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The White Fleet

Jean Pierre Andrieux is a St. John’s–based businessman and author of numerous books. Recently we spoke with him about his latest work, The White Fleet, a pictorial history of the centuries-long relationship between the Newfoundland and Portuguese fisheries.

What motivated and/or inspired you to write this book?
The book is the result of a chance meeting more than 30 years ago with a Portuguese fishing vessel owner who invited me for dinner on board his vessel. The Vimiero had once been a proud member of the Portuguese White Fleet. After a marvelous four hour dinner where the Captain told endless stories on the White Fleet, the seed had been planted. My personal interest in all marine related stories coupled with the desire of preserving these stories for future generations were the main motivations of writing this book.

Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
Since this chance meeting of more than 30 years ago, I started to accumulate stories and photos that were obtained on both sides of the Atlantic, so it didn’t come about quickly.

What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
There were no real challenges except maybe with meetings with some of the Portuguese fishermen who were Unilingual and where a translator was necessary.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
The most rewarding part of the experience has been the close personal friendships that my wife and I have developed with the Portuguese people over the years. We usually visit Portugal a couple of times a year and we have many visitors to our home when the Portuguese vessels are in port.

What did you learn during process?
I learned lots during the process especially that the life of the Portuguese White Fleet fisherman was not a bed of roses. It was a hard life with 18 hour days/7 days a week in their one man dory with little comfort on board. Refrigeration was for the ever precious bait, so no meats. There was only water for drinking purposes so no showers. In spite of this hard life, the Portuguese fishermen were generally content and happy.

What has the response to the work been like so far?
So far the book seems to be well received. Many favourable comments have come in from Portugal and they are thinking of translating this into the Portuguese language. It shows the Newfoundland aspect of the White Fleet’s activities with most pictures that have not been seen in Portugal previously.

What made you want to be a writer?
I decided that I wanted to write a book at the age of 13 or 14, as a child’s fantasy. I wanted to write about shipwrecks. With a small brownie camera I started taking pictures of wrecks that were still visible and collecting others. As an English project while in high school in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, I assembled these stories and photos and received an excellent mark as well as the encouragement to continue doing it, which I did, and at the age of 23, I published Shipwreck which was the first of many marine related stories that I have published since that time.

Are they the same reasons you do it today?
The reasons for writing marine related stories are: 1) it’s a good hobby; and 2) it permits these stories to be kept for future generations, as many would obviously be lost forever if they were not recorded.

Is your creative process more one of inspiration or perspiration?
The creative process is more of an inspiration. I usually start with assembling a large number of photographs then write around it.  All of my books are very heavily illustrated and discovering the photos is a very important process.

In your estimation, what makes a good book?
In my estimation a good book is one that keeps history alive.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The only advice for aspiring writers is to persevere. Many get ideas of wanting to publish but do not carry on with it. If your story is good, you will find a publisher that will eventually want to publish it. It’s far from easy, but do not give up without knocking on as many doors as you can.

What's next on your creative agenda?
Next on the agenda is an illustrated history of ocean liners/cruise vessels that have frequented Atlantic Canadian ports since the late 1800s and one on the role of the US naval Base in Argentia, Newfoundland, during World War II and in the cold war with the Soviets, who had a massive fleet of fishing vessels, submarines, research vessels, tugs, freighters, ocean liners, etc. in adjacent waters.

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