Review: The Grey Seas Under
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
When you are looking for a gripping adventure story with superhuman characters overcoming incomprehensible adversity, I think I can safely say that most readers do not start by filtering on "history," or "maritime," or "tugboats," unless, perhaps, you are already a fan of Farley Mowat. For those of you who aren't (yet) but are looking for something that isn't Hunger Games or Ready Player One, I would recommend starting a new adventure by reading The Grey Seas Under.
As you can read in other reviews (which are plentiful), the topic of this book revolves almost entirely around a single ocean-going Canadian salvage tug, the Foundation Franklin, and more importantly, it revolves about the hardy Newfoundland and Nova Scotian sailors who manned and captained this ship. (Yes, "manned," I am afraid there were no women crew members in the 1930s. Some progress has been made since). And what you will read in the pages of this book is an account of the exploits of this ship and her crews, and you will read it with almost disbelieving awe—so much so that some of you may even write off the dramatic descriptions and vivid storytelling as excessive poetic license.
Now I will not deny that Farley Mowat is a master storyteller and capable of spinning a yarn ten yards long, but I also believe (as evidenced by his personal recollections in many memoirs like And No Birds Sang) that he doesn't tend to overblow the facts because the facts themselves are pretty sensational. In the case of The Grey Seas Under I have assurance from a good friend (a grand niece of Captain Harry Brushett, whose experiences with Foundation Franklin compose about a third of the book), that the tales are not overblown in the slightest.
Man is capable of remarkable feats of unbelievable endurance and survival, and these are worth writing about and reading about with the same awe as any fictional superhero story. And The Grey Seas Under is really, at its heart, historical and biographical evidence that humans have real superpowers in industry, perseverance, ingenuity, and raw resourcefulness, and that perhaps the sea, where life originated, is the source and catalyst for those superpowers.
Four and a half stars