A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time
For me the writing of >A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time falls into what I think of as meaningful coincidence. I was exploring a different book topic when I received an unprompted letter from an editor at Doubleday Books. Having read Giant Bluefin, he made the suggestion that I look into the topic of wooden boatbuilding in New England. I didn’t take to the idea at the time, but I tacked the letter to my bulletin board. Then, one cold January in the dark of winter, I looked at that letter and decided to take a drive up the Maine coast and stop in at boat yards. The last one I visited, named Brooklin Boatyard, was owned by Joel White. Joel was a great host that day, taking me to lunch and giving me a tour of Brooklin, where there are several boatyards and where the famed WoodenBoat magazine is based. At the end of our meeting I asked him if he was the young son that E. B. White wrote about in his renowned essay, “Once More to the Lake,” and Joel said he was. He also told me that day that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Later others he knew him well told me that Joel, a very private person, would probably not have let me inhabit his boat yard for the next year, and definitely would not have opened up to me, if he had not been in that place in his life. He did tell me, offhandedly one day when I asked a question, that I was to write about the boatyard, and not a biography of him, but I got as much of Joel into the book as I possibly could without intruding too much into his life. I felt there was some meaning in that I had arrived in Brooklin when I did, and that I should tell the story of that next year and a half just as well as I could.
From a 2014 review by Joseph Houlihan, columnist for the Block Island Times
“Joel’s attitude about boat design is one of a humble man. 'Nothing in boat design is new under the sun. Everything is derivative.' White felt he’d never designed anything groundbreaking. What he is saying is that the designs of Nathanael and L. Francis Herreshoff are from which his designs were developed. He has a point. All great artists emulate their heroes. An artist takes all of the incoming information from the ether—whether it’s shapes or ideas— and assimilates it into his own creation. Here Whynott merges Joel White’s art with that of his dad’s. E. B. White said he wrote, 'To communicate a love of the world.' Whynott says, 'But how do you communicate the love of the world? Could one answer to that question, be that you should do what you enjoy the most? The lines of a boat, the lines of a writer.' Well played, Douglas Whynott. (This book belongs on your shelf for that one quote alone.)"
"White, whose simplicity and clarity of line reflected that of his father, E. B. White, is recalled in almost reverent terms, but the book is cheerful in its portraits of men engaged in a work that satisfies in its difficulty, elegant details, and infallibly stirring results."
–The New Yorker
"Boats, he writes are 'visible manifestations of the aspiring mind. They're like dreams, but you wonder, Who is it dreaming?' A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time commemorates Joel White's dream, not his death. Picking up the book, I had expected less of the former and more of the latter. Whynott confounded my expectations, and this was just one of the gifts he gently, generously bestowed on readers."
--The San Diego Union Tribune
"With unstated 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. . . E. B. White would have approved of this quietly profound book."
"Whynott examines Joel White, Brooklin and its boatbuilders with the same compelling gaze that Tracy Kidder and John McPhee turned toward those who build computers or study geology. Whynott's attention transcends his ostensible subject until it becomes a profound look at the human condition."
--The San Francisco Chronicle
"Whynott has a pretty refined eye and a tactile appreciation for the lines of a beautiful boat. He also has a keen eye for the well-turned phrase. . . Whynott's new book is a rich marriage between the unique talent of this writer and the intricacy of his subject."
--Maine Boats and Harbors
"White emerges from Whynott's delightful pages as an old soul as free-spirited and inspired as any character in his father's books."
"A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time is as lovingly constructed as the boat it describes, and offers its readers the chance for a calm but vivid voyage."
Whynott captures in loving detail the painstaking craftsmanship of the boatbuilders, and the reader comes to appreciate the deeper meaning of patiently creating functional objects of great beauty. Charming, colorful, and almost meditative in its appreciation for the virtues of hard work and the gifts of fathers to sons, A Unit of Water, A Unit of Timewill delight sailors and islanders alike."
--The Book Club, WOI Radio, Ames, Iowa.