The boys in the Boat is a marvelous piece of work, well written, well researched. I was intrigued with Daniel Brown’s dual theme of university-level team rowing competition and the rise of Hitler’s Germany. What an unusual combination.
The description of northwest life in the 1920s and 1930s is seen from the perspective of the young men comprising the UW eight-oar rowing team, Joe Rantz, in particular. Challenging times for many: the depression, prohibition, Seattle’s soggy disposition. Easy to become sullen and depressed. Some thrive on adversity and challenge as if they don’t even see it. Where others see an impassable mountain, they see steps leading to the summit. Whatever their background, all of these boys were tenacious, competitive and focused.
To his great credit, Daniel Brown shows these young men as individuals, not only as an heroic winning team, unified with one goal.
The Grey Seas Under. Hmmmm….unusual title. Under what? Farley Mowatt. Unusual name. The beginning is slow and disoriented, like being in a foggy unfamiliar harbor jammed full of rust streaked vessels, succumbing to neglect. In retrospect, the sodden tone of the beginning, that caught me off guard, was an ideal prologue.
The Grey Seas Under chronicles the life of the 156′ salvage tug, Foundation Franklin, originally christened H.M.S. Frisky, from her purchase in early 1930 by the Montreal-based Foundation Company of Canada, to her last assignment during the cruel winter of 1946. Her battles with the sea were epic. The men who sailed her, heroic, sometimes eccentric and the rescues she accomplished, legendary. The lives she saved: grateful beyond measure.
So what makes this book a must-read masterpiece? It is not written to highlight an exemplary vocabulary. There are no superlative descriptions. Displays of elite literary proficiency are missing.
The Grey Seas Under is a song. A ballad. Farley Mowatt is a minstrel, singing of a period in his life where he felt most alive, most connected to his fiber. Those days pass quickly for mortals but the tone is not sad. It is an adagio form, punctuated with rolling staccato storms. This is not a gilded representation of reality seen through progressive bifocals; this is a raw and salty reality lived by working men whose poetry sails above varnished table tops with fiddled edges and coffee mugs. The extraordinary is commonplace. No pontifications from the podium are found.
If you have a paperback copy read it twice. Read it to your kids and grandkids. If you have a hardbound copy in good condition, you have an appreciating asset.
BIG thanks to Ray Robinson for the loan of this fabulous book. The Grey Seas Under. Under what? Under the keel of a good ship. A ship that does not veer from difficulty, but takes pride in accomplishment and returns to home port, time after time. The Grey Seas Under? As it always has been, under the watchful but impassive heavens.
McCloskey makes his last set as this fine trilogy comes to a close. Raiders characters mature just as the subject matter comes of age. Political drama, personal intrigue, cultural differences. Even though the story and characters are fictional, the events and emotions are very real and certainly command center stage today just as they did in the 1980s. One of the more interesting themes is the cultural interaction between the Japanese, native Alaskan and the American fisherman. By looking at the evolution of the fishing community we can extrapolate to predict the future of the fishing industry. A further generalization predicts the future of many industries. But the old days, the last third of the 20th century in this case, are gone. It was a bold time, when men could live large, when risk rode with brains and muscle into the eye storm seeking buxom reward. Not just to make a living, but to make a point. A very personal point, shared with crew and friends, often, spoken only with tears. The romance, like that of the Old West, will live on far into the future. With the same salt crystals at the corner of the eye as grace the gunnel at sunset.
Click the image to enlarge into a panorama.
On April 22, 2013 I found myself 20 floors up on the roof of a condominium overlooking Elliott Bay. From left to right the view starts at Safeco field with its retractable roof, to Harbor Island, to West Seattle and Duwamish Head. In the distance is Bainbridge Island with Flagpole Point and Eagle Harbor watched over by the magnificent snow capped Olympics. On the far right is Elliott Bay Marina at the foot of Magnolia Bluff. The Great Northwest really shines on a sunny day. This little panorama is a Photoshop compilation of 10 iPhone pics.
The second novel in William McCloskey’s trilogy. The characters mature and the fishing grows from smaller boats to bigger boats. The politics get interesting, as foreign interests endeavor to use every loophole to obtain the Alaskan bounty they lost when the 200 mile limit on fishing was imposed. Breakers is a great read, factual in many aspects, but fictional and romanticized just enough to keep the pages turning rapidly. It captures the energy of commercial fishing, and superimposes human faces to weave the story. Fishing fans should read it twice. It is a well told story, McCloskey talking about what he knows and loves. No more pretentious than that. If you love big water and big adventure. This book’s for you!