The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, by Farley Mowat, has been around for 40+ years, but I just discovered it. Not accidentally, either, I must admit, as one of my Canadian Literature students at Credenda Virtual College selected it as the novel she’d read for the main assignment.
Having been a librarian for more than a decade, and a writer myself, I can’t quite explain why Mowat’s books never ended up on my list of must-reads. My kids all studied Owls in the Family and thoroughly enjoyed it–but somehow we never shared any of his other books to extend the experience.
Another interesting twist is the fact that Mowat lived a lot of his childhood in Saskatchewan, in the city of Saskatoon, a mere three hours from where I live. In fact, that’s where Owls in the Family is set. Mowat reads a chapter from this book, based on his own experiences growing up, in this National Film Board of Canada DVD.
But, back to The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float. We’ll start with this video interview with Farley Mowat talking about how he fell in love with Newfoundland, where the story takes place.
The book is set in Newfoundland, in a world pretty much the exact opposite of the prairie where Mowat grew up. Its story begins at an auction where Mowat buys up a ton of sailing gear he has no use for, so of course he has to buy a boat–luckily, his friend, the well known Canadian publisher, Jack McLelland was ready to sail the dream with him. So Mowat bought for their partnership–shrouded by rain in a coastal storm–a two-masted schooner known as a mast boat in the fishing village of Muddy Hole on the coast of Newfoundland.
From there, Mowat and the reader begin the enormous task of outfitting the little boat so it can take a journey around Newfoundland and its fisheries. From rubber boots and homespun sweaters, to the seeming comfort of screech and good dark rum, the lifestyle of the ’60s in Newfoundland emerges page by page. Mowat’s tale of The Happy Adventure (the name of little boat that has a mind and goals of its own) is both hilarious and frightening, as I’m sure the real sailors who navigated it over the waves with the slightly-skewed compass can attest.
As a writer immersed in the tale, I loved Mowat’s use of language and his ability to bring the reader into the many real-life dramas that happened on the “cruise” that had originally been set for some far-off tropical island, but really only made it around Newfoundland, then down the St. Lawrence Seaway for Expo ’67 in Montreal.
While I haven’t visited Newfoundland (yet!), I had an amazing visit to Gaspe, taking both car and train along the St. Lawrence Seaway, which is how The Happy Adventurer made its way to Montreal.
This little boat’s adventures are truly one of those stories where the truth is more amazing than fiction. It’s easy to see why it won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 1970.