual national competition in Saskatoon, Sask., in May.

“I think everything is going fabulously. The level of skill is amazing,” said national board president John Oates.


Special to Telegram

Mother Nature slows cargo

Marine Atlantic hoped the ferry Blue Puttees would be back in operation Monday night to begin shipping the backlogged traffic in both the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia ports.

Produce – an important cargo that relies on Marine Atlantic ferries – has been part of the backlog. Newfoundland grocery stores saw the effects due to the delay almost immediately. Although it was only a minor shortage, the longer the delay, the more severe the shortage.

“The effect is almost immediate in produce. The biggest impact for us, though, surprisingly, wasn’t produce. It was frozen meat and fresh meats,” said Kyle Berg, manager of Save Easy in Lewisporte.

Fortunately, Newfoundland is able to rely more heavily on local providers for products such as meats, unlike produce.

Prices remain static throughout the delay and are not affected by shortages caused by delivery difficulties. There are only delays in availability.

Berg said the effects started showing at Save Easy last Monday, and by Tuesday there was a 10 to 15 per cent shortage of produce and a 20 to 25 per cent shortage by Friday.

“The ice conditions right now on the North Sydney (N.S.) side are still presenting us with challenges. However, we’re hoping some of the ice pressures will be relieved this evening (March 23),” said Darrell Mercer of Marine Atlantic. “But we are still experiencing winter conditions and, of course,the easterly winds off of North Sydney will certainly dictate whether or not the ice pressure will continue to increase on the Cape Breton side.”

The Nova Scotia-bound ferry arrived at its destination Friday evening after being stuck in ice for two days.

Much of Newfoundland’s produce comes from out of province in the winter months. As a result, Marine Atlantic shoulders a heavy burden, as it is responsible for carrying the cargo that fill grocery stores throughout Newfoundland.

According to Jan Woodford, communications director of the strategic services branch of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the Newfoundland and Labrador region, there are currently eight icebreakers working out of the Atlantic region. The icebreakers are allocated on a priority basis; passenger ferries are the first priority after distress calls or emergencies.

“The following priorities are to be considered when responding to a request for icebreaking service: distress and emergency situations; including flood control and ice management; ferries; ships with vulnerable or dangerous cargoes or vessels transporting cargo that is vital to the survival of communities; marine traffic and commercial ports; and fishing harbour breakouts,” Woodford wrote in an email to The Telegram.

The Marine Atlantic ferries are large ships that can carry both cargo and people, so there will tend to be a fast reaction time. That said, the weather determines the work necessary to free a stuck ferry.

“We do have a lot of produce we’re trying to ship with our vessels, but, of course, we’re still at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said Mercer.


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Woman amazed at rescue response

The shock of cold water on her head and an awareness that the water was rising around her made for a terrifying experience for Lezlee Coombs, who was stuck in her overturned car Sunday evening in a ditch on Robert E. Howlett Memorial Drive.

Terror quickly led to a feeling of helplessness for the Mount Pearl woman. But the sound of her car window being shattered by passersby trying to help quickly allayed her fear.

She says kindhearted saviours helped her escape from the car, which was totalled. She’s thrilled that so many people stopped to help.

“I barely realized I was in the water before people were running down the embankment, asking if anybody was in the car,” she told The Telegram Tuesday. “I’m grateful to the people who so quickly jumped into icy cold water and opened their arms, hearts and warm cars to help someone they didn’t even know.

“It’s remarkable and really restores my faith in humanity.”

Nalicia Williams, one of the people who responded, said all the possible outcomes filled her mind as she rushed towards the car.

“You’re expecting the worst and expecting the best with an accident like that,” she said.

Coombs can’t explain why her car ended up in the water-filled ditch.

She was checked and released from the Health Sciences Centre shortly after being rescued with a clean bill of health, but she doesn’t understand what happened.

“I think I might have fallen asleep,” she said.

“I slept great the two nights before and was well rested (the day of the crash). It doesn’t make sense. I’m seeing my doctor today to see what’s going on.”


Special to Telegram