- by Carol Standish
A Doryman’s Day (Tilbury House Publishers/Maine Maritime Museum, 124pp, $15)
Captain R. Barry Fisher was a remarkable man. He grew up on the wharves of Gloucester, Massachusetts in the 1930s. At fourteen he shipped aboard a Gloucesterman bound for the Grand Banks; later, he sailed as a doryman, a deckhand and mate on schooners and draggers out of Gloucester and New Bedford.
During World War II he served in the Merchant Marine, sailing to Africa, the Mediterranean countries, Northwest Europe and Russia. Then he served two full tours as a combat infantryman in the Korea where he was severely wounded. While recovering he earned a “general educational development certificate” on the merits of which he entered Harvard College and earned both an undergraduate and a Masters degree. In between the two successful runs at academia he sailed on a timber cruiser to the Northwestern U.S. and to South America.
After teaching Social Science for a while Fisher returned to fishing. During the next 15 years of his life he partnered in a number of fishing vessels including a 150’ factory ship, all the while developing and testing new types of trawl gear. He also found time to teach a few courses in Commercial Fisheries and Fisheries Management to students at Oregon State University.
In the late 1970s Fisher pioneered a cooperative effort between American and Soviet fishing fleets in the Northwest Pacific and the Bering Sea. These joint ventures grew in size and importance over the next decade, essentially putting an end to foreign domination of U.S. waters in the region. At its peak this visionary effort employed over 3000 Russian and American fishermen and women in a highly profitable enterprise.
When Fisher died in March of this year, he was a Professor of Fisheries at Oregon State, Chairman of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station of O.S.U., and the author this all too short memoir—A Doryman’s Day.
The question is, does the book measure up to the spectacularly adventurous and productive life? At a slim 124 pages, the answer is, of course not, but what there is, sure does. A Doryman’s Day consists of three remembrances from Fisher’s early days. The first and most charming is his account of lumping around the wharves of Gloucester as a kid with his fellow eleven year old buddies. The significant occasion is the acquisition of a dory of their own with the wily help of a schooner captain who happens to have one almost ready to scuttle. The scenes sparkle, the kids and the crewmen are sketched with a precise economy that gives the reader the impression that it all happened yesterday and we’re all still grinning.
The second reminiscence is of Fisher’s time spent as a doryman. Its another good yarn but a little overburdened with the technical aspect of the trade. In the third story Fisher is a crewmember aboard a swordfish boat in 1948. Comparing the methods he describes with Linda Greenlaw’s is a real eye-opener. The characters who are Fisher’s mates come alive with the picturesque vernacular and warm appreciation of the author.
The text is accompanied by historical photographs, both personal and of the general period. Diagrams of the gear and equipment of the day provide visual explanation of fishing methods but it’s the text that’s the treasure. After the last word is read and savored, one can only wish that Captain Fisher had lived to tell another tale.