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 high-tech 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.
— Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.