The biography of a Newfoundland knockabout schooner
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.”