CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 25. . . .March 4th, 2011.
Monica Graham has written an affectionate and fact filled history of Canada’s famous Bluenose sailing/fishing schooner that is enlivened by photographs, historical documents, maps, newspaper articles, advertisements, and illustrations. This lovely book will appeal to high school students, history buffs, and sailors of various kinds.
One dollar in 1921 had the same buying power as $11.13 in 2010. Thus the sails [of the Bluenose] would be valued at $11,163.39. In 1921 the average Canadian wage was $16.56 per week.
As a working fishing vessel, the Bluenose’s design and speed were essential to her competitiveness as a both a commercial concern and to her long-lived success as a racing vessel. Also essential was the ability of the men who crewed her to endure the hard work and danger of working at sea (p. 31):
When fishing was over for the day, the fishermen hauled all the trawls into the dories and took them back to the ship. But the workday wasn’t over. The fish had to be cleaned and salted before the men could turn into their bunks for a few hours’ sleep. Then they started all over again the next morning. Sometimes they fished and cleaned for days in a row with no sleep, in order to keep up with an abundant catch.
Graham also ensures that her readers have a strong sense of the Bluenose’s captain, Angus Walters, and the importance of his personality, integrity, professionalism, and knowledge of his craft to making the Bluenose a successful fishing concern and racer (p.41):
Unlike military ships, where the captain’s word is law, a fishing crew listened to their skipper because they trusted him to treat them fairly, lead by brave example, help them earn a living, and get them home safely. Skippers who had good reputations as navigators, fish killers, sailors, and natural leaders had no trouble finding good crews. Captain Walters had a good reputation, so he had a good crew.
Enhancing Graham’s story telling are the numerous illustrations and photographs in the book. They serve to augment the main text with additional information and to give, as in the case of the maps, a context to the races described in the text. Additionally, the text contains a glossary of sailing and shipbuilding terms that is helpful for the general reader. A bibliography and index are also supplied.
What lends depth and excitement to Graham’s text is that the reader is always aware of the impact of local and global social and economic conditions that affected the crews, captains, life and eventual “death” of the Bluenose. The unexpected details that Graham brings to her text make the text come alive. This is seen in the example of how Bluenose spent its twilight years dodging German submarines in the 1940s while carrying munitions (p. 106):
Spalding was certain the Germans knew all about the schooner’s activities. In his 1988 memoirs, he recalled meeting a German submarine near the Florida Keys. The captain climbed from the sub’s tower and asked Bluenose its business.
“Fishing,” came the reply.
But the German captain knew his schooners. He knew it was Bluenose, he retorted, and he knew it was travelling from Havana to Florida. And if it wasn’t for the fact that he loved the old schooner so much, he’d blow it out of the water, he told them. Next time he would, the captain warned.
Sometimes legends don’t fare very well when evaluated by modern values and perspectives. This isn’t the case for the Bluenose. The schooner has a complex and romantic history of which more Canadians should be aware. In this highly enjoyable and easy to read book, Graham does a wonderful job in making its well-storied history come alive.
Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is an author and freelance writer. She writes for national and international magazines, non-profits, and corporations.
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