BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
For author James W. Barry of Independence Township, sailing is a lifelong passion.
“I’ve always loved the water as a kid – we were always getting out onto the lake,” said Barry, 51, who grew up in Toronto and enjoyed sailing on Lake Huron.
“They had a sailing program where you could work your way up to working on a ship. It just seemed like a great adventure,” he said. “They taught us a sense of history, lore, and traditions. There’s something special about the old boats.”
He successfully converted his interest in sailing into a career, sailing and servicing yachts and other sailing ships.
“Authenticity has become more and more a part of my work, recreating what was there before,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed historical things. Sailing big-square riggers connects to the whole history of sailing.”
He started taking the lead role in jobs in his late 20s, and is now one of a few go-to craftsmen when it comes to 19th century sailing – how they should be built and look.
“Projects are often lucrative, but then there’s nothing for a few months. It’s hit and miss,” he said. “I balance it out with other things.”
His expertise rigging sailing ships for school programs and museums led to Hollywood gigs, working on ships for Master and Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean, numbers two through four.
“Hollywood was sort of an accident – the captain I was working with was refurbishing the ship for Master and Commander,” he said. “I was drawn into the package. I made friends and connections, and there were a few more lucky opportunities. I enjoyed it.”
The Disney pirates films were fun, he said.
“A group of talented people brought together, all with a purpose and a good budget, usually,” he said. “We had a lot of good adventures.”
Movie-makers use computer animation nowadays, but there’s still work, he said. “There are certain things you can’t reproduce digitally, like waves and fire that are difficult to animate,” he said. “People still like to see that stuff.”
He set his first novel, “A Dream of Steam,” on the Great Lakes, set in 1890’s Michigan.
It’s inspired by a true but largely forgotten tale of two brothers on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, struggling to save their family sawmill from a corrupt banker, with sailing ships, lumberjacks, and the early industry of old Detroit.
“Anyone who enjoys historical fiction will enjoy it,” he said.
He started writing as an evening pastime, writing magazine articles and poetry. He worked on his first book for about 10 years.
“It’s a good way to spend my time,” he said. “I’m working on another one. It’s always a bit of a guess, which way to go. It’ll be something different.”
He met his wife, Corinna (Ohrnberger) of Clarkston, while sailing on Lake Erie. They still sail in the winter months out of Florida.
“The sea spoils you in a way,” Barry said. “There’s a certain sense of freedom you have. It’s hard to give up on that. I enjoy any chance I get to travel and sail.”
“A Dream of Steam” is available in print and e-book on Amazon. Check out JamesWBarry.com for retailers.
BY PHIL CUSTODIO