Photographer Robert Dennis and writer Shelley Fleming Wigglesworth with their new book “The Nunans of Cape Porpoise.”  Courtesy photo

KENNEBUNKPORT – It all began with Richard Nunan, son of Charles and Emily Tarrant Nunan. Richard, who began fishing when he was 9, and who had become a master mariner by 20, urged his parents to move from Cape Cod to Cape Porpoise 160 years ago.

They did, and a rich fishing legacy began – one that continues on today.

A new book, “The Nunans of Cape Porpoise,” tells a story in words and photographs of the Nunan family, immigrants from Ireland, who settled in the village in 1861 and began fishing. Eight generations later, there are many members of the Nunan family who continue the hard work of pulling their living from the sea.

Some family members fish and some are also otherwise engaged in the lobstering industry; there’s Nunan’s Lobster Hut, which began with George Nunan, who cooked and served lobsters on picnic tables in the 1940s and then opened the famous hut, which continues on, in 1953, and Three Seas Lobster and Fish, a market that began operations in 2020.

Cape Porpoise Harbor at low water, with the fishing fleet at their moorings in a 2018 photo. Tammy Wells photo

“The Nunans of Cape Porpoise” is a book about a family, and more. It is a book about a way of life – one that continues on in the pretty village of Cape Porpoise, perched above a harbor that can sparkle in the sunshine or turn dark and raw – and wildly beautiful, on a windy, rain driven day.

It was produced by photographer Robert Dennis, who moved to Cape Porpoise full-time 11 years ago after spending time here for many years, and writer and journalist Shelley Fleming Wigglesworth whose roots run deep in the Kennebunks.

“I’ve known the Nunan’s all my life,” said Wigglesworth. “I grew up with Keith. My dad went to school with Dale.” Gertrude was a neighbor when Wigglesworth was a child, and Wigglesworth’s own children went to school with some of the Nunan youngsters.

Dennis first came to the area decades ago from Massachusetts, and he and his wife moved here full-time after his retirement as an investment manager.

“The Nunans of Cape Porpoise,” a book about family and lobster fishing, is available at a number of area locations. Tammy Wells photo

“I have a passionate love for Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise,” said Dennis from the deck of his home in the village overlooking the water. “I never want to leave here.”

Dennis is also passionate about photography, and had been making images of lobster boats and other aspects of the fishing life in Cape Porpoise since the 1980s. He’s the primary photographer for the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel Chamber of Commerce, has published two photo books and another with the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and annually publishes calendars of his work.

Wigglesworth has been a freelance journalist and writer for 30 years. Like many Mainers, she has more than one job and along with her writing gig, works aboard the Nor’easter, 42-foot commercial fishing vessel engaged in deep sea fishing trips in the spring, summer and fall. The book includes Dennis’ images along with Nunan family photos of the fishing life and Wigglesworth’s writings about the family’s beginnings in Cape Porpoise, and biographies of Nunan family members and the fishing life through interviews with each of those featured. There were interviews with local historians and others.

Dennis broached Wigglesworth about the prospects of a book earlier this year.

“I said the only way I would do it is if every Nunan in the fleet agreed,” she said.” It had to be complete.” Wigglesworth said the family members had complete access to her writings for the book.

And they trusted her – Wigglesworth is local and has been a passionate advocate for the fishing industry for 20 years.

“I’m proud of that trust,” she said.

Dennis said his years in Cape Porpoise, photographing fishermen and their vessels has been a learning experience.

“I respect the fishermen so much,” he said, “Many go out on the worst days.”

He noted other fishing families in Cape Porpoise – the Hutchins and Daggetts, for example, whose fishing legacies go back generations.

The book, he said, was a labor of love.

He said the story of the Nunans is a fascinating account about people engaged in the fishing industry – and more. “It’s a great family story; it’s about fishing and the passion and devotion of a family for fishing and each other,” said Dennis.

Proceeds from the book will help support the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

“The Nunans of Cape Porpoise” is available at a number of locations, including Goose Rocks Beach General Store, Nunan’s Lobster Hut, Bradbury Bros. Market, Cape Porpoise Kitchen and Three Seas Fish and Lobster in the village; Whimsy Shop and Dock Square Emporium in Kennebunkport; Fine Print Booksellers in Lower Village; and online at kportimages.com.

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