Off In a Boat by Neil Gunn

Off in a Boat cover

Off In a Boat by Neil Gunn is an account of the journey that he and his wife embarked on in 1937 after he decided to give up his safe job in the civil service, sold their house and bought a 27 foot wooden boat so that they could explore the Inner Hebrides. It seems that neither of them knew much about sailing but they had charts and read books before they set off. The boat that Neil Gunn bought was in need of a lot of work as it was in bits when he viewed it first but that didn’t put him off buying what was a far from ideal vessel. If you look at the book cover you’ll see that the living space must have been cramped to say the least and Gunn’s wife – affectionately known as the Crew had a hard time of it, and wore out her trouser knees as she had to crawl around so much while she did the cooking.

It could be said that the pair were foolhardy in their ambition as if the engine had stopped while in wild water they would have been toast – but they survived. Half-way through the journey they were joined by his wife’s brother who was known as the Mate and luckily he had more experience of sailing and engines although he was happier when he was able to hoist the sail and turn the engine off.

Although this book was written in 1937 I imagine that the actual journey part of it would be much the same today although the landmarks used in the navigation will be very different, but it isn’t just an account of a journey and adventure through beautiful scenery, he also incorporates Celtic and Norse legends, references Boswell and Johnson and highlights the hospitality and kindness that they experienced from the ordinary local people. Sadly the same could not be said for the rich landowners, some of whom had the delusion that they owned the sea and any fish in it and also had the right to steal oars from anyone who happened to have had the temerity to beach their rowing boat near their land. In some ways the new landlords were even worse than those who had cleared their land of crofters, forcing them to sail to America and Canada – and replacing them with more lucrative sheep.

I was unsure about this book when I bought it but I ended up enjoying it even more than Neil Gunn’s most famous novel The Silver Darlings.

Books, books, books ….

At the moment I’m reading two books, which isn’t like me, I tend to concentrate on one book at a time. But I bought Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent – Travels in Small Town America in a charity shop the other day and started reading it on the way home. So I’m reading that one downstairs now while I have my morning tea. It’s a fun, light read.

Upstairs (bedtime and afternoon reading) I’m reading The Silver Darlings by Neil Gunn. It’s a readalong for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and I’m way ahead with this one as it’s scheduled for sometime in March. I’m enjoying it although at the moment I’m thinking that some of the sea-faring parts could have done with being a bit shorter.

I’ve finished reading Chatterton Square by E.H. Young, an author I had never read before despite having the book for years (Virago). I loved it but that’s a readalong on Undervalued British Women Novelists 1930 – 1960 so I’ll blog about that one within a couple of weeks. Have you read anything by E.H. Young?

The Silver Darlings is a library book, I’ve only just bought the Bill Bryson book and I made the mistake of popping into a north-east Fife library that I don’t normally visit today, and the upshot of that is that I came out with The Z Murders by J.Jefferson Farjeon.

So my great intention of concentrating on my own book piles has like most plans – gone to hell in a handcart, and although I compiled a list of the first ten Scottish books I intended to read for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge – and the second Scottish book didn’t even appear on that list, it did however jump out at me from a library shelf, and I just couldn’t ignore it. For me libraries are a bit like those shops that have a mish-mash of stuff for sale, end of lines and last year’s stock such as TK Maxx. If by chance you see something there you want then you had better buy it, or borrow it if you’re in a library, because you just might never see it again.

There’s no cure for it you know!