Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer discusses Farewell Mr Puffin by Paul Heiney: "If you relish honest writing and the reinvigoration of a leap into cold water, I recommend this book"
Farewell Mr Puffin describes a voyage north – sometimes solo, other times with crew – which Paul Heiney made in the Brexit referendum summer of 2016.
It took him from Suffolk to Iceland where Wild Song over-wintered at Reykjavik. Then they ventured further to cross the Arctic Circle.
As Heiney sets off up the British East Coast, visiting ports such as Blyth, Peterhead and Wick, he’s inspired by the idea of North, the anticipated tang of that pure cold air and the sense of following in the wake of past fishermen.
He thinks of Suffolk men sailing this same route in their cogs centuries before and remembers those who did not return.
He expects his journey to be enlivened by the ‘Joker of the Seas’, the puffin. The bird proves elusive, however, though he discovers plenty of information about puffin habits, puffin habitats and recipes for eating puffin.
This prompts reflection on the complex relationship between predatory humans and the other marine inhabitants.
Heiney considers the disappearance of the ‘silver darling’ herrings, the Faroese annual killing of pilot whales and the potential impact of the monstrously efficient super-trawlers he sees in the Icelandic ports.
He understands the challenges of human survival and doesn’t preach. The emptiness of the sea conveys its own message.
There’s a memorable passage when he experiences bone-chilling, mind-numbing cold in a bleak tundra landscape and realises that this was a place ‘where carelessness could very quickly cost you your life’.
Farewell Mr Puffin doesn’t have the soul-searching quality of One Wild Song or even The Last Man across the Atlantic but it’s consistently readable, interesting and unpredictable.
His evocation of the barren landscape will stay in my mind when other, more technical accounts of high latitude sailing blur. I shared his relief when he returned to the Faroes and once again saw grass.
If you relish honest writing and the reinvigoration of a leap into cold water, I recommend this book.
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