Floating a New Hobby - man builds first boat at 70 years old

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jan 03, 2019 11:50 AM

On a cool winter day, Andrew Riggs is getting ready to head out the door for a walk through the woods near his home in Burin, looking for the perfect trees to harvest. “And you know what? Now that I’m getting ready to go in the woods, it’s going to rain. Now will you believe that?” he jokes.
Now 77 years old, a few years back Andrew decided to start a new hobby: boat building. A steelworker who earned a living in Marystown, he’d never built a boat before his first project. There’s not much overlap in those skills, so going from steel to wood was a big change.
“I just wanted to try ’er, that’s all, just try ’er,” he says, adding, “The hardest work of that is finding the stuff in the woods.” A lot of his time is spent looking for the ideal trees to turn into timber. “You’ve got to find a lot of crooked wood,” he says, “You’ve got to do a lot of walking to get crooked wood in the woods. Spruce and juniper, that’s all I cut, eh.”
The first boat he built was completed in 2015, a 27-foot trap skiff named Our Star after his late granddaughter, Siobhane. All in all, it took him a little over a year, not including all the time spent tracking down the tools and supplies. Pleased with the result of his first attempt, in 2017, he finished his second boat: Delainey Siobhane, a 24-foot punt. He estimates boats like his haven’t been built in Burin in the last 80 years.
When they christened the second boat, Andrew and his family held a big party to celebrate, with 50 to 60 people showing up, he recalls. There was a band playing music, plenty of drinks and food " two turkeys were even cooked for the occasion.
While he’s the boat builder on these projects, Andrew is the skipper of neither. Both boats went to his sons. Our Star went to Bryan, Siobhane’s father, and the second boat was given to his son Dean.
Dean lives in Espanola, Ontario, where he teaches. He towed the boat from Burin to its new home, and he now sails Delainey Siobhane on Lake Huron, where most folks are on the water in fibreglass boats. The Delainey Siobhane draws her share of curious looks. “They never saw a boat like that before, eh?” says Andrew with pride.
Wooden boat building is a dying skill, Andrew knows, and when he looks about now, “there’s not too many at that now, eh.” When Andrew began designing his first boat, he didn’t seek out the advice of other builders and instead went about figuring it out on his own. “I drawed ’er out on my basement floor, right… I just figured it out, drawed it out, and it looked alright,” he says. When it came to assembling both boats, he used only galvanized stainless-steel screws, deciding not to use nails as people would have used in the past.
Andrew is already planning a third boat that he hopes to start work on in the spring. When asked if he intends to finally keep a boat for himself, he dismisses that idea. “No, no, I don’t want ’er, I’m not gonna keep her.”
And this time, he’s going to make an even bigger boat. “That’s going to take me a lot of time to get it out of the woods,” he figures. By Andrew’s recollection, he started boatbuilding when he was 70, “and I’m gonna be 80 when I christen the big one!”

-by Elizabeth Whitten