- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The way of life of a commercial fisherman is largely unknown to those who have not experienced it. To bring to light the fascinating and sometimes dangerous life of a commercial fisherman, author Robert Rich wrote a biography about waterman Larry Simns.
“The book is about a commercial fisherman born in 1937 [who] has lived a very full life on the water and in Annapolis defending the needs of watermen,” Rich said.
“The Best of Times on the Chesapeake Bay” details the life of Simns, a lifelong commercial waterman from Rock Hall and president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, and the dangers he faced as a commercial fisherman “for a non-bay person,” Rich said. Simns, now 75, has been a waterman all his life but is currently battling bone cancer, Rich said.
Writing this book was not part of Rich’s “life plan,” he said, but when he met Simns for the first time in 2008, “it seemed like I was almost called to do this.” Rich said the story is one that “had to be written,” so after meeting Simns for breakfast, Rich asked him to write about his life, and “he said yes without hesitation.”
“He chose me, and I chose him,” Rich said. “It’s kind of strange.”
The 288-page book chronicles Simns’s life from when he was born in 1937 to 1996 and contains pen and ink drawings “to help the non-bay person understand,” Rich said. The drawings were done by Ann Crane Harlan of Centreville, he said, and about 42 drawings are included in the book.
Although the book begins in 1937, Simns’s “real waterman career” began when he was 6 years old, Rich said, and “the heart of his training” occurred in Solomons when he was between 17 and 25 years old. Rich said about a third of the book is dedicated to what Simns experienced in Solomons.
“There are a lot of landmarks that would appeal to this part of the Western Shore,” Rich said. “A lot of the scary stories are in Solomons.”
During his nearly 60-year career as a waterman, Simns has seen many changes within the bay, Rich said. The biggest discussion point and Rich’s favorite part of the story, he said, is when Simns discusses Hurricane Agnes, which struck Maryland in June 1972. When the hurricane hit, all of the baby shad and baby rockfish were “swept right down the Chesapeake Bay,” Rich said.
“We lost at least one generation of shad and rockfish,” he said. “It’s fascinating when he talks about that. … When he describes it, you won’t believe it. You won’t believe what he saw, what he was thinking. And [Hurricane] Agnes is what changed his world from being a commercial fisherman to [being] a leader of commercial watermen.”
Rich said reading the book as a “non-bay person” is comparable to people watching “The Deadliest Catch,” a reality television show on the Discovery Channel that shows what life is like for watermen catching king crab in Alaska.
“People that have no connection with king crabs are fascinated with watching the ‘Deadliest Catch,’” Rich said. “The same is true with commercial fisherman who have routinely sunk their boats, have had their boats burned to the waterline and are constantly exposed to ice and cold water.”
Rich said there are some “danger surprises” contained within Simns’ story and also some mistakes Simns made that led to dangerous situations.
“I think the surprising part is that Larry is surprisingly forthright about the good things he did and the not-so-wise things he did. He gains a lot of trust from the readers with his integrity. You can’t help but appreciate the spots that he gets himself into and then how he gets out of them,” Rich said.
“The dangers of being associated with commercial fishermen, I think, would be appealing to anybody associated with Maryland and Virginia,” he said.
Simns’s goal, and what he has worked for as president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, is to see the bay restored, Rich said. Although, due to his illness, Simns might not see his goal realized, he believes ways to restore the bay can be accomplished.
“He believes … there are smart people, there is technology that didn’t exist when he was a kid, that can clean up the water, like sewage treatment plants and whatnot, and once we figure out how to get Marylanders working together instead of against each other, he believes the bay can be cleaned up,” Rich said. “That’s a big part of why he wrote the book, and I wrote it because he has a story worth telling.”
“The Best of Times on the Chesapeake Bay” is available at the Calvert Marine Museum store, which is open daily from 10:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.