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A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time Hardcover – March 16, 1999
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E.B. White and his son Joel both had a respect for beauty, simplicity, and practicality when it came to their work. For E.B., it was writing. He talks about these qualities in The Elements of Style, the classic guide to English-language usage, and he demonstrates them in works like Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. For Joel, it was building and designing boats that are "simple of line yet sound in engineering, traditional above water and modern below." A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time is a touching, engaging look at the life, work, and influence of Joel White and the craft of boat making.
Whynott spent a year (June 1996 to July 1997) at White's boat yard in Brooklin, Maine. At the time, White was battling cancer, nearing the end of his life, and designing what would be his last boat, the W-76, a wooden racing yacht with "sublime lines and exquisite rigging." A Unit of Water, the result of that experience, traces White's life from his birth in 1930 to his childhood spent in New York and Maine, his naval architecture studies at MIT, and his eventual move to Brooklin, where he began working at the small boat yard that eventually became his own. In the early '80s, White and his crew stopped making fiberglass boats in favor of wooden ones; Brooklin, headquarters for WoodenBoat magazine and the WoodenBoat School, became the center of the wooden-boat revival and White something of a boat-building guru. The book looks closely at the art of boat making--shaping deck beams, making bronze chocks, boring holes through sternposts--and the many characters in the Brooklin boat-building community. It's very interesting stuff, and Whynott tells the story simply and thoughtfully, emulating White's philosophies. He also describes White's health battles with respect and poignancy and without getting overly sentimental.
Joel White was a man of few words who tended to downplay his accomplishments, but they shine through in A Unit of Water. One Brooklin boat builder, describing the "soul" of boats, could have been describing White: "Boats are live. They talk. The more poorly made boats talk more. The best-made boats don't talk as much. They're quiet--quiet soldiers, they call them." --Andy Boynton
From Publishers Weekly
Even readers with no special interest in boats are likely to be caught up in this elegant homage to Maine boatbuilder Joel White (son of E.B. White), who pursued his obsession with the time-honored craft of designing wooden boats while battling cancer. Whynott (Giant Bluefin) made 17 trips to the Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine, where the meticulous Joel, his son Steve and a yard crew spent two years designing and building the W-76, a grand and graceful racing yacht. While Steve runs the yard, JoelAwith a section of his lung removed and walking on crutches after a bone graftAundergoes chemotherapy and learns to walk again, enduring metastatic lung cancer with stoic fortitude. Whynott, who traces his own love of boats back to his Pilgrim ancestors, indelibly captures such laconic New England types as boat painter Raymond Eaton, who, whenever asked how a job came out, always replied, "It could be better." Old-timers mingle with boat-loving transplants from Wall Street, Oregon and England. With understated grace, the author evokes a sense of maritime community as well as a fierce devotion to boats and a love of the sea, which emerges as an almost mystical form of communion with nature and the cosmos. His father, who sailed a 30-foot cutter, instilled in Joel not only his love of sailing but also, according to Whynott, a clarity of line and economy of style that resonated in Joel's boat designs and in his essays for WoodenBoat magazine. Joel's death in 1997, months before the launch of the W-76, is heartbreaking. E.B. White would have approved of this quietly profound book: it's a real beauty.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
Wynott does a superb job describing the interpersonal dynamics of a boatyard's personnel and the importance of good management. Though I found myself irritated at Steve, Joel White's son, for spending his winter in the Carribean during his father's last year, Steve's management style is instructive for leading a group of talented artisans, be they boat builders, scientific researchers, or writers.
I savored every page of this short book, sometimes reading each section twice as not to miss the rich details. It made me laugh, such as the passage about novice sailors who they ended being towed into port and decided to buy a boat anyway, and cry -- Joel's death. I recommend it highly for all who find satisfaction in "messin' around with boats." This book squarely dispells what every boat owner already knows: Boating only looks romantic!