A UNIT OF WATER, A UNIT OF TIME by Douglas Whynott


Joel White's Last Boat
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An affectionate, informative, yet lighter-than-air look at the life and work of Joel White, the boat designer and builder who also happened to be E.B.’s son, from Whynott (Giant Bluefin, 1995). Joel White made wooden boats for over 40 years from his Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine, a place that has since become synonymous with the wooden boat revival. Though White felt that his design work was derivative, particularly of the Herreshoff’s, he was being a mite humble: the lineages of boats are always a matter of influence, as Whynott amplifies with a fistful of examples, and White left his mark with lines that are “instinctively pleasing, comfortable to rest the eye upon,” on boats that are traditional above the waterline and modern below. White had designed all manner of boat’skiffs and rowing shells, catboats and the lovely racing yacht of the title—and he fussed and tweaked each one until it was graceful, elegant in sheer line, a boat for light air or for stiff breezes. Whynott spent a lot of time with White in the months preceding the boat maker’s death, and he gathered much good material on life growing up with E.B. and Katharine White (Whynott tries not to make it sound like an idyll, but it comes across as pretty sweet, and it must have been fun to be the test pilot for Stuart Little), as well as an honest taste of a day’s measured rhythms in the boatyard. Whynott lovingly details the work being done, and the characters doing the work, on new boats and boats brought in for repair to the boatyard, now run by White’s son Steve (“it ain’t easy being the son of Saint Joe,” says a friend about flak Steve got for changing a few things). White emerges from Whynott’s delightful pages as an old soul as free-spirited and inspired as any character in his father’s books.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-48812-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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