All too often we think of the golden age of sailing and boatbuilding as being something confined to the 19th century. Of course, 150 years ago Charlottetown the harbour was the home of scores of small multi-purpose boats that served as fishing craft, lighters, dinghys, sculling boats, ferries, and yes, even as small yachts. Boatbuilders both in Charlottetown and other coastal areas served the market for well-built small boats. Not so much today.
The work of making small craft was one of the minor industries along with sail making and marine blacksmithing which often get lost when we talk about the wood, wind and water economy. We focus on shipbuilding with schooners, brigs and barques, often forgetting that the nautical arts contained dozens of specialties which were a requirement for a community which, as an island, depended on boats for much of their existence. As the economy changed and our dependency on locally produced craft was reduced many of these minor skills almost disappeared. In the 20th century boat building became the preserve of those producing large motorized fishing boats on the one hand and home-built pleasure craft on the other.
But all has not been lost. In the most recent issue of the English yachting magazine Classic Boat, the Norseboat has been recognized as a “New Classic”. See the story here. The founder and president of the firm responsible for the Norseboat is Kevin Jeffery of the Belfast area just down the coast from Charlottetown. He conceived of the boat as a multi-purpose craft which could equally well be sailed or rowed, had a classic appearance, and could be easily transported by trailer so that its range was extended to almost every harbour in the world. Built originally in Pinette, PEI production moved to Lunenburg and then to Maine to tap the increasing market.
There are now a number of different craft in the range with boats at 12.5, 17.5 and 21.5 feet, all with a distinctive dutch curved gaff rig with a boomless mainsail. The boats are now found all over the world and are admired for their classic style and their fine workmanship . In addition to being recognized by Classic Boat Norseboats have graced the cover of Small Craft Advisor and have been nominated for awards such as the Sail Magazine Best Boat award. Kevin has described the boat as “the swiss army knife of boats” and his depiction is not far off. The webpage for the Norseboat has lots of video and photos of the various models in action in posts across the globe.
I have spotted a Norseboat from time to time in Charlottetown harbour and have seen them at boat shows. They are expensive boats but have a quality which matches the price. Like the Drascomb Lugger this seems to be a boat that does everything well. I am sure DeSable’s Charles McQuarrie would approve.