This is a thoroughly enjoyable book! Red Flags in Blue Water is about assorted calamities R.A. Bard has encountered as a commercial fisherman turned delivery skipper. Most of his passages have proceeded smoothly, he explains in the foreword to the book, but he finds the attention span of friends and acquaintances wanders when he tells of those travels. So it’s the ones in which chaos looms — “When the weather snarls, when mechanical systems fail, when crew relations spiral into weirdness” — that are collected in this book.
“A Taxonomy of Offshore Calamity” on the back cover of the book is comprised of general calamities, calamities due to belligerent weather, calamities associated with the disintegration of physical systems, and calamities that call for psychiatry (a prelude to his wit).
To be clear, the author does not whine about the intense moments. His wry sense of humor is evident in his storytelling, as is the extent of the experience and expertise he’s acquired over a lifetime lived on water. His patience with quirky crew and idiosyncratic owners is admirable, and his competence extends to equipment challenges.
Bard also includes a story with no red warning flags. It is the account of one of his early jobs as a freelance sea captain and the delivery of a 50-foot racing sloop from Hawaii to Seattle. He says, “Although it had its tough moments, this trip was, in most aspects, magnificent, and it’s included as a benchmark with which to compare all those that precede it. If all my deliveries could be as good, I’d be okay even if it meant no more bizarre tales to tell.”
Bard has also written a novel, a look at the life of fisherman in the Gulf of Alaska. Given his writing style in Red Flags in Blue Water, and the book’s synopsis, I believe I will order a copy of West of Spencer.
Red Flags in Blue Water: Misadventures of a Freelance Sea Captain by R.A. Bard (Smooth Passage Books, 2016; 194 pages)