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The Waterman: A Novel of the Chesapeake Bay

The Waterman: A Novel of the Chesapeake Bay

4.5 2
by Tim Junkin

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Set along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, this first novel tells the story of Clay Wakeman, who spent his boyhood on the water and finds he can't leave it. When his father is lost in a storm off the Eastern Shore, Clay drops out of college to take possession of his father's boat and his work as a waterman, that is, as an independent commercial fisherman.



Set along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, this first novel tells the story of Clay Wakeman, who spent his boyhood on the water and finds he can't leave it. When his father is lost in a storm off the Eastern Shore, Clay drops out of college to take possession of his father's boat and his work as a waterman, that is, as an independent commercial fisherman.

Since the old boat constitutes his sole inheritance, Clay starts out small. He recruits his oldest friend, Byron, a traumatized Vietnam vet, to join him in a crabbing business. Just as they're breaking even, Hurricane Agnes roars in to ruin the salinity of the eastern Bay waters. Agnes forces them across the Bay to set their crab traps along the Virginia shoreline and to move in with Matt and Kate, Clay's uppercrust friends from college.

It's in these unfamiliar waters that their real troubles begin. Clay falls irrevocably in love with the spoken-for Kate; Byron's demons pursue him with even greater vengeance; and out in the Bay the partners stumble onto a drug running operation. Lines are drawn by the dealers. And, at the very end, in a riveting boat chase, Clay comes very close to losing the battle . . . forever.

Editorial Reviews

The prose smells of salt water and diesel fuel in Tim Junkin's first novel...It is a moody book full of shadows, impending doom, the ineluctability of fate...competently told in a manner evocative of its time and place.
Water Log Maritime Journal
Through real-life dramas and controversies set against the backdrop of authentic historical context and events, the reader is provided with a genuine peek into the lives of men in this seldom seen world. Throughout the book there is a constant reverberation of the camaraderie and commitment shared by Watermen.
Chris Barsanti
Many of the opening passages in Junkin's first novel are beautiful, in a static kind of way. But the people move stiffly through the lovingly described landscape, like mannequins moved about in a display window. You press on, though, thinking there really needs to be something on the other side.

Clay is the waterman of the title. He lives in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay and has returned from college, after his father's tragic death, to continue his fishing business. Through sheer momentum, Junkin's waterborne images eventually take the place of a strong story and become fascinating in their own right. Junkin, who worked as a waterman before becoming a lawyer and now a novelist, has a true, instinctual passion for the swampy waterways of the Chesapeake and the tough, canny people who spend their lives on it. But just as his characters start to take on a life of their own, he cranks up a lame subplot about drug dealers that brings everything to a halt.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Washington, D.C., lawyer and ex-waterman Junkin's first novel is a commendable effort that charts a belated coming of age in dangerous and tragic circumstances. Junkin sets his earnest but often meandering narrative in what lately has been Christopher Tilghman country: the Chesapeake Bay vicinity in 1968. Returned home from college to search for his father, who has been lost at sea, Clay Wakeman goes against everyone's advice, takes over his father's fishing boat and becomes a waterman. He partners with close friend Byron, a drunkard and thoroughly screwed-up Vietnam vet. In a well-developed love story, Clay explores his mounting passion for Kate, the longtime girlfriend of his friend Matty, a photographer. Though Kate shares Clay's feelings, Clay has qualms about the nascent affair, not only because it would mean betraying Matty, but because as a child he once stumbled on his father in an act of infidelity. Clay and his boat survive the crisis of Hurricane Agnes, but the storm decimates Chesapeake Bay's crabbing trade, so Clay and Byron move down the coast to Virginia Beach, where they find that the local watermen and law enforcement are territorial and hostile. Clay and Byron have a long-standing dream of salvaging shipwreck treasure, but self-destructive Byron stumbles on another sort of treasure, large quantities of cocaine. At this point the story, sluggish with too many supporting characters and copious information about crab fishing and boat operation, turns lively, with a long suspenseful boat chase along the Virginia/Maryland coast. This exciting trajectory leads to a surprising and moving denouement. The narrative is muddied by clumsy dialogue, with characters who mostly blurt, stammer and interject, but Junkin's strong sense of life on the water, and particularly on the Chesapeake, redeems his freshman gaucheries and suggests promise in his work to come. Author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Clay Wakeman was born and raised on the Chesapeake Bay. He drops out of college when his father is lost in a storm off the Eastern Shore in order to take possession of his father's boat and work as a waterman -- an independent commercial fisherman. Clay's friend Byron joins him in a start-up crabbing business, and just as they are breaking even, Hurricane Agnes roars in to ruin the salinity of the eastern Bay waters, forcing Clay and Byron to crab along the Virginia shoreline. Here their real troubles begin as Clay falls irrevocably in love with Kate, Byron's post-traumatic stress kicks in with a vengeance, and the boys stumble onto a drug ring. The Waterman is a riveting, exceptionally written, highly recommended novel of well drawn characters, great background detail and flavor, and a robustly crafted plot of suspense and danger.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut novel from a Washington, D.C., lawyer that tries to give an insider's view of life among the watermen who work the Chesapeake Bay. Clay Wakeman, a 20-year-old college boy at Georgetown, leaves school and moves back home when his father, George, vanishes without a trace from the Miss Sarah, the Chesapeake Bay crab trawler he'd worked off for years. In his will, George has left the Miss Sarah to his son, a legacy that Clay sees as an opportunity to give up on college altogether and make a life for himself on the Bay. His Georgetown classmate Matty, and Matty's girlfriend Kate, think this is a genuine and courageous way to live, but Clay is more modest: the Bay is what he knows best. So he teams up with his childhood pal Byron and sets off to follow in his father's footsteps. By 1972, though, it's hard to make a living from crabs: the Bay is fished out, and the waters are increasingly polluted. Clay considers running pleasure cruises for a shady businessman named Brigman, then decides instead to move his operations farther afield to Virginia, where the waters are better. But life soon becomes complicated. Byron stumbles onto a drug-running operation that makes use of inland waterways to evade the Customs patrols, and Clay and Kate find themselves in love. This means trouble—with Matty, with the cops, and with Brigman (who turns out to be even shadier than he appears).Can Clay find his way back to shore? There's no better navigator in the world than a waterman born and bred, after all, but the Bay can swallow you in a wink.

