Chal­lengers of the Sea

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Sports - Harold Wal­ters

Jim Well­man’s Chal­lengers of the Sea [Flanker Press] is about the peo­ple who — well, take a close look at the ti­tle — chal­lenge the sea.

That’s not how I read the ti­tle at first. Truth is, I s’pose, that I didn’t ac­tu­ally read the ti­tle. I glanced at it and my nog­gin nut pro­cessed it as Chal­lenges of the Sea.

There’s a dif­fer­ence, eh b’ys? I read a cou­ple of chap­ters hove off in my Lay-Z-Boy and then paused to re­flect.

That’s a lie.

I nod­ded off.

Don’t mis­in­ter­pret, the book didn’t send me rock-a-bye. At my age, nods of­ten am­bush me from be­hind the drapes and take me down.

Chal­lengers of the Sea bobbed on my sea of dreams, so to speak. I dreamed of po­etry, of John Mase­field’s “Sea Fever” in par­tic­u­lar — a poem about men com­pelled to “go down to the seas again” to “a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn break­ing.”

When I awoke from my snooze, like Grand-pappy be­fore me, I lifted my book from my lap and read on, not a word missed.

Like tat­tered sails, shreds of Mase­field’s poem were still strung in my nog­gin’s rig­gings, and I re­al­ized the chal­lengers of the sea in po­ems such as Mase­field’s were in­vari­ably men in boats … not a woman in an air­plane.

Teri Childs — “Queen of the King Air” — is a pi­lot with PAL Aero­space in St. John’s. Her job is “to keep an eye on both for­eign and Cana­dian fish­ing ves­sels, tran­sat­lantic ship­ping, ice­bergs, and even mon­i­tor­ing whales and other ma­rine species.”

Cap­tain Teri Childs loves her job: “There is no bet­ter place on earth than to be in the cock­pit of a King Air above the At­lantic Ocean.”

I don’t s’pose John Mase­field ever imag­ined the sea fever of a woman in an air­plane, eh b’ys?

Jana Jef­fery — “Hap­pi­ness is a Clean Boat” — is an­other woman who, af­ter a fash­ion, chal­lenges the sea. Yar­mouth Clean­ing Ladies, Jef­fery’s busi­ness, cleans boats big and small. She and her staff don’t sim­ply scrub slub like swab­bies. With Q-Tips if nec­es­sary, they metic­u­lously clean high­tech in­stru­ments as well as swab the decks.

Florence Pin­horn — “Con­cern­ing Multi-Species” — is a pain­ter. Her sub­ject is fish. In Au­gust, 2016, she had a twenty-one piece ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ocean View Art Gallery in Car­bon­ear.

If I had been smart enough to have known about her ex­hi­bi­tion, and if I had been smart enough to visit the art gallery, I might have been smart enough to read in­ter­est­ing tid­bits about the fish in her paint­ings.

For in­stance: “Un­like other flat­fish, tur­bot can swim ver­ti­cally be­cause their eyes did not mi­grate as far to the right side of their body in early devel­op­ment as in other flat­fish.”

How about that?!

Della Sears’ story — “The Tragedy of Miss Ally” — is, as the ti­tle in­di­cates, tragic. Hers is among the count­less sto­ries that stem from the be­hav­iour of a malev­o­lent sea. She lost her son, Katlin, to such a sea dur­ing a storm in 2013, in what has been de­scribed as “Nova Sco­tia’s worst fish­ing dis­as­ter in re­cent mem­ory.”

I didn’t need to doze to think of po­etry when I read Della’s story. E.J. Pratt’s “Ero­sion” sur­faced in­stantly — “It took the sea an hour one night/ An hour of storm to place/ The sculp­ture of th­ese gran­ite seams Upon a woman’s face.”

As is so of­ten the case, Katlin’s body was not found, a re­minder of one more of the sad con­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with the loss of loved ones. Be­cause bod­ies are not re­cov­ered, it is dif­fi­cult for fam­i­lies to find clo­sure.

Austin King — “King of Hick­man’s Har­bour” — be­came a full-time fish­er­man at age 10. Now eighty-odd, he’s still fish­ing. He was 82 when the Pro­vin­cial Court at Clarenville con­victed him of pos­sess­ing un­der­sized lob­ster.

Read the par­tic­u­lars of Austin’s story and you’ll be dis­gusted and — for frig sake! — you’ll prob­a­bly say some bad words re­gard­ing the let­ter of the law, about right and wrong.

Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to find the right words to of­fer as an ac­co­lade for a lost friend. Corey Starkes — “You Can’t Fix It” — finds gem-dandy words to praise Max Pittman: “If you needed one of them tiny screw­drivers to fix your glasses, Max knew right where to put his hands on it.” High praise, eh b’ys? Truly. Thank you for read­ing.

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