Singer-songwriter Jan Zurcher has no real boundaries when it comes to inspiration for a new song.
And, it didn’t take long for the muse to strike after Zurcher and her husband, Jim, moved from Seattle to their newly adopted home of San Juan Island. That was five years ago, and only about three weeks after the ill-fated fishing voyage of the venerable purse seiner known as the Anna J.
While Captain Charles Chevalier and crew survived the ship’s downing, Chevalier almost miraculously so, their 20-minute ordeal off the shore of San Juan Island’s South Beach offered all the intensity, emotion and drama of a captivating sea-faring song.
An award winner at that.
The Zurchers, who read about the account of the Capt. Chevalier and crew in the Sept. 2, 2009, edition of the Journal, won first prize in the John Kotta Memorial Songwriting Contest of the 2014 Port Gamble Maritime Music Festival.
The couple performed the song, “The Wreck of the Anna J,” composed in traditional sea-faring ballad form, with Jan on guitar and vocals, and Jim on bass, this past weekend (See Lyrics below).
It’s the second John Kotta Memorial award-winner for Zurcher, born and raised in Winnepeg, Manitoba (“…about as far away from the sea as you can get.”) whose song “Tall Ships,” inspired by boats in the Port of Friday Harbor, earned second place just a year ago.
— Scott Rasmussen
"The Wreck of the Anna J" — By Jan & Jim Zurcher
The sea is our master and we are its slaves.
You’ll not know when the wind will whip up the waves.
When the sun shines bright, the water… it gleams
And life on the ocean is perfect it seems.
But when from the north blows a storm like a knave
Your ship is hove to to a watery grave
Your ship is hove to to a watery grave.
On a day like most others, we pushed off from shore
Third day of the season – there’s salmon galore
We’ve worked the whole day and we’ve made a good catch
Just one final set, then we’ll close up the hatch
Just one final set, then we’ll close up the hatch.
We’ve finished third set and we’re heading for home
When the wind snaps a stay, takes control of the boom
Our ship, it lists starboard, load on deck slides there too
We’re taking on water… oh God save the crew
We’re taking on water… oh God save the crew.
Captain Chevalier in the pilot house stands
Trying to save all of the hands
Nash – by some rigging – is struck on the head
As he goes in the water, we pray he’s not dead
As he goes in the water, we pray he’s not dead.
Four of us scramble into the skiff
We try to be brave though beginning to drift
The Anna J starts to make her descent
We wonder if Charlie’s life has been spent
We wonder if Charlie’s life has been spent.
Then the pilot house breaks free of the deck
Charlie is saved but the sea claims the wreck
The Brittiany has plucked Nick Nash from the sea
And all the crew’s rescued from what was to be
All the crew’s rescued from what was to be.
Repeat the first six lines.