'He absolutely mastered that art': Legendary boat builder Henry Vokey dead at 91

·3 min read
'He absolutely mastered that art': Legendary boat builder Henry Vokey dead at 91

Henry Vokey, one of the province's most celebrated boat builders, has died.

Vokey, who died Wednesday at 91, was a master boat builder who launched his last schooner, Leah Caroline, in 2012.

His daughter-in-law, Sharon Vokey, said his talents were so distinctive that you knew a "Vokey boat" when you saw one.

"They had a style all their own," she said.

Vokey settled in Trinity and opened Vokey's Shipyard in the 1960s.

He used traditional methods to build thousands of schooners, motor boats, long liners and sailboats.

At times, Sharon Vokey said, the well-respected craftsman employed more than 60 men in the Trinity area.

"He was well known among the boat builders, and well known among fishermen," she said. "His father told him at one point, 'You'll never make a living building boats. There's no money in it.' But Henry wasn't interested in the fishing aspect. He wanted to build the boats that you went fishing in."

Order of Newfoundland and Labrador

In 2007, Vokey's decades of boat building artistry were honoured when he received the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sharon said the whole family was ecstatic.

"He wasn't the typical type of recipient for the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador," she said. "A lot of people are into philanthropy, and people have done good works with money, but Henry was the man who contributed to the fishing vessels of Newfoundland and Labrador, and to be recognized for that was truly, truly wonderful for all of the family. And it was wonderful for him."

When he knew his arthritic hands and knees weren't going to let him work anymore, Vokey took up a new hobby.

He would build tiny boats in bottles, and Sharon figures he built about 100 of those over the past year or so, because "he had to do something."

"And just to watch him do that, to manoeuvre and work such fun little detail and get that boat set up in the bottles … it amazed people," she said. "And he did that right up until the middle of December."

Like his schooners and fishing boats, Vokey was dedicated to making those little models perfect.

"He was truly like a man on a mission. He was in competition with himself his whole life. Every boat could be that little bit better. He absolutely mastered that art," Sharon said.

A dying art

"Without a doubt, he had a passion for schooners … and he started another one, which is a 56-foot schooner," Sharon said.

"She's actually in the shed by his house now, partially built. She's framed out and half planked."

That boat has been sitting in Vokey's shed for about two years.

Sharon says her husband would like to finish it for his father, and maybe teach his grandson about the family craft.

"We have a grandson now, eight years old," Sharon said. "He has a real interest in working with his hands. And he figures one of these days he's going to build a boat as well.

"But it is a dying skill. It's a dying act. His sons still have that ability. We're still hopeful that we'll get another boat builder in the family, for sure."

The humbleness of the man was truly something special. - Sharon Vokey

Vokey died on the 11th anniversary of the death of his wife, Caroline.

Sharon says she'll remember her father-in-law as a wonderful, welcoming, and progressive man.

"The humbleness of the man was truly something special," she said. "He was so pleasant with everybody. He always had a smile and he was one of the most photogenic people I've ever known in my life.… Always with a smile, always with the kettle on. [He'd say] 'come in and sit down and have a cup of tea.' And that's where he was happiest."

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