On the Bookshelf...

The Lucky Thirteen


A true-life drama of an intense battle for survival on the high seas. The Luckiest Thirteen is the story of an incredible two-day battle to save the super trawler St Finbarr, and of those who tried to rescue her heroic crew in surging, frozen seas. It was also a backdrop for the powerful stories of families ashore, dumbstruck by fear and grief, as well as a love story of a teenage deckhand and his girl that ended with a heart-rending twist. From her hi-tech hold to her modern wheelhouse she was every inch the super ship the great hope for the future built to save the fleet at a record-breaking price but a heart-breaking cost. On the thirteenth trip after her maiden voyage, the St Finbarr met with catastrophe off the Newfoundland coast. On Christmas Day 1966, twenty-five families in the northern English fishing port of Hull were thrown into a dreadful suspense not knowing if their loved ones were dead or alive after the disaster that befell The Perfect Trawler.

The honour of the first book of 2023 falls to the Lucky Thirteen by Brian W Lavery. Unusually for me it's a non-fiction work. It's not that I don't like non-fiction, it's just that I like to lose myself in a word of fantasy. However, Brian has woven such a tale that it reads like a fiction book at times. Sadly, the content is harrowing, the story of survival against the odds and the tragic loss of life.

The Lucky Thirteen is the story of the Hull trawler St Finbarr which ran into difficulties off the coast of Newfoundland, thousands of miles from its home port. The date Christmas Day 1966. One of the new breed of freezer boats, the St Finbarr was a luxury berth compared with the older style trawlers yet spend months away from home off the coast of Canada. Along the way you find out more about the lives of these hardy men who risked their lives every time they went to sea.

Brian also wrote, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, the story of the Lilian Bilocca and the triple trawler tragedy. (review coming soon). Whilst authoring the book he came across this story and brought it to life. The author has the knack of bringing the subject to life. You feel the tension as the tragedy unfolds, as the news filters back to Hull on Christmas Day, where they at first don't know if any are alive. Christmas Day shattered for many families as the dead toll is announced. The men who must deliver the news to families, the women, and children whose lives are turned upside down. The author does a remarkable job of making it personal.

I came away from the book with a new respect for the trawlermen. A different world in the sixties maybe. I found out more about these three-day millionaires and the lives they lived. It's another world, yet one that was real. A disaster told with authority and compassion. The book brought to life and populated with real people. You really do care about them. Too early for my book of the year, but it'll take a brilliant non-fiction book to better this. Read it.

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Review by
AJ Steel
March 23, 2023

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