Inspired by True Events In 1934, North America lay stripped of its riches by a great depression. When the land refused to yield its bounty and the sea grew stingy, everyone in the Western World found it harder to survive, especially those in the isolated outports of Newfoundland. The Last Farewell tells the true story of a crew of logger-sailors who left their home port of Hare Bay aboard a two-masted schooner in early June of that year. Along her route to St. John’s, the crew of the Ethel Collett tell each other stories of life and death on the sea. They relive some of Newfoundland’s richest historical moments, from shipwrecks and sealing disasters to political strife and financial ruin. But little do they know that they are heading toward one of the most astonishing tales of them all: their own.
The Last Farewell
by Gary Collins
With the sun came the small-boat fishermen pushing away from narrow coves hidden among the walled cliffs. Their ragged sails drawn and oars flashing, they reached the verdant cod-fishing grounds made famous by the island of Baccalieu far to the south. The Europeans had discovered this ancient island more than 500 years before. This haven for nesting birds, with its abundant supply of eggs and prolific fishing ledges, was well-known to them. These hungry sailors, who had seen this huge island rising up out of the western sea after months of poverty aboard a dirty, constantly rolling caravel, cheered the sight of the land as if it were the Western Pyrenees Mountains between Northern Spain and the Western France of their Basque home. They easily gave it the name Baccalou, meaning “codfish.” Newfoundlanders, always willing to adapt names to their own pronunciation, called it Baccalieu.
The island waters were named for codfish, but in these hardest of times they did not live up to their name. In the “Dirty Thirties,” the cod fishery disappeared along with the sudden crashing market downfall. The shore-fastened cod traps had failed, the daily drudgery of dragging in empty, waterlogged nets necessitating a change in the method of hunting for cod to the age-old practice of “handlining.” Ever optimistic, the determined fishermen found their “marks” on the open sea, by lining up points on the distant land and standing in their heaving small boats unwinding the reels of line. The grey, fish-shaped “Newfoundland jigger,” with two hooks sticking out of its head, was scraped until it glistened, and then tossed over the side. The strong, oakum-scented line was tied securely to its narrow tail, and the lure danced and flashed and disappeared into the ocean. The line sang across the notch worn in the thin wooden boat gunnels by countless “tries.”
Sailing close to several of these small boats, the crew of the Ethel Collett could plainly see the constant jigging motion of the fishermen. Many of them were alone in their boats. With one arm wrapped around a stern sculling oar, which he steadily kept turning—the ability known only to these wonderful small-boat men—each man kept his punt head to the slight breeze, all the while feeling for the elusive cod with his other arm, bringing scant reward out of the depths for his morning efforts.
“Make no wonder the poor buggers can’t git nar fish,” Skipper Martin Ford said as the schooner passed one of the bobbing punts. “Sure, ’e’s jiggin’ on the Peter side of ’is punt. ’E needs to be on the Christ side.”
Ford was referring to the Bible verse of John 21:6, in which Christ tells Simon Peter, “Cast your nets on the right side of the boat.”
“Seems to me Christ is not on ar side of any of the punts these days,” lamented Marshall Wells.
The writing here is at its best when the danger and beauty of the sea is subtly described.-- Atlantic Books Today --
The Last Farewell tells a true story, but Collins' vivid description and well-realized characters make it read like a novel.-- The Chronicle Herald --
Read The Last Farewell not only because it is a moving historical tale of needless tragedy but also because it's a book enriched with abundant details of Newfoundland life not so widespread anymore.-- The Pilot --
[The Last Farewell:] The Loss of the Collett is informative and intriguing, and not merely for experienced sailors or Newfoundlanders-- The Northern Mariner --