A BOAT LIKE GIDEON BROWN by GREAT BIG SEA. Story by Bill Arnott.
Somewhere in the North Atlantic. 2011.
All around was water and sky. Mostly, just water. The boat: fifty-four feet of teak, a steel hull and mahogany mast, had become my new home. A home lunging in ocean swells. My roommates, a half-dozen strangers, were in the process of transforming to friends.
For a week we’d been sailing the Isles of Scilly, England’s most westerly rocks, where Phoenicians and Ottomans hunted for tin and longboats of Vikings had rowed. Apart from our skipper, a cantankerous merchant marine, we were greenhorns, doing our best to learn knots, how to hoist and trim sails. Five days in, we were racing to outrun a storm, a vast ugly swirl blowing north, something approaching a hurricane.
Sailing hard for ten hours, we ploughed our way into a lee at the mouth of a river, a sailors’ safe haven for centuries. Fighting current and swell, we managed to secure an anchor, found another submerged that we lashed to as well, and spent the night undulating on tides, exhausted, hoping our ropes would hold. That day we’d been tethered to lifelines, cinched in survival suits. Below deck we fashioned a meal, slopped from cans, washed down with spirits, recapping our nerve-wracking day.
Someone discovered a guitar in a locker, a six-string acoustic buried in dust, copper strings that smelled of old age. No one admitted they knew how to play, but someone piped up, “Give it to the Canadian!” That being me, and the instrument was thrust in my hands.
Its tuning was off but not bad. And it occurred to me there was only one band I could possibly play, one song that made sense in that place. The band, Great Big Sea. The song, A Boat Like Gideon Brown. Not only a touch of Canadiana but a maritime song, one written just over the water, more or less, on the east edge of Newfoundland.
I wasn’t yet playing in public. This was new, overwhelming. But we were now