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Review in the Victoria Times-Colonist

"Time was when newspapers recorded the exploits of highline captains and crack skippers with as much fanfare as is now accorded the sports pages. In England, tea clippers and their hard-driving masters were household names as they competed for the best prices and fastest passages; in Nova Scotia and Massachusetts, schoonermen and their graceful charges were yesterday's equivalent of hockey stars; and here in the Pacific Northwest, captains of seiners whose names appeared on the front pages of community periodicals for landing the biggest salmon catches were as pleased with the attendant prestige as much as with the paycheque.

Hence the title of Pat Norris' new book, High Boats, from the custom of Alert Bay's newspaper, the Pioneer Journal to carry a front-page box of the same name listing the boats, skippers and fishing companies with the highest catches of the week.

But it is a way of life that is all but vanished - once towns like Alert Bay were rip-roaring villages "full of seine boats and shopkeepers and drunks and Anglicans and fishermen" - and High Boats is as much eulogy as it is history.

Norris weaves her story around the last voyage of seiner the Mary S as she makes her way from Cormorant Island to Victoria, with every stretch of water, deserted cove or headland redolent of memories and past exploits: Mamalila-culla, Robson Bight, Seymour Narrows, Mitlenatch. Her two crew members, David Huson and Barrie McClung, veteran fishermen and boyhood friends, take this opportunity to visit old haunts and revive old characters that featured prominently in the heyday of commercial fishing.

The author writes convincingly and it is not surprise to learn that she grew up a short tugboat ride away from Alert Bay, the self-styled hub of the North Island:

'The Mary S had been behind the breakwater ever since and ... other vessels, packed tightly alongside and astern, had boxed her in. David spun the engine room controls and a burst of exhaust flew away from the stack. He turned the wheel just enough and the big boat moved forward. He spun the controls again, moving from clutch to throttle with the deft grace of the drummer in a rock band. He backed, angled, backed again while Barrie clambered over boats slacking off, untying, hauling in, and retying a maze of head and stern lines. Without a word between them they extricated the boat and she curved astern and out into the bay.'

Having shoehorned an 80-footer in behind that same breakwater myself this past summer, I can attest that Pat Norris's grasp of her subject is readily authenticated.
But it is more than just a string of well-told fish stories or nostalgia for a golden age. Pat Norris chronicles the plight of the salmon fishery, the advent of aquaculture and the battles between government bureaucrats and fishermen.

Well-illustrated and-well researched, this book provides an insider's look into a world that is vanishing as surely as the tea clipper and the fishing schooner."

Martyn Clark is an ardent blue-water sailor and former executive director of S.A.L.T.S. who lives in Victoria.