American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

CALM AT SUNSET, CALM AT DAWN (1989). The second novel of Paul Watkins (1964-?) tells of one man’s coming-of-age at sea. Despite the wishes of his fisherman father, twenty-year-old James Pfeiffer, newly expelled from college, signs aboard a decrepit scallop trawler out of Newport, Rhode Island, hoping to discover the lure that the sea has for his father and other men. There he performs backbreaking, often dangerous work with men, each of whom reveals some sort of sordid past or secret and is using the sea as a personal escape or as therapy. He suffers physically, emotionally, and mentally as he attempts to fit in and discover what meaning the sea has for him. The often brutal lessons are revealed in graphic, frequently gory, first- person detail as the reader comes to know life aboard a scallop trawler.

Son of Welsh parents, Watkins writes from firsthand experience. His father, an oceanography professor, introduced him early to Narragansett Bay when the family lived in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. As a child, Watkins, who had attended school in England, gloried in life on the water and the absence of uniforms. While a student at Yale, Watkins spent summer vacations working out of Newport, first on a trapboat that made daily trips tending semipermanent fixed nets and later mostly on scallop trawlers. Throughout his trips, he kept a diary and took notes, which he incorporated into this book two years later.

Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn was awarded Britain’s 1989 Encore Prize for best second novel and was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Calm at Sunset, in 1996.

Ellen L. Madison