Book Review  
By Donald Freix - Fish Creek, Wisconsin - USA

SIMPLE COURAGE: A True Story of Peril on the Sea
2006 - Frank Delaney
Random House ISBN 1-4000-6524-0

Perhaps my prior total lack of knowledge of the true events portrayed in this book stemmed from the date of my birth, a mere 6 weeks following the official conclusion of findings of the Merchant Vessel Inspection Division in the United States Coast Guard. Possibly it was the normality of life in a small village on the shores of the Great Lakes, or maybe it was simply the timing of the events unfolding with the ocean freighter Flying Enterprise and her skipper, Captain Kurt Carlsen in December of 1951, locally obscured by the larger picture of the Korean War, or the later prominence of an unfolding Cold War when I was still just a child, or the monumental growth of a civil rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis, a presidential assassination, a new involvement in a war in southeast Asia and on and on, as I grew in recognition of my own world and larger world affairs, that kept me from discovering this story, until now. Frank Delaney has created a superb historical narrative and matter-of-fact description of a ship, a man of courage and integrity, a family possessing strength in unfettered devotion to one another, and has captured a in this story examples of a type of positive moral character exhibited by people, seemingly, much more commonplace in a world, at the time I was born, traits that I keenly value, but unfortunately recognize with less prevalence today. A time described, that I can still only somewhat imagine, but which is now more clear to me through this unpresupposing gem of seafaring lore.

Told through reference to numerous historical maritime and newspaper accounts and wrapped with reminiscences of the author’s childhood, his family and especially of his father, the record of the 1951 voyage of the Flying Enterprise, becoming fully disabled during its voyage into hurricane conditions building before it in the North Atlantic, the subsequent actions of Captain Carlsen, his crew, his passengers, and daring actions of other vessels, lending assistance with their own courageous crews participating in the rescue effort of stricken fellow ocean voyagers, this story, without fanfare or extraneous embellishment will likely hold your undivided attention and concern for the fate of the individuals involved in a way that no amount of fictional creativity could ever hope to impart upon the reader. This story of vessels, passengers, cargos, history and personal relationships tried and also newly formed in the turmoil of a raging sea, left me feeling fortunate, first to have found out about this incident, and secondly to feel that I have gained new insights into levels of human faith, endurance and determination to survive and to overcome odds that seemed many times greater than those odds immediately apparent in the sheer measured height of the seas described within these pages.

To be fair with my high recommendation for a great read, this particular story brought to me much more than just the ability to vicariously imagine the emotions, thoughts and determinations of those involved in this 1951 tale. During this reading I was also reminded succinctly of an incident in my own childhood, one which I had quietly put away for decades, one of having been wakened by the phone ringing, hearing unfamiliar adult voices and commotion throughout my family’s home, and then of a view out my own bedroom window, seeing the silhouettes of my father, my grandfather and several other neighborhood men, flashlights dancing in a star-lit, pre-dawn snow scene, heading down to the bay, responding (I discovered later) to news of a commercial fishermen in trouble after breaking through the ice on the way to tend gill nets. The cool bedroom floor, the paisley pattern frosted window panes, white road framed in shadowed old cedars, my mother’s hands on my shoulders turning me back to my bed and quietly urging me back to my dreams. Then memories of my neighborhood, the lumber mill, the dock pilings, smoothed-stone beaches devoid of break walls and floating fiberglass mansions, all of us still children, yet occasionally accompanying these same fishermen in fully housed, gill-netters, watching the world for the first time from the blue water, motion under our feet, limestone bluffs reaching skyward, smells of diesel and whitefish, and the scream of the swarming gulls in our wake, continual twinkling flash of ripple reflected clear morning sun.

Unlikely as it may be in the boats featured and built here, and unlikely as it is that the visitors to this digital destination will ever encounter conditions such as those experienced by the passengers and crew of the Flying Enterprise, or will ever meet circumstances that demand calling upon the immense personal resolve demonstrated by Captain Kurt Carlsen, I have a feeling that many of the readers of these pages will easily enjoy settling into a favorite chair and voyage through the next, late spring snow storm, wrapped in a warm throw, sipping hot tea and transporting into this particular place and time in 1951. I am certainly glad that I did. I am grateful for this wonderful work produced by Mr Delaney and the delicious memories it stirred in me.

Don Freix
Fish Creek