'Cold Water Cowboys' puts spotlight on Newfoundland

(Cold Water Cowboys/Facebook)

(Cold Water Cowboys/Facebook)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:17 PM ET

It says something about Newfoundland’s legendary hospitality that when fishing boat captain Richard Gillett is talking to a reporter from the mainland – as those on the Rock refer to the rest of Canada – he does his best to tone down his accent a bit.

“I’m talking to you right now, and I’m trying to do the best that I can,” says Gillett with a laugh, on the phone from his home on Newfoundland’s northeastern shore.

“I can tell you, if you were here now with me and my dad, and we were into a conversation, you’d be looking at the two of us sayin’, ‘What kind of language is this?’”

Viewers might be asking the same thing when they tune into Cold Water Cowboys, a new reality series that follows the captains and crews of several Newfoundland-based fishing boats. Think Deadliest Catch, but with smaller vessels, more bleeped-out swearing and accents so delightfully thick that sometimes subtitles are needed.

“One of the producers told me, ‘Speak English, speak English!’” recalls Gillett, who captains the Midnight Shadow, based in the scenic coastal town of Twillingate. “But when we get out and everybody gets excited and a bit of fish is on the go... it’s understandable they got subtitles on us. Because some people do have a little bit of trouble understanding.”

Premiering Tuesday on Discovery Canada, Cold Water Cowboys follows six boats as they ply the waters of the North Atlantic in search of crab, mackerel, herring and more. After the 1992 cod moratorium that devastated Newfoundland’s fishing economy, the fishermen who have stuck it out must voyage much farther from home than their fathers and grandfathers did.

It’s hard and dangerous work, as seen in the show’s first episode when a stabilizer snaps off one of the boats and threatens to puncture its hull.

“In the blink of an eye, it went from a boring steaming trip to the dangers of a stabilizer breaking off and piercing the boat and the boat going to the bottom and the guys ending up in the drink,” says Gillett.

Gillett, a fifth-generation fisherman, says he and the other captains were initially a bit wary about having camera crews on their boats. “When it first started off, I expressed my views that I didn’t want anything staged,” he says. “I told them I’ve been at this long enough now that you’re going to see stuff break and you’re going to see trouble and you’re going to see dangerous situations.”

But the final product is an accurate look at the captains, crews and their communities, something else Gillett says sets it apart from Deadliest Catch.

“This show is not only about fishing,” he says. “This show shows the communities and the families and the relationships between the fishermen and the communities.”

Because really, Newfoundland is as much a star of the show as the fishermen are, b’y.

“As far as I’m concerned, the beauty of Newfoundland is second to none,” says Gillett. “In the summertime I can sit down on my bridge and watch the whales feed on small capelin. I’ve had times there have been 21 icebergs out in front of my place. Where else in the world can you do that?”

Twitter: @stevetilley

Steve.tilley@sunmedia.ca

 


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