Jeff's Little Boats of Newfoundland

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jan 22, 2015 10:34 AM

Jeff Clarke spent much of his teen years hanging out in his neighbours' sheds in Twillingate, Newfoundland, watching as skilled craftsmen transformed pieces of wood into works of art. These days the 42-year-old former fisherman is back to hanging out in a shed - his own - and now he’s the one behind the transformations. 

Despite his early interest in his neighbours’ model boatbuilding, Jeff only took up the hobby himself in recent years.

“In 2012, I wanted to buy a Canadian Coast Guard ship as a model, just to put on the shelf or the fireplace, something to look at,” says Jeff. “I searched online and there was nothing that I wanted…I wanted something like the Ann Harvey.” So he made one. 

Measuring 110 cm in length and about 50 cm tall, Jeff fashioned the keel and planks from pine, with ranger board for ribs - and used glue (not nails) to keep it all together. Then Jeff’s steady hands carefully plastered, primed and spray-painted her to perfection. Finally, he painted on the lettering, logos and other fine details freehand. It’s a process that took approximately 250 hours from start to finish. Three years later, Jeff’s very own Ann Harvey is still perched atop his mantel in his home in Gander, Newfoundland, where he’s lived for the last decade. 

Jeff doesn’t just have a soft spot for miniature boats - he has a real passion for ships and fishing vessels in general. 

“I just love to go around them and take pictures and look at them and sit down on the wharf on a nice summer day and just take in the scenery of a fishing vessel,” says Jeff. “The fishing vessels are pretty amazing now, the way they’re colourful and everything else. Years ago they’d be all white…Now every boat looks different and they’re all different colours and pictures. I must say, they’re nice.”

Getting noticed

Jeff’s second project was a replica of the Twillingate fishing vessel the Polar Venture, commissioned as a birthday gift for the boat’s owner. Jeff posted a photo of the finished product on Facebook, “and it went from there,” he says. His Facebook page, “Jeff’s Little Boats of NL,” has amassed more than 2,000 followers from all over the world - publicity that’s brought model boat orders in droves. Jeff has completed 10 boats so far, and he’s already committed to several others - orders he estimates will take him more than two years to fill. (Jeff is a father of two children and works full time, meaning boatbuilding is relegated to evenings and weekends.) Lately, he’s been forced to turn down requests, not because he plans to quit his beloved hobby anytime soon (he says he’ll “keep this up until I’m 80 years old if I can do it”) but because you never know what the future holds. “You could get sick or anything at all,” he says.

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Perched on the shoreline, Jeff's model boat looks like the real thing.

Jeff charges $500 to $1,200 (or more, depending on the size of the model) per boat. Considering the time, effort and the level of detail he pores into the creations, he says many of his customers admit they consider their purchase a steal. But it’s not about the money for Jeff. 

“The most rewarding part of this for me is seeing the expression on people’s faces when I give them their boat,” he says, adding many people are stunned to learn he doesn’t use a kit, only photos snapped with his iPhone. And while Jeff’s models may look exactly like the real things, he says they aren’t made to scale but according to his own judgement. Nevertheless, he says he hasn’t had a complaint yet - except from his wife, that is. 

“My wife says, ‘You got no time for me, can’t you just give this up for the night and come watch a bit of TV with me?’” remarks Jeff with a chuckle.

“It’s a pretty good hobby, I must say. I love it actually.” - By Ashley Colombe

In the February 2015 issue of Downhome, read about four more individuals who are pursuing their passions.

Cory Hynes

These boats are absolutely amazing. Great job Jeff.

Brian Gullage

When I was a boy and on vacation with my parents in Catalina, Trinity Bay, I would go just down the hill from my Grandparents house and visit "Uncle" Bobby Blundon. He had a peg leg, but it didn't slow him down. He made many beautiful model ships, from scratch. Mifflins store in Catalina always had a large model of one of his boats on display. Thanks for bringing back some good memories.

Jeff Clarke

I would like to thank the Downhomer for putting a article in there magazine about me on the model boats that I Make. I've gotten many comments on my work since this was put in the magazine in the last few days. You guys have done an excellent job on putting this article together and again I would like to thank you for contacting me on my work. Thanks Jeff