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Witch in the Wind: The True Story of the Legendary Bluenose

by Marq de Villiers

The Bluenose is a Canadian icon, the symbol of an age when schooners ruled the waves and were depended upon by many a Maritime family. In his latest book, Governor General’s Award winner Marq de Villiers (Windswept, A Dune Adrift) turns his attention to the meaning behind the near-mythical Bluenose. How did she come to be built? What did she really accomplish? (And why is she on our dime?)

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. There are chapters detailing how the Bluenose was built, the fishing industry in the Grand Banks, and the new technology that irrevocably altered the fisherman’s way of life. A glossary of nautical terms and an index assist in making clear the details of the Bluenose’s structure, although a more detailed diagram with labeled parts would have been even more helpful.

Despite his derision for romanticized legends, de Villiers is obviously passionate about one point: that the men who sailed the Bluenose – and the families who depended on her for survival – are the ones who truly deserve to be admired and immortalized. These “iron men, in their wooden ships” are the real legends, and the author does not hesitate to criticize Nova Scotians for inadequately recognizing their bravery and their contribution to the province’s history.