Monday, January 17, 2011
A Doryman's Day
Captain R. Barry Fisher lived in Newport, Oregon, my current home, toward the end of his life and I regret never having met him. He worked here as Chair of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station of Oregon State University until his death in 2001. Barry Fisher is a consummate storyteller, you never know where fact leaves off and fiction begins, which is a gift if you write stories about the sea.
The Maine Maritime Museum compiled three stories of Barry's into one book in the years before he left us and it is a small volume with a big presence. The first tale is of growing up as a wharf rat in Gloucester, Massachusetts and how he and his buddies scored an old dory to refurbish during the Depression.
You would think those were the Glory Days!
The next story is about fishing the Banks of Newfoundland. Barry spent a couple years fishing from a cod schooner and tells of the methods with historic authority. There is plenty of warmth and human spirit in this recollection to make you feel right at home.
The last epistle is Mysterious Ways of the Lord, Or How Captain Jack Brant of the Swordfishing Schooner Lorna B Found God in a Split Second and Then Achieved Salvation on the Northern Edge of George's Bank.
You guessed it. This is pure yarn. Barry apparently spent a season swordfishing, but Captain Jack Brant is fiction, no doubt. Which puts Barry in league with long generations of sailors. Dark, cold nights on a pitching ship required a strong will and a healthy sense of humor and you will find plenty of that in A Doryman's Day.
Mr. Fisher had an impressive resume'. A man with his skills as a story teller and his wide range of experience must have been a very interesting man, indeed. He left us a doryman's legacy.
Born and brought up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Barry Fisher went fishing as a catchee at fourteen, entered the Merchant Marine in 1943 at fifteen, fished up and down the East Coast of the United States, Canada, and Newfoundland after World War II, then did two combat tours in Korea. After Captain Fisher received his Master's degree from Harvard, he went back to fishing, first out of New Bedford and then on the West Coast, where he also taught at Oregon State University for four years. In the late 1970's he led joint fishing ventures with the Russians, trawling for whiting off the Pacific Northwest coast, and for flounder and codfish in the Bering Sea.
From the late 1980's on, Captain Fisher worked promoting marine science and fishery research at Oregon State University and with the National Marine Fisheries Services.
Cover painting of alongshore dory fishing in "Fishermen" © John Neville.