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Course of the Waterman
By Nancy Taylor Robson
River City Publishing, 2004
Hardcover, $23.95 (199 pages)
ISBN: 1579660525

Course of the Waterman isn't a story that many authors could write. Only a writer with a working knowledge of commercial fishing boats could do it. And Nancy Taylor Robson is one of those people. She grew up sailing and building boats with her father on the Chesapeake Bay. And after graduating from the University of Maryland, she worked as cook-deckhand on the coastal tug on which her husband, Gary Robson, was captain. 

The novel introduces readers to 17-year-old Bailey Kraft, who stands poised to become a waterman, just like his father, his father's father and earlier generations. It's just the way things are done in the communities along Maryland's Eastern Shore. 

But Bailey's father, Orrin, dies and suddenly Bailey's future isn't as clear. Bailey is stunned to learn that his father didn't leave their boat, Leah Jean, to him. Instead, he leaves it to Bailey's mother, Emma. 

Bailey feels betrayed by everyone around him. He's mad at his father for not leaving the boat to him. He's upset at his mother because she won't listen as Bailey pleads his case. Instead, she tries to explain that Orrin left the boat to her to give Bailey a choice: He can go to college and then decide if he still wants to be a waterman.  

A few days later, Bailey's world takes another tumble when he learns that Emma has sold half of the Leah Jean to Bailey's childhood friend Booty. Booty's bitter, alcoholic father, Tud, refuses to take his own son on as a partner. Bailey is beyond mad at his best friend, feeling that Booty is taking advantage of the situation. Bailey feels that his lifelong dream has been shattered by everyone closest to him. Somehow, he must figure out a way to earn back his boat. 

When Bailey's 9-year-old sister, Sis, takes a sudden interest in the family crabbing tradition, the siblings take the Leah Jean out together. With Bailey at the helm, the pair carry on the family trade. Bailey finds himself enjoying being the teacher instead of the student. And Sis shows she can handle the difficult task of crabbing. 

But Bailey reluctantly honors the fact that his friend is now half-owner of the boat and the two begin a somewhat shaky partnership. The friction between the men is thick and it doesn't get much better even after Booty pulls Bailey from the cold waters after he falls overboard. Instead of being humbled, Bailey only becomes more bitter. 

Eventually, things start to get a little better between the two partners until Thanksgiving Day, when Bailey and Sis decide to make a quick run to be able to take a basket of crabs as a gift to a neighbor who has invited them over for dinner. It has snowed and the weather appears to be getting worse. But they decide they'll have time for a quick run without any problem. 

But when they arrive at the dock, the siblings discover that Booty has already taken the Leah Jean out. Bailey's anger turns to fear as the weather worsens. And the story takes an exciting twist as other watermen come to help in the search. 

Course of the Waterman, winner of the 2003 Fred Bonnie Award, is a story of friendship, disappointment and ultimate triumph. 

Several times, I could almost feel the salty mist on my face while reading it. I licked my lips expecting them to be briny. Course of the Waterman is for anyone who's every dared to dream, It's a story that readers won't soon forget.


Kendall Bell
Southern Scribe Reviews

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