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BOAT LAUNCH: Double-ended Navy whaler built by Big Pond Boat Shop

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

His Majesty's Canadian Dockyard, Halifax

stern view

pre-launch, the boat waits on the trailer

Under an overcast June sky, a blue and white rudder touches the Halifax Harbour. "Keep going!" shouts Bob Stewart, a volunteer for the HMCS Sackville historical ship, keeping an eye on the stern under him. Sitting on the boat with Bob are a seaman named Andrew, Bill Woodburn, who is Chair of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, Pat Nelder and Dayna Nelder of Big Pond Boat Shop who built the hull, and Laurie McGowan, hull designer. Looking on from the ramp are Keith Nelder of Big Pond Boat Shop, and Wendell Brown, past chair of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, who finished the hull with fittings and rigging. Wendell was the driving force behind the new build.

The whaler hits the water

Rowing crew gets moving

The rudder dips in, followed by the stern of the boat. The new whaler drifts off the trailer and into Halifax Harbour. Five rowers set long oars to the water.

The idea for the new build came about three or four years ago, pre-COVID. An older navy whaler, part of the HMCS Sackville, was deemed in disrepair, too far gone to be fixed up. After some meetings and planning, a design was commissioned from Laurie McGowan. "I didn't have a lot to go on," he says, "but used mostly some simple drawings from the British Admiralty's 'Manual of Seamanship', 1951, and modernized the construction for CNC-cut lapstrake plywood construction."

Wendell Brown, past chair of Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, was in charge of finishing and rigging

The new double-ended Navy whaler was built from wood at Big Pond Boat Shop in Martin's River, Nova Scotia by Pat, Dayna and Keith Nelder.

Before launch, some of the people involved in the years-long project met to examine the finished product and discuss the day's Harbour trip. Then it was time to climb aboard and hit the water.

Whaler designer Laurie McGowan, boat builder Pat Nelder

Builders Dayna and Keith Nelder check out the hull
Many of the new whaler's fittings are from the old whaler it replaced

The vessel is 27 feet long
Rowing crew of the whaler's maiden voyage

The 27-foot boat has space for three rowers on the port side and two to starboard. There are footholds on the floor to brace against while stroking and steps for masts to stand if the boat is to be sailed. The oars reach across the boat—the three rowers on the starboard side power the port-side oars, and the two port-side rowers power the starboard side.

The boat weighs around 2,000 pounds. It took the novice rowers more than one stroke to get going. "Once we did it like three times, we started to move," says Dayna.

Photo by Pat Nelder

Once the maiden voyage was complete, the new whaler was tied up. "It was rather nice to see it in the water," says Wendell, "it will be nicer still to get it up in the cradle so we can keep working on it!"

The new whaler will be used again soon in a ceremonial change of command, and then will be readied to become part of the HMCS Sackville on the Halifax Waterfront. Canada's oldest warship will be accompanied by one of Canada's newest custom-built whalers.

The crew heads home

To see a story about the construction of the navy whaler click here. A slideshow from a day of building can be seen here.

If you would like to see your new build or boat launch featured in a story with us please reach out to


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