The History of the “Cape Islander” Fishing Boat


The Cape Island style fishing boat is a familiar sight along the South Shore of Nova Scotia. This particular type of vessel has its origins dating back to around 1905 when Clark’s Harbour boatbuilder, Ephriam Atkinson experimented in the development of a more efficient fishing boat to better serve the demands of the fishermen. The culmination of Atkinson’s design features became popular, so much so that his contemporaries took up the challenge as well. By 1911, several other shops on and off the Island had taken on producing the model which became known as the “Cape Island style”. After the introduction of the gasoline engine, the early hull designs were modified to accommodate this new marvel of progress. These early open fishing boats have experienced many changes over the years, one of the first being the addition of a “spray hood”. This was a canvas affair which fastened to the foredock of the vessel in a manner to shed the water which broke over the deck in rough weather. A later development in favour of the spray hood was the construction of a forecastle or “cuddy house” as it is known by the local fishermen (this is the era that the model boat depicts, circa 1930). However, this cuddy house still provided very little protection from the elements in the event of severe weather.

Clayton Shand’s Boat (c. 1920’s)

A “wheel house” was the next refinement. This not only gave the captain a place to get in out of the weather but also allowed for the safe and dry storage of navigational equipment which was becoming more available to fisherman at that time. Although the Cape Islander has undergone many changes throughout the years, the basic hull has remained unchanged. Many alterations in design have been made on the request of the fishermen themselves based on their knowledge of the fishing industry. These adaptations have proven beneficial to the boatbuilders as well by being able to provide the most efficient and seaworthy craft possible. The reputations of the North Atlantic and the Cape Islander have many examples which can be recited to demonstrate the seaworthiness and durability of these vessels. They are renowned for their sturdiness and longevity. It was not uncommon for one of these wooden crafts to fish for more than twenty years. Over the years, this vessel’s design has gained in notoriety and acclaim. Several maritime shops have produced vessels which have traveled to markets all over North America and beyond.

Larkin & Shand 1970

Although there are still some shops that build wooden hulls, the art is a dying one. Today, nearly all of the boats of this style are being contrasted of fibre glass. This type pf “Cape Islander” construction also begun on Cape Sable Island. The Island’s first prototype was launched on November 15, 1971 from the shop of R.D. Ross Enterprises of Clark’s Harbour. This boat, the “M.V. Enterprises” is still active today in the industry, yet another testimony to their durability.

The commercial boatbuilding industry has been a steady decline in the last twenty years and with this has come the closure of many once prosperous shops. However, those few that have survived have done so by diversifying and catering to a broader market by adapting to the needs in the pleasure craft industry.

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