Nanaimo’s Barrie Farrell, who’s built more than 300 boats, was recognized for maritime excellence last week by the Maritime Museum of B.C. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Nanaimo’s Barrie Farrell, who’s built more than 300 boats, was recognized for maritime excellence last week by the Maritime Museum of B.C. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Nanaimo man honoured for maritime excellence

Longtime boat builder gets SS Beaver award from Maritime Museum of B.C.

Nanaimo’s Barrie Farrell, an innovative boat builder behind hundreds of fishing vessels, has netted a maritime excellence award by the Maritime Museum of B.C.

Farrell was one of four people to be presented with the SS Beaver award in Victoria on Nov. 9, which recognizes achievements and contributions to the B.C. marine sector.

The Nanaimo man, considered an “innovative fish boat builder,” was one of the first to realize the advantages of fiberglass when it became available in the 1960s and developed an innovative hull form that suited the requirements of the fishing industry at the time, says a museum press release.He was presented with a gold-plated medal by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon during a ceremony at Government House in Victoria.

“I don’t think I deserve it, but pretty honoured anyway,” said Farrell, 83, who called it a big day in his life.

“I said [at the ceremony] this is an unexpected honour for this old Grade 6 dropout to be winning this prestigious award. Although I really appreciate it but I know a lot of good boat builders and people in the marine industry that deserve it just as much or more than I do.”

Farrell lived in Pender Harbour, on the Sunshine Coast, “back in the old days when boys were men,” he tells with a chuckle. His father was a wood boat builder, but Farrell wanted to be a rancher and loved horses.

“Once I built the first boat it was the end of that dream,” said Farrell.

He started logging at 14 years old and had a job across the harbour at a sawmill that was hard to get to so he said he decided to build a rowboat. He scrounged for tools at an old shed – got a hammer with one claw, a rusty old block plane and a handsaw “that would hardly cut butter” – and built his boat. It turned out pretty nice, with a yellow and red cedar varnished deck, said Farrell, who used it for a few months before he sold it for $10.

“I guess you can call that the start of Farrell boats.”

More than 300 boats were crafted by Farrell and the gillnetters and trollers he designed and constructed were staples in the B.C. salmon fleet in the 1970s and ’80s. He had no formal education in design; he said he just started doing it and it came naturally to him. A lot of his boats have gone to fishermen and most of them, Farrell said have become good friends.

These days Farrell does finishing work, sings and paints. He’s also written a memoir, Boats in my Blood: A Life of Boat Building.

-files from Rachel Stern