For decades, Ferenc Mate’s informed, bold work has found great favor with readers of nautical nonfiction. In 2006, he expanded on a good thing with his first work of fiction, the novel Ghost Sea, published by W.W. Norton & Company (www.wwnorton.com). It was the kickoff to a series of tales told in the voice of Captain Dugger, a British Columbian trader living on the edge of the law.
Mate’s ever the fun-loving tease, and hinted with CW editors that Sea of Lost Dreams, the second volume in the Dugger series, involves Gauguin’s daughter, 14 tons of stolen, sunken gold, and a hot Irish nun looking for her lost brother.
We were curious, to say the least, so we caught up with Mate at his vineyard in Tuscany, Italy, where– aside from putting the finishing touches on Sea of Lost Dreams– he’s stomping a lot of grapes.
CW: Catch us up with the travails and exploits of Dugger. How did he get from Vancouver to French Polynesia, and how does Sea of Lost Dreams situate him?
Mate: When we left our hero just kidding. We’re still in 1921 aboard one of the last sailboats working the west coast. Dugger, the outlaw coastal trader, is more outlaw than ever. After the epic shoot-out in the wild islands of British Columbia, he, his lover, and his first mate, Nello, are pretend-murdered by the warriors of the village. Their “death” and the so-called burning of the ketch is witnessed by the captain of a yacht, so they can be declared dead and thus not be hunted for their killing of Hay, the artifact collector, and his henchmen. But of course they have to leave Canada, and since they are already wanted in the States, they sail directly to Mexico. Here they sell guns to get their hands on enough money to provision and outfit for the trip to the Marquesas.
They also (unwillingly) rescue two escapees: a nun (Mexico was witch-hunting the clergy) and a French spy who was trying to foment a counter-revolution. When Dugger threatens to hand the spy back to the Mexicans, the spy barters his passage in exchange for 14 tons of stolen Inca gold buried in a lagoon in the Tuamotus. So off we go to French Polynesia, Dugger, Kate (his lover), and Nello, to find a new life (and now the treasure), the nun to find her lost twin brother (an Irish rebel turned painter in Tahiti), and the French spy to find a mysterious white man who is organizing a Tahitian rebellion against the French. Hang onto your baggywrinkle.
CW: Why should Cruising World readers care about Dugger, a fancy of fiction? Does he send a message that resonates with real-life sailors?
Mate: Why are we still sailors? What do we yearn for, dream of, miss in this hectic superficial world that no longer offers a life of true adventure and romance? Don’t we deep in our hearts all want to be Indiana Jones of the sea? To have our own boat and the whole world at our feet wherever we travel, whenever we want, eking out a living and finding love and fortune and mystery as we go? From the reviews that Ghost Sea received, I have, by the grace of the gods, managed a wonderful mixture of Raiders and Conrad. The action is there but with genuine flesh and blood characters with profound and messy histories and psyches. I couldn’t ask more from life than to sail in places like Polynesia, Ceylon-Burma, Madagascar, the Greek Islands, and North Africa to explore various ancient cultures and histories and of course to see what kind of new disasters Dugger can stumble into.
CW: You say there’s a Hot Irish nun in this series. Do share a sliver about this most interesting character. Is she a sailor? Does it matter?
Mate: The nun is one of those gift-of-God characters an author stumbles on if he’s very, very lucky. She is from Inisboffin, a tiny storm-besieged island off the northwest coast of Ireland. Of course she is stunningly beautiful, mysteriously silent and as tough as the rock she was brought up on. In her youth she had a wildly erotic affair that I can’t divulge without ruining the story. Torn by guilt, she joins the convent. Her twin brother joins the Irish resistance against the British (I lived through the Hungarian revolution against the Russians in 1956 so I have a pretty good background for him.) When he’s injured, he has to escape the country, ending up in Tahiti. He writes her regularly, then suddenly stops. With the enormous twin blood-bond, she’s frantic about his disappearance, and flees the convent to search for him. Aboard the ketch, through Nello, she begins to rediscover her sensuality and sexual fire. It’s a great conflict for her to choose between a flesh-and-blood lover and her much-beloved God, especially since she needs the help of both to find her brother, who is, in fact I myself am dying to find out what happens.