The Grey Seas Under. Hmmmm….unusual title. Under what? Farley Mowatt. Unusual name. The beginning is slow and disoriented, like being in a foggy unfamiliar harbor jammed full of rust streaked vessels, succumbing to neglect. In retrospect, the sodden tone of the beginning, that caught me off guard, was an ideal prologue.
The Grey Seas Under chronicles the life of the 156′ salvage tug, Foundation Franklin, originally christened H.M.S. Frisky, from her purchase in early 1930 by the Montreal-based Foundation Company of Canada, to her last assignment during the cruel winter of 1946. Her battles with the sea were epic. The men who sailed her, heroic, sometimes eccentric and the rescues she accomplished, legendary. The lives she saved: grateful beyond measure.
So what makes this book a must-read masterpiece? It is not written to highlight an exemplary vocabulary. There are no superlative descriptions. Displays of elite literary proficiency are missing.
The Grey Seas Under is a song. A ballad. Farley Mowatt is a minstrel, singing of a period in his life where he felt most alive, most connected to his fiber. Those days pass quickly for mortals but the tone is not sad. It is an adagio form, punctuated with rolling staccato storms. This is not a gilded representation of reality seen through progressive bifocals; this is a raw and salty reality lived by working men whose poetry sails above varnished table tops with fiddled edges and coffee mugs. The extraordinary is commonplace. No pontifications from the podium are found.
If you have a paperback copy read it twice. Read it to your kids and grandkids. If you have a hardbound copy in good condition, you have an appreciating asset.
BIG thanks to Ray Robinson for the loan of this fabulous book. The Grey Seas Under. Under what? Under the keel of a good ship. A ship that does not veer from difficulty, but takes pride in accomplishment and returns to home port, time after time. The Grey Seas Under? As it always has been, under the watchful but impassive heavens.