‘Bluewater Gold Rush’: A well-told tale of adventure and the hunt for uni
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Being a serial geek means having a library filled with odd little books on specialty subjects. Indeed, the hunt for such treasures is one of the great pleasures of being a geek. Since one of my main interests is marine life (well, the edible portion), I’m not sure how I missed Tom Kendrick’s “Bluewater Gold Rush” when it was first published in 2007, but I stumbled across it at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium gift shop not too long ago and picked up a copy. It was an impulse buy and I’m afraid to say it sat on my bookshelf for several weeks before I got around to opening it up. But once I picked it up, I didn’t put it down until I was finished. Literally.
Subtitled “The Odyssey of a California Sea Urchin Diver,” “Bluewater Gold Rush” is a marvelous amateur memoir that works on several levels simultaneously. Best of all, it’s an absolutely riveting read.
On one level, it’s a great primer on what was for a brief time one of California’s leading seafood harvests. Long regarded as a noxious pest (they decimate coastal kelp forests), sea urchins turned into a major cash crop as the Japanese economy boomed and sushi lovers discovered the quality of the California harvest.
In this way it is also a from-the-inside description of a disappearing class of Californians: the itinerant watermen –- those guys who go out fishing all day with their surfboards attached to the top of the boat … you know, just in case they see a great wave. As fishing becomes more and more professional and as labor-intensive, high-value harvests such as sea urchin and abalone disappear, how will these sea wolves survive?
There is also an ecological lesson. There’s a phrase in fisheries management called “fishing effort,” which sounds obscure but basically refers to how far fishermen must go to harvest their catch. The idea is that fishermen, like everybody else, will take the easy stuff first, and work harder only when that starts to disappear. Kendrick starts out of Santa Barbara, working near the Channel Islands, gradually starts moving to the further ones, eventually moves to Mendocino to fish the North Coast and finally resorts to the Farallones off San Francisco, where divers have to share the swirling, sometimes murky waters with one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Great White sharks.
Most important, though, “Bluewater Gold Rush” is purely enjoyable. Kendrick is a gifted amateur, in the very best sense of the word. He writes in a direct, plainspoken voice that never strains for effect. Still, he is awake to the beauty of the dive and of life on the water, and he is a great aficionado of the various characters who gravitate toward it.
Finding “Bluewater Gold Rush” is like settling into the bar at Brophy Brothers in Santa Barbara and finding yourself sharing beers with the talkative guy at the next stool, only to find that instead of the usual rambling bore, you’ve lucked into a smart, thoughtful, truly great storyteller. ‘Bluewater Gold Rush’ by Tom Kendrick (Azalea Creek Publishing, $16.95)
-- Russ Parsons