By Val B. Russell
Maritime stories have always captivated readers with tales of ship wrecks, pirates and the battle of man against the raging sea. Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, Treasure Island etc, the list is endless. Most are works of fiction, fanciful and designed to entertain mainlanders who view the ocean as a mysterious and dangerous foe rather than the living, vital entity it is. In Sea Folk (Flanker Press 2013) Jim Wellman alters this perception by inviting us to experience the reality of life lived on the sea, page by page.
Doing a great deal more than detailing the stories of the people who dedicate their lives to the volatility of the ocean, Wellman pays homage to the indomitable spirit of those who earn their living from the sea, often with dire consequences.
Mr. Wellman’s background in journalism, coupled with his own nautical birth right as the son of a schooner captain bestow upon him a unique ability and innate understanding of the sea that is fundamental to sharing the reality of the risk inherent in the job of a fisherman to his/her family and the community he/she supports. Sadly, on the island of Newfoundland and in much of Nova Scotia, this way of life that is vanishing for a variety of reasons both political and economic, making the existence of this book so crucial. Sea Folk is in many ways an historic text that has preserved for posterity the impact and importance of the fishing industry has had for hundreds of years before oil and gas replaced it to become the new economic backbone.
The first hand accounts, often current and told by those who have lived the life, makes a mockery of the ‘old salt’ stereotype most have of fishermen. In particular, gutsy entrepreneurs Captain Sabrina Whyatt and Captain Tracy Button tell stories that are instrumental in forever smashing to bits the notion that the sea is a male dominated domain; proving without a doubt that the bewitching lure of the ocean will always trump human constructs like sexism.
Heroes and heroines abound in these tales, not the least of which are those whose quick thinking has saved lives aboard vessels, selflessly comforted those who were inconsolable and most importantly, consistently faced their mortality daily to support their families. During the reading of this book and the many human travails chronicled, I was struck by the unfettered truth that courage is often displayed privately and without fanfare by individuals who are not even aware of their own bravery. This above all else is the essence of what Jim Wellman has conveyed and in this era of cynicism it is a reminder that although we have forgotten how to be strong we still have the potential to rise to the occasion and be valiant.
Punctuated by photographs, Sea Folk is a culling together of individual lives that link to one another through triumph and tragedy, as they pursue the bounty of the sea despite the peril involved. Because this writer is so adept at maintaining the voice and integrity of the people and events, reading these biographical accounts is more akin to sitting at the kitchen table with an old friend, rather than turning pages in a book, totally eliminating the distance between the reader and the story. Charming, gut wrenching, humorous, witty, honest and factual, Sea Folk is about more than fishing, salt water and boats, it is about the human beings who risk their lives to feed others. It is about the strange and seductive spell the sea casts on those who make the fateful decision to submit to her whims and power, a temperamental brine that often takes as much as she gives.
Jim Wellman, is the author of five books, a former broadcaster for the CBC, a journalist and the current managing editor of The Navigator Magazine.
To purchase a copy of Sea Folk, visit the publishers’ website here: Flanker Press