A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd.
Imagine the panic when fire breaks out aboard a vessel riding the open seas. Flames multiplying by the second, precious cargo going up in smoke, passengers running in circles with no escape.
Now imagine a rescue boat tearing through the waves, pumping out thousands of litres of water per minute and loaded with enough gear to save lives. Fast.
Despite never having constructed a fireboat before, A.F. Theriault & Son Ltd. (AFT) of Meteghan River, Nova Scotia won the tender to build one for the city of Portland, Maine. Due to hit the waters in July, the 68-foot, twin-engine, all-aluminum vessel features a 10-inch water pump, foam-fighting capabilities and a handful of fire nozzles. The fireboat doubles as a rescue vessel, with an ambulance bay on deck and enough room for half a dozen firefighters.
In business for more than 70 years, AFT has earned a sterling reputation worldwide for its craftsmanship and technology in boat building.
But the fireboat is not the only project that has people talking.
Europe-based Windcat Workboats uses high-speed, high-powered cruisers built by AFT to service ocean-based wind turbines on that continent. They’ve bought 14 to date, with another four under construction. Windcat needed something durable and dependable, so they turned to AFT after company representatives came to Nova Scotia a few years ago to inspect a secondhand AFT catamaran located in Halifax. They were so impressed with the quality they drove to the Meteghan River shipyard to meet the people who actually built it.
“Even though the catamaran was a few years old, the workmanship on it was excellent,” recalls Windcat director Neil Clarkson. Canada is well-known for its quality aluminum work, he explains, and the reps could see by the absence of cracks in the welding that AFT could build vessels that last.
Clarkson is the first to admit that it doesn’t make the most economic sense to work with a shipyard based so far away, but in this case it was worth it.
“The transportation costs were very, very expensive but we’d rather work with an old family-owned shipyard where we can talk directly to the people and they actually give us what we want. At that time in Europe, we couldn’t find that,” says Clarkson, speaking from Poulton-le-fylde in northwest England. Windcat has now been working with AFT for close to six years and says every vessel they produce is better than the last.
Capt. Brian Waters and his wife Lynn, of Pensacola, Florida, were so floored by their experience that they actually bought a house in Nova Scotia, so they could stay while overseeing the build of a $5-million-plus catamaran. The owners loved their first AFT boat so much (a 60-foot catamaran), they wanted a more deluxe version.
“Our boat building project was technically very demanding of the yard and we were consulting with the yard on a lot of intricate details. We learned a lot on the first boat project, so we decided to live at the boatyard for three years to get the exact boat that the owners wanted to build,” Capt. Waters says.
He describes the finished product as a sophisticated blend of modern and traditional, probably the most technically advanced Canadian-built pleasure boat out there. Waters says AFT incorporated a lot of specialized construction techniques, using lightweight interior construction methods and aerospace-like technology.
The result is a very large boat with a very low weight, both fuel-efficient and stately. It can go 23 knots at top speed and anchor in shallow waters.
A California designer led a team of six people to design the interior of the 80-foot catamaran, which features six staterooms. Launched in August 2008, the vessel has sailed all down the East Coast of North America and into the heart of Cajun country.
Capt. Waters is proud to point out that there’s a Canadian flag on board and an Acadian flag in the flag locker, his experience in Nova Scotia having made an indelible impression.
A history buff, he fell in love with this province’s rich maritime origins at places like the Shubenacadie Canal. Lynn likes to joke that by the end of their stay, her husband was giving Nova Scotia history lessons to the locals. For her part, she even learned to quilt from a Yarmouth woman in her 80s and the couple still keep in touch with several people from the area.
“The boat has met all of our expectations; we get nothing but compliments,” Capt. Waters says. “In fact, we’ve had some people come forward and say, ‘This is the best woodworking I have ever seen in a vessel.’ From very experienced boaters, that’s a very rare compliment to get. There are a lot of very fine builders in the world.”
Gilles Theriault says the company has had to diversify after the downturn in the fishing industry, while also staying loyal to the clients who made AFT a reality. That’s why you’ll still see plenty of fishing boats under construction and repair at the shipyard and not just multimillion-dollar yachts.
He credits the attitude of the people around him for the company’s success.
“It’s never a chore for our employees to come to work. It’s the attitude from our ancestors, coming from a culture of hard-working people, who take pride and respect in achieving things at the end of the day.”