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American sailor refurbishes storied Little Bay Islands trap skiff

Jules Racenet takes the refurbished trap skiff for a ride around the harbour of Little Bay Islands.
Jules Racenet takes the refurbished trap skiff for a ride around the harbour of Little Bay Islands.

LITTLE BAY ISLANDS, NL — Jules Racenet can relate to the Jim Payne lyrics to “Wave over Wave.”  

Racenet has sailed the world over for decades or more, but says he never encountered a place like Notre Dame Bay.

Jules Racenet removed all the rotted wood from the trap skiff, cleaned up the engine, and put some fiberglass along the interior to make it look brand new.

When the sailor from Connecticut fell in love with the local area, and Little Bay Islands in particular, it became not just a home port, but a second home.

“I see it everywhere — people who live in areas like this, they lived and worked it, so they are so used to it they don’t sometimes understand,” Racenet said. “For people who come from away, they first see this area and cruise this area – it is nothing but greatness.”

It’s been about 10 years now since the breathtaking views of Notre Dame Bay captured the heart of this sailor. He now owns a home in Little Bay Islands. It’s next door to Ray Flynn, a local who had an old trap skiff deteriorating in his yard. It caught the eye of Racenet, who says he loves restoration projects that give him the opportunity to work with wood and some unique designs.

He purchased the boat for $100. It began as a personal project, but he soon learned of the local history surrounding the depleted vessel.

All the rotted wood was removed from the trap skiff, the motor cleaned up, and some new fiberglass added along the interior.

Although there are still some parts of its history not complete or a little vague, Racenet seems to have pieced together a significant portion of it. He believes Amos Heath built the trap skiff on Long Island in 1964 for Burt Rideout, the owner of a general store at Lushes Bight, who used it to haul freight.

Eventually, reportedly in the early 1970s, Tom Roberts of Little Bay Islands bought the boat and used it for fishing and sealing. As the stories go, the vessel would break through ice floes on its way to Twillingate and back on a daily basis. It also would make routine voyages to Labrador towed by Roberts’ schooner.

It changed hands again later on, with George Tucker now assuming the helm. He would use it to haul wood to the island from the mainland. That is where the connection to Flynn comes in – he bought it from Tucker, his brother in-law.

The trap skiff had seen better days than it did in under a winter’s snowfall.

While it appeared its sailing days were done as it rotted in the garden on Little Bay Islands, Racenet had other plans for the boat.

“I had just finished remodeling the cottage I own, and I was looking for something to do,” he said. “I am very interested in the fishing industry and the history of it.

“I have sailed probably 10,000 miles easily on my sailboat, and I appreciate it. Unless you have been there and done it, you can’t understand what these people went through in these open boats.”

All the wood in the boat was rotted, so he removed it all. Fortunately, he said, Tucker had done a great fiberglass job on the outside. Racenet fiberglassed the interior as well, and replaced the rotted wood. He brought the engine back to Connecticut, cleaned it up, and got it running.

About a week ago, the boat with the storied past began its new chapter. The locals took notice, and came out to see it.

“I just wanted to put it in the water, I didn’t realize I was going to get all this fanfare,” said Racenet. “I guess I can understand it now that I look at it.”

Jules Racenet is a sailor from Connecticut who calls Little Bay Islands his second home.

Especially given the attention, Racenet is just happy his refurbishment wasn’t a flop.

It has its rightful place in the water again. In fact, it’s tied up back at Flynn’s wharf.

“It’s doing pretty good so far,” he said.

Wave over wave, the tale of the storied vessel continues.

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