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Witch in the Wind: The True Story of the Legendary Bluenose [Hardcover]

Marq de Villiers
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 28 2007

While the story of the Bluenose — her legendary speed and the famous races she won over the years — has often been told, Witch in the Wind explores the history of the Bluenose from a fresh new perspective. In Witch in the Wind, Marq de Villiers examines the history of this famous vessel against the social and economic backdrop of the east coast Atlantic shipping and fishing industries that spawned her.

Unlike any previous examination of the Bluenose, de Villiers contextualizes the birth and death of this celebrated ship with rise of industrialization and the decline of the Age of Sail, and the impact of these changes on generations of families whose way of life depended on the sea. Witch in the Wind is an evocative journey into previously untold backstory of the Bluenose, exploring the place that built her, the men who sailed her and the industry that gave rise to her.

De Villiers takes readers deep into the heart of Canadian maritime history, giving new life to the long-standing legend of the magnificent Bluenose.

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Witch in the Wind sometimes reads like a celebrity tell-all: myths are debunked; the true characters of the famous boat’s owners, skipper, and crew are revealed; and her fierce competition with American ships is exposed in all its ugly glory. De Villiers has done an excellent job of outlining the context behind the building of the Bluenose and her racing success, and has produced a story that is far more interesting than the conventional tale about a magical boat that never lost a race. Boat enthusiasts and landlubbers alike will appreciate de Villiers’ thorough, yet accessible, research.

Witch in the Wind demonstrates that the Bluenose was a late flowering in schooner design, a high point of sorts, yet, even when brand spanking new, already an exercise in nostalgia and romance, a last remnant of a lost world of wood and wind and canvas an speed...Witch in the Wind boasts fishing scenes worthy of Melville."

Poignant and often profound, Witch in the Wind shows the tone and texture of a seasoned journalist, peppered with distinct Maritime flavour...

This is not just a book about a pretty legend, a ship-on-a-dime. Instead, it is the story of tough men in a tough trade who put to sea in search of fish, sailing ships that often carried far too much canvas, endangering and often extinguishing the lives of those who crewed them...If you read only one book about the Bluenose, make it this one.

De Villiers... is a gifted writer with the research skills and authority of a professional historian and the storytelling strengths of an inspired journalist.

The story of the Bluenose, on waves and land, is... a wonderful story of ingenuity and intrigue and inspiration.

About the Author

Born in South Africa, Marq de Villiers is a veteran Canadian journalist and the author of thirteen books on exploration, history, politics, and travel. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and through Eastern Europe and spent many years as Editor and then Publisher of Toronto Life magazine. Most recently he was Editorial Director of WHERE Magazines International.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A queen's accession Sept. 13 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Over time, legends and their icons tend to grow, enhanced by successive elaborations. One of Canada's best-known icons is the fishing schooner "Bluenose". Known by some as "the boat on the dime", many Canadians have lost sight of just what made her worth putting there. Something about racing, racing against the Yanks and winning, right? Partly correct, but the whole story involves more than beating lesser boats and crews. The Bluenose was the apex of a long-running industry of fine ship-building challenged by the rising power of motor-driven vessels. In this excellent recounting of the Bluenost legend, de Villiers applies his fine journalistic skills to survey the context of the industry in a rapidly-shifting environment.

Framing his narrative in a roughly chronological order, de Villiers opens with the final race. Bluenose had been specially conceived from a challenge to hold races between fishing schooners crewed by fishermen. In fact, the contenders, even in new boats, had to engage in at least one fishing season to qualify for entry. Prompted by the cancellation of a yacht race due to "excessive winds", William Dennis of the Halifax Herald scorned the Yanks of New England for scrubbing a race due to weather that was ideal operating conditions for Atlantic fishers. The challenge was taken up and the North Atlantic Fishermen's International Competition was formed. Dennis' challenge wasn't the first suggestion for such an event, but the timing was fortuitous. The search for contenders caught up fisher Angus Walters, already in the process of building a new schooner.

Angus' long career as skipper of the Bluenose rightly dominates this tale. Among other things, he posed a late design suggestion to William Roue revising the form of the bow.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Once I started this book I couldn't put it down--it details the shipbuilding industry, how the schooner was built (practically peg by peg), the fishing industry--including the hazardous back-breaking labor of the dorymen--the races and how they started, the races the Bluenose DIDN'T win (but none that counted), the times when she surged ahead, a witch in the wind (perfect title)... and the government's indifference to the fate of the original. De Villiers' writing style really grabs you--I had my heart in my throat and tears in my eyes through much of it. I read this first as a library book but I knew immediately it was a keeper; I had to buy my own copy to pass around among friends and reread in the future. I've been on the Bluenose II for a two-hour cruise out of Lunenburg harbour and I fully intend to go out again, with a much greater appreciation of the experience.
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