Bay of Spirits: A Love Story

Bay of Spirits: A Love Story

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by Farley Mowat

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In the sixties, Farley Mowat was exploring Newfoundland's remarkable coastline on his beloved, jinxed schooner, the Happy Adventure, when serendipity arranged for him to meet the great love of his life. Stunningly beautiful and a talented young artist, Claire Wheeler insouciantly climbed aboard Happy Adventure as it lay once again in a cradle for repairs. Her arrival


In the sixties, Farley Mowat was exploring Newfoundland's remarkable coastline on his beloved, jinxed schooner, the Happy Adventure, when serendipity arranged for him to meet the great love of his life. Stunningly beautiful and a talented young artist, Claire Wheeler insouciantly climbed aboard Happy Adventure as it lay once again in a cradle for repairs. Her arrival would change both their lives forever. Bay of Spirits is the story of their love affair, of summers spent sailing the Newfoundland coast, and of Claire and Farley's decision to start their life together in Burgeo. It is, at the same time, the story of another kind of love affair - for a people and a place. Affectionate, unsentimental, this is a burnished gem from a cherished Canadian icon.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
If this deeply felt book, written in the middle of Mowat's ninth decade, is a love song to his life's companion, it is also a love song to a time and place in which he found the happiness he sought. All in all, a lovely book.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In this ruminative memoir, Mowat chronicles the disappearance of a way of life in Newfoundland and the chance encounter that brought him the love of his life. As a young writer in 1957, Mowat decided to travel on a tramp steamer among the small fishing villages known as outports that dotted the Newfoundland coast. These outports were the home of hardy and colorful fisherfolk of Basque, English, Irish and French descent. Government policy and the depletion of the regional fisheries by huge commercial trawlers were slowly forcing the locals out of their centuries-old homes. Mowat enjoyed the area so much that he bought a schooner for further exploration. Soon afterward, a young woman fleeing the overeager attentions of an amorous mutt stumbled on board his ship and romance quickly followed. Mowat and Claire Wheeler spent the next decade sailing in the rocky bays, thick fogs and sudden squalls of the region. The author of 40 books, mostly on nautical and adventure themes, Mowat has a deep understanding of the sea and the natural world. His observations of the outporters are equally perceptive and provide a fascinating window into a little known corner of North America. In this tender elegy to a lost Newfoundland, Mowat shows an amused tolerance for almost everything except the human greed that has inexorably destroyed his adopted home's cultures and environment. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In the late 1950s, best-selling author Mowat (Never Cry Wolf) began exploring the southwest coast of Newfoundland and the French overseas communities of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the Newfoundland coast. Enchanted with the cliffs, coves, fjords, and small coastal communities called outports, Mowat seeks to capture the colloquial language of the inhabitants, whose lives have been shaped by the sea. He writes of the schooner Happy Adventure's inaugural season when he traveled to St. Pierre and met his future wife, Claire Wheeler, with whom he explored various outports. Many of these outports have disappeared through government-encouraged consolidation and the collapse of the timber and inshore fishing industries; inhabitants of Rams Island, for example, "launched off" their houses and floated them downriver. Other explorations take the couple to the uninhabited Middle Goblin Bay (rumored to shelter goblins); archaeological sites of the Tuniit/Dorset culture, Norsemen, and Basques; the Bay Despair (Bay of Spirits); and Burgeo, the Mowats' first home. Crammed with natural history and vivid descriptions, this is recommended for public libraries.
—Margaret Atwater-Singer

