Sharing the stories of sea folk
I hope booksellers are displaying “Sea Folk” [Flanker Press] face out, not spine out. Spine out requires that you crick your neck to read its title … or worse, causes you to completely ignore it as I would. I never read spines. I’m old. My eyes wobble. I finds me neck.
The cover of “Sea Folk” is a work of art, or something. What do I know about snapshot art? All I know is this — I can stare at the front cover of “Sea Folk” until … well, until my coffee cools.
Firstly, the cover is multi-shades of green. Forty shades of green? I don’t know. I didn’t count. From the grey-green shore to the vivid green of Dave Jenkins’ capelin seine, the “greens” are a graduated palette of the sea’s own evolving hues.
And look a’ this — the deep green net hangs like the opening curtains of a stage, parting, preparing to reveal the dramas that will occur upon the boards, or in this case — I suppose — the waves … or something — I’m trying to be right literary.
See Dave Jenkins rigged out in his slick green oilskins, his cap protected by a rubber helmet. He looks like an Argonaut, a mythological figure prepared to harvest Golden Fleeces — or in this case perhaps, considering he’s capelin fishing, silver skeins — from the sea.
I don’t know Dave Jenkins and if I meet him at some future time he might smack me in the chops, but look at the face on him — grizzled and square- jawed, his eyes intent on his labours. He looks like a buccaneer ready to smack down whatever toils Old Neptune heaves in the way of his bowsprit, or whatever.
There’s one little dab of red among all the green. Just a wee patch of Dave’s T-shirt, looking like a blood-red heart … or, perhaps — and should we ever meet, Dave will surely land one on my chin-chopper-chin for this — looking like a gill, a sea folk’s gill.
I’m not a person who likes framed pictures to hang on a wall but if I were forced to choose one it would be a ginormous reproduction of this book’s cover art. Truly. Tragic tales Inside the cover are the sea folk. Many of Jim Wellman’s stories are tragic tales of sea folk perishing. For instance, “Down Perish, April 11,” an account of sealers dying on the ice. Joseph Jacobs chiselled those words in his sealer’s gaff before he and his compan- ions lay down to die on the ice.
My landlubber’s brain is unable to wrap my thoughts around such resigned action.
It’s also difficult to fathom the misery of the families of lost seamen — the wives, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters who have to endure the loss, not only the loss of livelihood but also loss of their loved ones.
More than those sad stories though, Wellman tells tales of unique sea folk. Wayne Ledwell, for one. In 1984 Mr. Ledwell, sponsored by the Canadian University Services Overseas, set sail, figuratively speaking, for seas many of us have never heard of — the seas of Vanuatu in the South Pacific — to teach the sea folk there how to fish more efficiently. Although he contracted malaria, he remained at Vanuatu for four years. Heather Crout, for another. Technically not a sea folk, I suppose, since she is a painter, not a sailor, Ms. Crout was married to a seaman. After he accidentally drowned, she painted 10 watercolours in memory of her husband. She has used the proceeds from sales of the paintings to buy and donate workable life vests for the men in her husband’s fleet.
Capt. Tracy Button is one of Newfoundland’s female skippers, one of the few owneroperators of fishing boats in the fifty-to sixtyfive-foot-vessel class. She was seven years old when she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up — a fisherman like her father.
Sabrina Whyatt is another female skipper who has followed in her father’s rubber boots, so to speak. According to Wellman, Sabrina “doesn’t refer to herself as a fisher, fisher person, or even fisherwoman.” Sabrina is happy being a fisherman.
Sabrina, bless ‘er heart, is above such gender correct horse whoopsie. I said that. Some sea folk are herring chokers. Such as John Roy Hackett, a man who knows more about herring than … well, than me, that’s for sure.
Thanks to Mr. Hackett, by way of Jim Wellman, I’m now happy to know this — Herring never make a left turn. Truly. Turn right. Read Sea Folk. Thank you for reading.
Harold N. Walters writes from Dunville. He can be reached at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org or