The puffin is the joker amongst the seabirds of the north Atlantic, but what is happening to this much-loved bird is far from a laughing matter.
This is the conclusion of writer and broadcaster, Paul Heiney, who set sail from the east coast of England bound for Iceland, propelled by a desire to breathe the cool, clear air of the high latitudes, and to follow in the wake of generations of sailors who have made this often treacherous journey since the 13th century. In almost every harbour he tripped over maritime history and anecdote, and came face to face with his own past as he sailed north along his childhood coastline of east Yorkshire towards the Arctic Circle.
But there was one major thing missing from this voyage – the sight of puffins. They are remarkable birds, uplifting as a ray of sunshine after a storm. To see them and share their waters was also part of Heiney's ambition. Imagine then his disappointment when, first, no puffins appeared off the Farne Islands, then none to be seen on puffin hotspots like Orkney. When he failed to see puffins on Iceland, it was the last straw, and he started to become seriously concerned. Heiney senses that a new chapter is about to be written, and it is one in which we may have to say farewell to the puffin forever.
Farewell Mr Puffin is rich in travel and sailing narrative, natural and social history, and with a strong undercurrent of good humour. It provides not only an insight into the private life of the puffin, but an honest portrait of human life on the ocean waves, as well as a reflection on what we might lose if the puffin disappears from our icy northern waters.
Paul Heiney is a well-known writer and broadcaster with seafaring in his blood. His family, originally from Yorkshire, were beach fishermen and lifeboatmen. He has sailed enthusiastically for over 25 years, making many singlehanded passages. He is the author of One Wild Song and Ocean Sailing.
"It would be hard to imagine a more thoughtful, intelligent and companionable person to go to sea with than Paul Heiney."
– Bill Bryson
"High comedy on the high seas. Informative and warm and freezing. It's quite a combination."
– Griff Rhys