The Doryman follows the true story of Richard Hanrahan from age nine when he is ripped away from the safety and comfort of the schoolroom to the seasonal shore fishery on Newfoundland's South Coast in the late 1800s. Later, hardening into premature manhood in the Banks fishery, he at once strives to mould himself into the stern shape of his fisherman father, yet longs to escape and find a better life for his own family. The Doryman is part tribute to a way of life that is gone, part lament for the storm-tossed lives of those who lived on the sea and were at mercy of economic and social powers that chained their dreams fast to the rugged shores of Newfoundland. Above all, it is a compelling tale filled with spirited characters, tragedy and resilience, tidal waves, and august gales. Winner of the 2003 Lawrence Jackson Writers' Award Shortlisted for the 2004 Heritage and History Award
“Get up and get to work!” a deep voice bellowed the morning after Richard’s first night on the Laura Claire. It was 5:00 a.m. and still pitch-black. Richard tried to pull himself out of his sleepy state. He saw with some surprise that he still had his clothes on from the night before. At home he usually slept in a long nightshirt. Someone lit the kerosene lamp and Richard struggled to make out the faces before him. Everyone looked exhausted – they’d all walked long distances to get here – but the real work hadn’t even started yet. The boy noted how grim they all seemed; the mood of the previous night had vanished as if it had never existed. The men were all business now. They quickly hauled on their clothes and jumped out of their bunks. Then they shoved their stockinged feet into their boots.
Richard smelled the strongness of toast right under his nose; the galley was right here in the forecastle. His face brightened at the thought of it as his eyes fixed on the cookstove in the cramped little space. Behind the cookstove was a hogshead that the men would fill with enough provisions for three weeks: salt pork, sacks of flour, oatmeal, dried beans, tea. The galley also held a water tank that they would fill to the brim.
But breakfast was an unceremonious affair on the Laura Claire. No one spoke as they grabbed cups of tea, barely taking time to drop sugar or milk into them. Then they took buttered slices of toast and ate them quickly, hauling their jackets on while they ate. Suddenly they all rose and dunked their dishes and cups in a pot of soapy water on the stove, giving them a cursory wash. They dried them and stacked them before hurriedly making their way through the hatch to the top deck. Richard followed, hoping someone would tell him what to do next, maybe his father.
But his father’s thin frame was way ahead of him, and the boy himself trailed behind the last of the men, his relation, Danny Spencer, who was impatiently turning his foot in his boot to make it fit right.
On deck, Richard first saw Captain Brinton, a barrel-chested man with the dark beard the boy expected to see on a captain. The Captain nodded at each man as he emerged from down below. He even tipped his head toward Richard.
“This your boy, Steve?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” came the answer. For some reason, his father’s tone made Richard feel something he had rarely felt before, something worse than embarrassment, deep in his belly. He couldn’t quite pin a name on it, but he thought it was shame.
Then they all stood around the anchor chains, thick, heavy, ice-encased, and tangled on the deck.
“The sooner we get these sorted out, the sooner we can get on with the rest of it,” the Captain announced.
As he walked away, the men lunged at the chains. They’re as heavy as Hero, Richard thought, recalling the old horse his family kept back in Little Bay. He tried to figure how they could possibly untangle them. But the men had already begun chipping the ice off them, then lifting and turning them, grunting hard as they did so. Almost immediately, beads of sweat formed and then covered their foreheads, though it was freezing. Before long, Steve had removed his sweater coat; after an hour, Matty and Danny stripped down to their bare chests. So did Larry Walsh eventually. Sweat poured down their backs as they hauled more of the chain onto the deck. Somehow they managed to untangle it, link by heavy link.
Then some more chain appeared. Richard wondered if the anchor chain went all the way to the Grand Banks. He found the sight of his father labouring like this slightly painful, though he didn’t understand why. He felt helpless; at his still boyish size, his efforts amounted to little. Good old Danny had figured out a way to make him useful, though; he got the boy to wipe seaweed and slub off the links to make them slightly less slippery.
At midday the men stopped work. Steve, Danny, and the other Catholics began the Angelus. In the grey cold, they raised their rote prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary. By now, Richard’s stomach was roaring with hunger, and he struggled mightily to concentrate on the prayers as his mother had taught him.
Dinner was pea soup, with not nearly as much ham as Elizabeth used in hers. There was hardtack, too, really hard tack. He feared he’d crack his teeth as he tried to soften it up in his mouth. He wished he was back home eating some of his mother’s cooking, with Jack, Jimmy, and the girls at their long kitchen table. But then he admonished himself for being such a baby. What would the other men think if they could read his mind?
At this meal, too, the men ate in silence and in a hurry. They shoved their empty plates onto the counter and leaned back for a stretch. Then they collected their plates, washed, dried, and stacked them. No one asked for seconds. Then they grabbed hot mugs of tea and downed the liquid in a matter of seconds. At once, it was all over, and they rushed back up to the deck.
Back to the tangled chains. All afternoon they strained and sweated and grunted like animals as they pulled the links this way and that. Richard imagined he could see the flesh fall off his father’s body, the man was working so hard. Steve was not a heavy man; he was tall and all sinew and muscle. No wonder, thought Richard, trying to guess how long his own puppy fat would last. Not long at this rate, he figured.
They worked as the sun went down over the peninsula and the darkness of the night descended rapidly upon them. The air turned frosty, and it was too cold to snow. Even as he sweated, Richard shivered. As the evening closed in, he began to grow dizzy.
Then someone, maybe Danny, shouted, “That’s it! Six o’clock. Merchant’s time is over.”
“Thank God.” Richard echoed one of his mother’s favourite phrases as his bones screamed with exhaustion. He could sink into sleep so easily . . .
“Come on, boy,” his father said. “Time for supper. Then we’ve got to get to the trawls. The trawl tubs are waiting.”
It is a compelling tale filled with tragedy, heroism, tidal waves and August gales.-- The Telegram --
It offers suspenseful and moving moments.-- Globe and Mail --
It\'s an absorbing tale in which the reader lives the dangerous moments . . .-- The Catholic Register --
[A] gripping read.-- The Aurora --
A detailed and engaging story . . .-- Newfoundland Historical Society Newsletter --
[An] absorbing book . . .-- Messing About in Boats --
A compelling tale . . .-- Enjoy magazine --