The biog­ra­phy of a New­found­land knock­about schooner

The Compass - - OPIN­ION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net — Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Compass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

A decade ago, Garry Cran­ford, a na­tive of the Trin­ity Bay set­tle­ment of Mark­land, had writ­ten a man­u­script on a well-known New­found­land schooner, Norma & Gladys.

He shopped around in vain for a lo­cal pub­lisher who would take on his tale. So, he de­cided to self pub­lish un­der the name, Flanker Press. Twenty years later, Flanker has be­come the prov­ince’s most ac­tive pub­lisher of trade books.

To mark the mile­stone, Flanker has now re­leased the sec­ond edition of Cran­ford’s biog­ra­phy of the il­lus­tri­ous lady of the sea, Norma & Gladys. It is a story of in­dus­try, mutiny and tri­umph.

“This book,” Charles E. Par­sons writes in his Fore­word, “is a his­tory of New­found­land’s last fa­mous schooner... A wooden boat with an iron heart that for al­most forty years sailed upon the oceans of the world, manned by or­di­nary men from an is­land in the North At­lantic, where a cruel sea has snatched away thou­sands of her sons in the past five cen­turies.”

Cran­ford met what was con­sid­ered to be a con­tro­ver­sial ves­sel in Goose Bay, Labrador, in 1978.

“She seemed so or­di­nary,” he thought at the time.

Half-a-dozen years later, his in­ter­est in chron­i­cling the his­tory of Norma & Gladys was ig­nited when the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment an­nounced the sale of the craft.

Cran­ford says he re­al­ized “an era was about to close. I sensed that this high-pro­file ship had a past, in­clud­ing the ship­build­ing tra­di­tion, which few peo­ple knew much about.” He vowed to “bring some bal­ance to her story.” He was given per­mis­sion to sail on her but, on Oct. 28, 1984, he heard Norma & Gladys had gone to the bot­tom of Pla­cen­tia Bay.

His book is di­vided into two sec­tions. In the first four chap­ters, he fo­cuses on her early years, writ­ing about the Labrador floater fish­ery and the Grand Banks fish­ery, as well as the con­struc­tion of Norma & Gladys and her voy­ages around the coast of the prov­ince.

The long­est part, Chap­ters 5-22, is a ver­i­ta­ble sea yarn, de­scrib­ing her event­ful po­lit­i­cal years which Cran­ford dubs “a rough pas­sage.”

Charles Par­sons notes that Norma & Gladys “car­ried no guns to de­fend her coun­try from the for­eign foe, nor was she the big­gest, fastest fish­ing boat in the North At­lantic. She was only “re­flect­ing the sub­ti­tle of Cran­ford’s book” a home­built knock­about schooner, lack­ing a jib­boom, top­masts, and the racy lines of her Amer­i­can and Cana­dian cousins. She couldn’t boast of her speed, her abil­ity to sail close-hauled to the wind, nor even of her size.”

So, why write about a some­what undis­tin­guished ves­sel? Per­haps the late Pre­mier Frank Moores was on to some­thing when he said in 1976, “In the face of crit­ics and storms, the Norma & Gladys does rep­re­sent some­thing romantic, some­thing glam­orous.”

Read­ers of Cran­ford’s book will have their favourite parts. I, for one, am cap­ti­vated by Chap­ter 12, “Mutiny over a stow­away.” In 1973, the pro­vin­cial Gov­ern­ment pur­chased the Norma & Gladys and out­fit­ted her to travel around New­found­land and Labrador, car­ry­ing tem­po­rary ex­hibits. Her lo­cal man­date ex­panded when she was in­vited to travel to Ja­pan, which meant a round-the-world voy­age as an in­ter­na­tional am­bas­sador. Did she reach Ja­pan? I won’t spoil it for the reader by an­swer­ing that ques­tion.

By Canada Day of 1976, Norma & Gladys was stuck un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously in Bar­ba­dos.

One evening, un­der cover of dark­ness, a woman by the name of Lil­iana (Lili) Wag­ner slipped aboard the ves­sel.

Cran­ford ex­plains: “She stowed away un­der the can­vas cover of one of the port dories, where she was to have been passed fresh food and wa­ter for two or three days at sea be­fore re­veal­ing her­self. It was a very tight, cramped space right un­der the can­vas cover with prac­ti­cally no room to breathe, and Lili planned on not sneez­ing or cough­ing for the next two or three days.”

Without re­veal­ing all, suf­fice it to say Wag­ner’s un­ortho­dox method of get­ting to serve on the ves­sel in­spired a mutiny.

The loss of Norma & Gladys in 1984 was a sad end­ing for a gal­lant, if fa­tally ill ves­sel.

For one, she was of wooden con­struc­tion. She was al­most 40 years old. She had not been re­moved from the wa­ter for about three years. The bilge sys­tem had been poorly de­signed, us­ing a sin­gle dis­charge line for the two main en­gine pumps. In the end, eight pumps were un­able to keep her afloat. In the words of the au­thor, “Norma & Gladys had sprung a perfect leak.”

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