Kirkus Reviews
Hardy, sea-sprayed travelogue of the author's colorful journeys along the rugged Newfoundland coast in the 1950s and '60s. Mowat (No Man's River, 2004, etc.) once again vividly displays his unique talent for recreating remote Northern landscapes and their inhabitants. Arriving in glacially scarred Newfoundland, aptly called "the Rock," in 1957, he found a spirited, sea-loving people clinging tenuously to their Old World traditions. He bought a 30-foot schooner and embarked on a years-long exploration. In 1960, aboard that very vessel, he met and fell in love with a young commercial artist, Claire Wheeler. Mowat left his wife and two young children for Claire, a decision he makes no effort to justify, or even explain. He never looked back, and soon he and his new love were exploring Newfoundland's most isolated coastal villages. Along the way, they encountered feisty ferry captains whose seamanship astounded even the most weathered harbor pilot; descendants of now-extinct Indian tribes, watching as modern fishing fleets inexorably depleted their once-rich fishing beds; and 80-year-old Marie Penney, the hospitable "Queen of the Coast," whose fish-processing plants dominated Newfoundland industry. Far less welcoming were the hostile and suspicious residents of Grey River, an eerie hamlet mysteriously devoid of dogs. Mowat and Claire eventually bought a seaside cottage in the remote village of Burgeo, bringing the first motorcar to that part of the world. Their summer idylls on land and sea were sublime, but they also witnessed repulsive examples of human cruelty to fellow creatures that ultimately forced them to rethink their choices. As always, Mowat's powers of recollection and descriptionare prodigious, whether conjuring up a becalmed cliff-lined inlet or a churning, windswept coastal storm. It must be noted, however, that his canvas here is often bleak, and after a while, the impoverished hamlets reeking of fish all seem the same. A bracing tale of the fierce struggle waged by those devoted to the sea as a way of life.
From the Publisher
“Farley Mowat has led a charmed and lucky life. Blessed with an endlessly curious and energetic cast of mind and an outrageously colourful personality, he has also been gifted with a perfect life companion and a love that has endured for many decades.”
Quill & Quire

Bay of Spirits clips along like a pirate ship on high seas. . . . It is an engaging read by a wonderful raconteur, as relevant today as he ever was.”
Globe and Mail

“A page-turner of a storybook, crammed with geography and history, sea creatures, tales and yarns.”
Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“Farley Mowat writes as a good helmsman steers — with easy skill, admirable precision, and the authority of a sailor in his element.”
— Nicholas Monsarrat

Product Details

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

Such was the nature of the creature that lay awaiting me at dockside when I disembarked at Port aux Basques. Already laden to her marks, the SS Baccalieu was noisily blowing off surplus steam, which veiled her black hull and white-­painted upperworks.

She was not going to be crowded on this trip. Instead of her usual complement of a hundred or so passengers, she was carrying only seventy-­five. Her blushing young purser, who was new to his job, gave me cabin B on the upper deck. It was a wonder of Victorian elegance gone a little shoddy: creaky wicker chairs, worn Persian carpet, etched glass in the alleyway door, and an enormous English “water closet” almost big enough to serve as a sitz bath.

I had barely taken all this in when the ship’s whistle let out a throaty roar and Baccalieu began to throb with the slow revolution of her great propeller shaft. I rushed on deck to find we were underway; but there was little to see. Night had fallen and the weather was chill and “thick-­a-­fog,” as a passing deckhand unnecessarily noted. Never mind. I retreated to the snug warmth of my cabin for a good night’s sleep.

It was not to be. At 11:30 p.m. a deckhand knocked hard upon my door to tell me the captain wanted me on the bridge.

Half expecting we would be taking to the lifeboats, I flung on my clothing, hurried across the bridge deck, and entered the wheelhouse — the holy of holies on any ship. A squat figure took shape in the darkness within and introduced himself.

“Ernie Riggs, skipper of this one. Heard you’ve been in the salvage boats out of Halifax. Thought you might like to help us take this old she-­cunt into Rose Blanche . . . if we can get in. Nasty little place. Tight as a crab’s arsehole.”

I did not know if the captain was serious or not. There was certainly nothing I could do to help. The night was black as death and the fog almost too thick to breathe. Pretending I ­wasn’t there, I backed into a corner and watched and listened as Skipper Riggs and the helmsman took Baccalieu through a maze of reefs into an unseen and unseeable little harbour, then laid her alongside a wooden wharf that I never even saw until the lines went ashore and the fog-­diffused glow from a lamp on the shore told me we were there.

