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Transportation History

A Race for Real Sailors

The Bluenose and the International Fishermen's Cup, 1920–1938

by (author) Keith McLaren

introduction by Silver Donald Cameron

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
History, Sailing, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

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In the summer of 1920, the public following the latest America’s Cup series were frustrated to find that every time the wind got up, the organizers called off the race. There was muttering in the taverns of Halifax and Lunenburg: why not show these fancy yachtsmen what real sailors can do? A Nova Scotia newspaper donated a trophy and put out a challenge to their rivals in New England, inviting them to meet the Maritimes’ best in a “race for real sailors.”

A Race for Real Sailors is a vibrant history of the Fishermen’s Cup series, which dominated sporting headlines between the two world wars. The salt spray practically blows off the page as the author’s arresting style captures the drama of each race and the personalities of the ships that contested them: the Delawana and the Esperanto, the Columbia and the Gertrude L. Thebaud, and dominating them all the Bluenose, the big brute from Lunenburg whose image shines on the Canadian dime to this day. Vying for the spotlight are the boats’ larger-than-life skippers, among them Marty Welch, the hard-charging American who first took the cup; Ben Pine, the Gloucester scrap dealer whose passion kept the races afloat when they seemed destined to fade away; and the irascible, impossible Angus Walters, master of the Bluenose, who repeatedly broke American hearts but whose own heart was broken by Canada’s refusal to come to the rescue of his beloved vessel.

This stirring and poignant tale is illustrated with 51 historical photographs and five maps, and rounded out by a glossary of sailing terms and an appendix of the ever-changing race rules. This is a story that will keep even confirmed landlubbers pegged to their seats, a tale of iron men and wooden ships whose time will never come again.

About the authors

Keith McLaren is an award-winning author and retired mariner whose sea career spanned almost half a century. For the last twenty-five years he was employed as a shipmaster for British Columbia Ferry Services, retiring in 2016. In the mid-1970s, he sailed aboard the schooner Bluenose II out of Halifax. The experience inspired him to write his first book, Bluenose and Bluenose II. He also wrote Light on the Water, an exploration of historical photographs of the British Columbia Coast. His book A Race for Real Sailors won the 2006 Dartmouth Prize for Non-Fiction at the Atlantic Book Awards as well as the Keith Matthews Award for Best Book of 2006 from the Canadian Nautical Research Society. In 2017, he was a recipient of the prestigious Maritime Museum of British Columbia Beaver Medal for Maritime Excellence. He currently lives in North Saanich, BC, on Vancouver Island where he spends much of his summer prawning from his Boston Whaler.

Keith McLaren's profile page

An award-winning writer of novels, short stories, drama, radio documentaries and more than 500 articles, including such essential books as The Education of Everett Richardson in 1977, Wind, Whales and Whisky: A Cape Breton Voyage in 1991, The Living Beach in 1998, and Warrior Lawyers: From Manila to Manhattan, Attorneys for the Earth in 2016, Silver Donald Cameron is the participating host of —over one hundred educational podcasts of extended video, audio and text interviews with environmental leaders from around the world.

Silver Donald Cameron's profile page


  • Winner, Dartmouth Book Award for Non-fiction
  • Winner, Canadian Nautical Research Society - Keith Matthews Book Award

Editorial Reviews

"The tone has a mad old ring to it and the races brought to public light some of the fever of the fishing and the characters it had spawned. It's a great book, and it puts you on deck of these tough-man boats in tough waters."

Classic Boat Magazine

"Keith McLaren has done a fine job in recounting the Bluenose story without glossing over the more difficult parts...[He] has a great eye for a good photograph, and has gone to considerable extremes to locate the best archival photographs, many never published before."

Northern Mariner Magazine

"A Race for Real Sailors is clearly a labour of love as well as of scholarship. It is beautifully designed, its broad format doing justice to the half dozen maps and over fifty photographs...As a professional marine and sometime crewmember of the Bluenose II, the author obviously relishes the opportunity to recreate each race, tack by tack. Fortunately he has the wit to do so in accessible language and with verve."

International Journal of Maritime History

"A Race for Real Sailors is a real winner...both as a tribute to Canadian schooners and sailors and as a showpiece for Canadian writing, graphics and production."

Times Columnist

"A Race for Real Sailors paints a vivid picture of the dangerous life of deep-water fishermen as their world was being taken over by safer but much less romantic trawlers. McLaren's riveting race descriptions are interspersed with fascinating back-ground facts...and vivid contemporary language..."

Quill & Quire

"McLaren's book includes nail-biting accounts of the races, which provided high drama both on and off the water."

Chronicle Herald

Other titles by Keith McLaren

Other titles by Silver Donald Cameron