A Pioneer Son at Sea: Fishing Tales of Old Florida, by Gilbert L. Voss, edited by Robert S. Voss. University Press of Florida. 200 pages. Hardcover $19.95.
This unexpected gem, a project which had been abandoned for over two decades, sheds a bright, multi-colored light on the southeastern Florida fishing industry during the 1930s and 1940s. The author, Professor of Biological Oceanography at the University of Miami and mainstay of its Marine Laboratory, had prepared it for publication shortly before his death in 1989. However, the time wasn’t right and it ended up in a drawer where it sat until quite recently.
Fortunately, the author’s son decided to breathe new life into the project and quickly found success. We are all the beneficiaries of the publisher’s wisdom and of Robert S. Voss’s industry, determination, and final preparation of the book. Rob Voss’s chapter introductions, foreword, and afterword create an extremely useful historical and scientific context for his father’s reminiscences, which are in themselves finely crafted narratives of his early adult years – years working the region’s fisheries in the hopes of making a living in that trade.
Gil Voss’s good-natured tales capture a world already long vanished. He presents a Florida that he knew long before its paving over, population boom, and excessive exploitation of natural resources. If you want to learn about the various fisheries, this is the book. If you want the inside story of a fisherman’s life, this is the place. If you want to understand the passions that drive someone willing to toil for bare subsistence in the chaotic fishing economy, open this book.
It’s not as simple as casting nets and drawing them in. It’s knowing the right net for the fish and the fishery, how to make and repair the nets, and how to use them efficiently. These are not simple matters, as the authoritative and colorful details make clear.
The sponge business receives the same kind of vivid discussion
Gil Voss grew up here, in Lantana. The first thirty years of his life were informed by his direct experience with the Old Florida life that his parents lived, that Gil came to understand and cherish, and that he watched change and fade – if not totally fade away.
His memories of working friendships with colorful characters, told through vivid conversations set on boats and in bars, capture the humor necessary to survive a rough, demanding livelihood. He details the international flavor of the fishing communities. Bahamians, Greeks, and even transplanted New Jersey folks (!) all with their special ways of doing business and relating to those around them. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 3, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 4 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Voss