I remained on the bridge most of the rest of that black night so as not to miss the succeeding episodes of Riggs Dares All — a harrowing life-­and-­death adventure in real time.

Coming in to La Poille two hours later, Riggs could not have been able to see much farther than the nose on his face. Furthermore, Baccalieu’s searchlight was out of order and her old-­fashioned radar useless at close quarters. None of this seemed to concern Riggs as he paced rapidly back and forth, muttering to himself:

“Oh you she-­cunt! Where’s she going? Narrow place this . . . very narrow place. Fucking narrow place. ­Can’t turn her here. Oh hell, s’pose I got to try.”

Then, as the end of a dock miraculously appeared about ten feet off our bows: “Never goin’ to make it. Lard Jesus, not going to make it!”

When people on the dock began yelling that we were going to make a hole in their island, Riggs stepped out on the bridge wing and shouted back:

“What’re you silly fuckers worryin’ about? We’re right as houses! Finest kind!”

With which he pulled the engine telegraph to full astern, and Baccalieu kissed the dock.

An hour later we continued on our way and, with the coming of a pallid dawn, Riggs turned the bridge over to the second mate and took me with him down to the saloon for breakfast.

“You’ll do, Little Man,” he said over his fourth mug of tea. “Long as you knows enough to keep your mouth shut when you’re ignorant, you’re welcome aboard of this one.”

Through our subsequent friendship he continued to call me Little Man, and to treat me with the affectionate impatience he might have shown a slightly backward son. I learned a lot about Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders from Skipper Riggs.

A ruddy-­faced, burly lump of a man, Riggs had been born in the small settlement of Burin on the shores of Placentia Bay. He was as much a child of the sea as of the land. At the age of eight he had gone to the Grand Banks aboard a fishing schooner owned by an uncle. By the time he was twelve he had a berth as fo’c’sle hand, and at fifteen was fishing down the Labrador. At twenty he got his mate’s papers and signed on aboard an English tramp freighter to spend the next several years travelling the world and, incidentally, picking up some of the worst of the argot used by British seamen. In 1936 he became the freighter’s Master. In 1943 she was sunk under him by a German U-­boat. After the war, so he told me, he decided to “settle down, so I married a maid from Fortune and, I supposes you could say, married the Baccalieu as well.”

His was hardly a settled life. He had managed to get home for Christmas only once since 1946. His working schedule consisted of two months aboard his ship, followed by a month ashore. When he got home he was often unable to sleep, only able to doze with one ear cocked for trouble. He seldom slept while on board because the ship ran day and night and he was usually on the bridge, and always on call.

Although he could, and did, gorgeously curse the world around him, and everything in it including his beloved Baccalieu, he never seemed to have a hard word for any of his crew, though he had no patience with shore-­side management.

“I got to keep the old bitch going come hell or high water, into and out of places a duck would leave alone. Places there ­ain’t even room to change your mind, and do it any time, day or night, in any kind of weather. They’s got to be accidents, and there is. And when some damn fool thing goes wrong, the skipper gets suspension, whether he be at fault or no. But we ­don’t do it for they office fuckers in St. John’s. We works for the people on the coast. The thanks we gits comes from them. I believe there’s nothing on God’s earth they ­wouldn’t do for we. Or we for they.”

Meet the Author

Farley Mowat began writing for a living in 1949 after spending two years in the Arctic. He is the best-selling author of thirty-nine books, including Never Cry Wolf, Owls in the Family, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, and The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float. With sales of more than fourteen million copies in twenty-five countries, he is one of Canada’s most successful writers.

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Bay of Spirits 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mowat always delivers a detailed, exciting, and engaging story. He never fails to deliver informative, sensitive and sometimes disturbing material in such a fashion as to keep the reader turning pages knowing that just around the bend he will make you smile.