Witch in the Wind: The True Story of the Legendary Bluenosewas published by Thomas Allen and Co. in April 2007. I took this book on partly because I could see the masts of the Bluenose II from my office window (I was living in Lunenburg then), but mostly because the many existing histories seemed so … gushing.
As I wrote in the preface, “ … the conventional Bluenose story, the legend of the incomparable Queen and her innumerable triumphs, is too simple, too contrived, with too much left out, a body with neither backbone nor heart. The backbone is the tradition from which the Bluenose came – she didn’t just spring fully formed from the brilliant inspirations of a few inspired amateurs, or even from the inspirations of a few rustic fishermen. Instead, she grew from an astonishingly fecund industrial background now largely forgotten. And the heart? The heart of the story is the men who sailed her, fished her, raced her, crewed her, captained her. These were tough men in a tough business, with an almost inhuman fortitude in the face of the savage sea. Eastern seaboard fishermen have been romanticized before, as Iron Men in Wooden Ships. Thing is, their stories are true, and without looking at their lives the Bluenose is just a pretty legend, just a ship-on-a-dime, a winner without losers, a Queen without rivals, an artifact without context.
Of course, calling anything “the true story” is an act of hubris. But I do think this came close. The reviewers seemed to agree. Canadian Geographic put it simply: “Witch in the Wind boasts fishing scenes worthy of Melville.” The Globe and Mail called the book “poignant and often profound, Witch in the Wind shows the tone and texture of a seasoned journalist, peppered with distinct Maritime flavor …” At the other end of the country, the Prince Rupert Library News said this: “Witch in the Wind is an evocative journey into the previously untold backstory of the Bluenose, exploring the place that built her, the men who sailed her and the industry that gave rise to her. De Villiers is a master storyteller and he takes readers deep into the heart of Canadian maritime history, giving new life to the longstanding legend of the magnificent Bluenose.”