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Floating after Farley: New documentary details Farley Mowat's sailing around Newfoundland

·4 min read
Isaac and Martine Blue set out in their sailboat to follow the route of Farley Mowat, filming a television series along the way. (Submitted by Martine Blue - image credit)
Isaac and Martine Blue set out in their sailboat to follow the route of Farley Mowat, filming a television series along the way. (Submitted by Martine Blue - image credit)
Submitted by Martine Blue
Submitted by Martine Blue

Filmmaker Martine Blue is sharing her experiences on the water following author Farley Mowat's sailing misadventures in her new documentary series Floating After Farley.

The Ontario-born Mowat spent much of the 1960s living in Newfoundland and Labrador and his humorous sailing-related stories were published in his 1969 novel The Boat Who Wouldn't Float.

Blue's says her time living on the sailboat True North shifted her thinking about travel.

"It changes your perspective when you see a place by water and I really feel it brings you closer to history, because that's how people used to travel," she said.

"That's part of the whole reason Farley wanted to sail around Newfoundland in a boat was because he felt it brings you into people's hearts and minds much easier than if you're travelling by car."

Submitted by Martine Blue
Submitted by Martine Blue

Blue's crew included her husband Isaac and their dog, as they attempted to travel by sailboat and speak with local people who had met Mowat, like Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi'sel Joe. She also interviewed those who had a connection to Mowat, such as publisher Jack McClelland's daughter Susie Drinkwater, editor Anna Porter and Mowat's widow, Claire Mowat.

The video-on-demand six-episode series, which Blue described as part-documentary and part-reality show, will be available on Bell Fibe TV1 this winter.

WATCH | CBC's Krissy Holmes caught up with the Blues on their boat in July

The inspiration for the project came from Blue's geographical connection to Mowat. The Blues moved to Epworth, located on the Burin Peninsula, in 2009 and some of their new friends told them stories about Mowat.

"The really kind of neat thing about it all was back in 1960, Farley came into Epworth in a fog after having sailed from Fermeuse. He came in here and he had no charts and no compass and he needed some repairs done to his boat. And he actually tied off on a wharf that was on our property."

One of Blue's neighbours, Gerald Moulton, was 14 at the time and helped Mowat with boat repairs.

Not always smooth sailing

Much like Mowat's time navigating the local waters, Blue also found her trip was far from smooth sailing. The Blues had intended to leave at the beginning of July, but had to delay their departure date to July 14 while they waited for better weather.

They got about 10 kilometres into the ocean before the engine stopped working, she recalled, so they had to go by sail. After hearing the sole person in Fermeuse who remembered Mowat had declined to speak with them, they decided to head to Bay d'Espoir, "and it's Farley's favourite place, pretty much, in Newfoundland," said Blue.

Submitted by Martine Blue
Submitted by Martine Blue

The True North was able to reach Lawn, which is about half an hour by car from their house, but took them a week to reach by water. From there, they were aiming for Fortune or Grand Bank, but then the boat's navigation lights stopped working, so they decided to head back for a second time. On top of that, they had to contend with rough waters, she said.

They didn't make it back to Epworth and pulled into Little St. Lawrence, where they anchored and had friends pick them up. More work was done on the boat and they managed to sail for three hours before the motor stopped again. At this point, she had to keep an eye on her fast-approaching deadline, so they decided to drive to Bay d'Espoir.

"I was really sad and upset at the boat, True North. Because she's moored right in front of our house so she's right there but we couldn't go. And that was the whole point of the trip, to go on a sailboat. So I felt mad at her."

Submitted by Martine Blue
Submitted by Martine Blue

Then she said she reread the chapter "Westward No!" from Mowat's book, where he wrote about how often his boat Happy Adventure wouldn't go where he wanted. She added Mowat claimed the reason he and his wife moved to Burgeo was because the boat wouldn't go any further west.

"But ours wouldn't go west or east," she laughed.

One of the other issues Blue had to contend with was the passage of time because many people who knew Mowat had passed away. As well, some people declined to speak on camera but were willing to tell Blue their stories in confidence.

Blue is also hoping to continue her series with a second season to visit other places along Mowat's travels that she wasn't able to reach.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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