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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Hurricane Agnes veered westerly overnight, picked up speed and force, and by Wednesday morning was threatening to hit the North Carolina coast. She boasted winds of over 150 miles per hour. Clay had listened to the reports all evening. He took a short nap after midnight but rose early to check the news. No change. Outside in the dark morning, the screen door was banging, and it had started to rain. He waited anxiously for a while and then decided to go after his pots. He dialed Laura-Dez's house, trying to find Byron, but got no answer. He called Mason's. Blackie answered the phone half asleep. Byron was not there either. Clay went outside several times and finally decided he wouldn't wait. It was just after four when he left for Pecks.

The morning was coal black, and the rain streamed through the headlights of his Chevrolet as he drove the back roads, bumping over the potholes in his hurry. As he traveled down the oyster shell drive, he noticed that cars were parked askew. The lights from the wharf were on, and the floodlights lit the dock and spotlighted several men working the boat lift. Jed Sparks was hollering to a man on a pleasure yacht to back out of the way. There were four or five boats, lights ablaze, backed up in a line in the creek, and general commotion everywhere.

Clay patted him on the shoulder. "Can you save me a spot for a lift about midday?" He had to speak loudly over the din.

Jed regarded him for a moment. "I dunno, Clay. I got forty-some pulls promised already. All good winter customers. Never make that, probably. I've turned down as many. Maybe the storm'll turn."

Clay understood. It would take as long to pull his three-thousand-dollar boat as it would to pull the thirty-thousand-dollar yachts already in line, and there wasn't time enough for everyone. The yard was already crowded and the confusion increasing.

"We get hit direct, this wharf gonna look like a junkyard anyway." Jed shrugged. "We only got so much cable." He looked at the sky and the water. "The river'll take what she wants. You know that better'n most." He eyed Clay. "Don't forget your daddy's diesel mooring."

Clay patted him once again on the back. "Don't worry. But if you see Byron, tell him I'll be unloading pots at Boone's Landing. Tell him to get his pickup there."

Jed grabbed his hand. "Careful out there. And good luck."

"Yes, sir. To you too." Clay turned and walked down to the Miss Sarah. He climbed aboard and felt her sturdiness. She started up on the first turn. He untied all of her lines from the pilings and stowed them aboard and eased out of the slip. He passed by the yachts, all backing and churning, trying to maintain their positions in the creek, and was out in the open river, aimed at the Benoni light, which marked the distant black horizon with the four-second beacon he knew so well.

In the streaming rain and with the steady drum of his engine, he worked his way out of the river, the wind sharp across his

Meet the Author

Tim Junkin is a lawyer and an award-winning novelist who lives in Maryland.

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The Waterman: A Novel of the Chesapeake Bay 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a find. This book's a reverie, a rhythmic poem to the fragile and beautiful Chesapeake estuary. Its people harbor that invisible connection, that bond with their land and water, with the cycles of the natural world, and this rare sensibility permeates the writing, comes through quietly and elegantly. The story is not without flaws, though. Occassionally the writing moves slow, the plot meanders, and the author dares to flout his genre, to end the book with raw realism that leaves an uncomfortable aftertaste. Yet it's a fine story, (a distinctive first novel), about the power of passion, of personal history, the heat of youth, and it turns suspenseful and thrilling as it spirals toward its dark finish. For those who still cherish the natural world, who appreciate how it enriches the spirit and enobles lives, and who enjoy hearing a new and enchanting voice, this shouldn't be missed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
True to the region. A good read.