Punts, skiffs and bullyboats were among the traditional wooden boats of Fogo Island. Punts in particular were the workhorses of the Island’s inshore fishery until its collapse in the mid-twentieth century. Punts represent a way of knowing born specifically of this place: they were a direct response to human need and utility in times when fishers fished within sight of land. This way of fishing the North Atlantic sustained Fogo Islanders for centuries until factory overfishing caused the dramatic decline in cod stocks and forced Fogo Islanders to adapt to midshore fishing for new species and in larger boats.
Though punts are no longer used for the fishery, they hold the knowledge of a people who made their living on the planet’s fiercest ocean. On Fogo Island, boat builders were and continue to be revered for their expertise. They know how to build models of their boats, which wood to harvest for boat building, and when to harvest it. Boat builders and their boats played an essential role in making a living in a marine environment where fishing was not only a way of life, but often the only means for survival. These boats embody the very nature of outport people: ingenious, creative, adaptable, resourceful, and hard-working.
In order to preserve this important piece of Fogo Island’s history, Shorefast Foundation has developed a set of initiatives to ensure that the tradition of boat building carries on. In partnership with local builders, the Foundation has created a heritage collection of wooden boats. Shorefast also began a ground-breaking boatbuilding program with students and staff at the local high school to pass on the knowledge of the punts to future generations.
Those visiting Fogo Island in July will have the opportunity to witness The Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back, which has raised greater awareness of this wooden boat heritage and contributed to preserving the traditional skills, methods, pride, appreciation, and enjoyment associated with the great wooden boats of Fogo Island and Change Islands. At the Fogo Island Inn, you will notice details derived from the Island’s history with boat building. The legs of Elaine Fortin’s punt chair, found in each of the Inn’s guest rooms, are made using the same wood-harvesting techniques employed to fashion the interior ribs of the punt.