Review of Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting

Please note that this article originally appeared in the August edition of Pilgrims of Pleiades

Suppose you are the type of person who sits in his one bedroom apartment and watches television for the novelty of it. You’re watching television by yourself and a commercial comes on about mortgages or something with a man and his wife. They are a young couple, maybe your age late twenties but maybe a little bit younger, just starting out on the journey of life and have just bought a house or are looking to buy a house. Same thing pretty much. They might have been talking about having kids but you’re not really sure. Your attention started trailing off before they got to that. Looking back, you imagine they might have been looking to take out a loan to finance the construction of a nursery for their first child. Yea, that’s probably what the commercial is about.

You start thinking about yourself and how foreign that all sounds.

Buying a house with a wife?

With what money?

With what wife?

A house?

Wife?

You turn off your tv and start laughing out loud at how ludicrous those questions sound to you. You are now outside quietly laughing and smoking a hand-rolled cigaratte. People may be watching you. You think about your collection of Thor Heyerdahl books and the alternative history/archaeology book on the shelf in your bathroom that you’re reading for the second time. You connect the dots and realize that such is precisely what drew you to Seaworthy: Adrift with William William in the Golden Age of Rafting.

If any part of the aforementioned scenario applies to you, then you should pick up a copy, if you haven’t already read it, of the aforementioned book.

Seaworthy tells the story of William Willis.

William Willis is no Thor Heyerdahl. He is Thor Heyerdahl’s cheap autistic spectrum disorder little brother. He is the anti-Heyerdahl.(And if you don’t know who Thor Heyerdahl is you shouldn’t read this. Read all of Thor Heyerdahl’s books and then, when you’re old and gray, come back and read this book review of Seaworthy. Or not.).

In Seaworthy we learn of Willis’ forays into the Pacific on hand-built rafts of his own design. He seeks to prove no theory and to impress no man. William Willis is an eccentric who gets off on testing himself to the extreme. He’s insane by standards of his era, if only by his diet alone, consisting on his first voyage of mostly Peruvian grain paste and seawater. He is a pilgrim and might not be considered all that insane in this day and age if he had a Facebook page, Blog, and/or Twitter account. People do shit like this all the time today, but this is because men like WIlliam Willis were insane enough to try it years before. But really, the actual act of what Willis did is not that insane, as it was done millenia ago by ancient man. The insanity of WIlliam Willis is that he bucks the prevailing cultural mores of the era that he was born into. The soul of William WIllis might always be an iconoclast within any era that he is born into. Maybe, if born in the true Golden Age of rafting millenia ago Mr. Willis might have chosen to stay behind on land and not forsake the creature comforts of his dry house on a hill. Or perhaps he would fit right in, sailing towards Polynesia with shocking red hair and a beard.

The story of William Willis is a great one. It is a story that might have been lost, at least to me, without the publication of this book. This is why I can forgive the author for not really doing a good job of writing it. The writing in this book is just OK. This is great subject matter. However, the spirit of adventure and of ‘doing’ in general does not always lend itself well to the written work. Doing is better left doing. It’s not easy to write about so, like I said, we’ll give the author a pass for writing a shitty book. But, like we said, this shit has no forum and there are not many people out there writing about rafting voyages 50 years ago. I say “voyages” because Willis made several and I say “voyages” because he was not alone on the high seas. Seaworthy also chronicles the attempts of other mariners to prove or disprove their own arcane theories and others. In reading Seaworthy it would seem that the oceans were teeming with poorly constructed floatsam piloted by eccentric men.

If only this were the case today, for society would be a lot better if men or women still took to the seas to prove theories, or, as a matter of principle like WIlliam Willis, to prove themselves.

This previous statement is where Seaworthy lost me. As a whole, Seaworthy reads like a journalists account of the bizarre travels of an insane man. It is not sympathetic and does not undserstand, or try to make the reader understand, that what Willis did was not so bizarre in and of itself. The author writes this book for the norms as a tongue in cheek expose of the mad man William Willis. What the author doesn’t realize is that people who are attracted to Seaworthy are going to read it anyway. Even the last ditch intellectual tongue-in-cheek read-a-lots crowd aint going to read Seaworthy. They’re busy ready Freakonomics.

I’m going to read Seaworthy. Marlo and LU.LU. will probably read it too. But now they’re going to read it like a textbook.

So fuck you T.R. Pearson. Don’t be such an asshole.

Long live the spirit of William Willis.

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3 responses to “Review of Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting

  1. Pingback: Scary ol’ Bridge | Manboy in the Promised Land

  2. William Willis was my Uncle Bill – actually my great-uncle. Aunt Teddy was my grandmother’s sister – so my great aunt.

    Yes – the book was not well written – I did have to slog through a bit and I was reading about my own family.

    Uncle Bill wasn’t insane – I guess you could say he was an adventure junkie – mostly a sailing junkie. His eyes were always far away. When I was little I remembered him as wise but scary. The last time I saw him he was 72. We had just had dinner. Uncle Bill was quite a yoga enthusiast – he was always glad to show me stuff. That night he stood on his head after dinner.

  3. Hi, I have read your uncles books and have read the seven little sisters several times, its one of my favourite books. He certainly was an adventurer. What happened to your aunty teddy after he passed away on his 3rd attempt to cross atlantic?

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