Before I tell you about the biggest fish in the sea and how it tried to kill me and then ended up saving my life, first you got to know about the leaky boat, ’cause it all began right there. The great repair and the trap wars and the angel in the mist, none of it would have happened without the leaky boat.
It starts the last day of school. I’m on my way home, coasting down Spotter Hill on my crummy old bike. The birds are chittering and stuff, and I’m riding no hands with the wind on my face. A day like that you can feel summer in the air, and the smell of cut grass, and the sting of salt from the harbour. Then our little house comes into view, and right away I see that what I been afraid of these last few months has finally happened.
Our boat the Mary Rose has sunk at the dock.
It breaks my heart to see her so pitiful, with just the top of her cabin showing, and a shine of oil spreading like blood on the water. A sunk boat is a pitiful thing. It’s enough to make a person cry, but I ain’t cried since the day my mom died. No matter what that rotten rich kid Tyler Croft says, it ain’t true.
I been bailing Rose for months, getting up before dawn to pump out the bilge and keep her floating. Just in case my dad decides to get his lazy duff off the TV couch and go fishing. That’s where he lives ever since the funeral, lying like a sack of nothing on the TV couch. Most times he don’t even put the TV on, he just sucks on his beer and stares at the cobwebs on the ceiling.
It ain’t like he’s a real drunk. He don’t beat me or curse me or nothin’. He just lies there feeling sorry for himself and it don’t matter what I do or say. One day I swore him out for ten straight minutes, about how he was a good-for-nothing and a worthless boozer, and how he might as well be dead as lying on the TV couch, and what would Mom think if she could see him. But even that don’t get him going. He just sighs and says, “Skiffy, I’m awful sorry about everything,” and then hides his head under the pillow.
I can’t even be sure if he’s talking to me or to himself, ’cause we got the same name. Samuel “Skiff” Beaman. Down the town wharf they used to call my dad Big Skiff and me Little Skiff, to tell us apart, but my dad don’t go down the wharf no more. He don’t do nothin’ at all. Not even when I come running in the house to tell him Rose has sunk.
“Dad!” I go. “She gone under!”
He rolls to one side and puts a bleary eye on me. His beard is all matted because he ain’t combed it in months, and it makes him look old and scruffy.
“School’s out, huh? How’d it get to be that late?”
“The boat sunk! What’ll we do?”
“Do?” He puts his hand over his eyes and sighs again. “Oh, I suppose we could raise her up, but she’d just sink again. Best leave her be.”
“You can’t leave a boat sunk at the dock. It ain’t right!”
But my dad turns his face to the back of the couch and won’t hear me, so I run outside and skid down the steps to our rickety old dock, but there ain’t nothing I can do. Once a boat has gone under, you can’t bail it no more. There’s nothin’ to do but wait until the tide goes out and then somehow winch it onto the cradle before it sinks again. Then maybe I can find the leak and plug it.
There used to be a winch in the trap shack, and that’s where I’m heading when Tyler Croft comes by on his thousand-dollar mountain bike and thinks he sees me cryin’, which he don’t.
“Hey Skiffy!” he goes, popping a wheelie and showing off. “Heard that old wreck of yours finally went under. Good riddance! Ugly thing stunk up the whole creek. That wasn’t a boat – it was an outhouse!”
“Ooh, Skiffy’s cryin’!”
“Am not!” I said, looking around for something to throw at him, a rotten apple for his rotten head.
“Skiffy’s cryin’ and I ain’t lyin’! Little Skiff Beaman lives in a shack, he pees in a bucket and craps out back! Hey lobster boy! Your momma’s dead, your daddy’s drunk! Go back to the swamp, you dirty punk!”
I been hearing variations on that stupid song since Tyler Croft was old enough to talk, so it don’t mean nothin’. All it does is make me want to womp his head with a hard green apple because that would make him cry.
There’s nothing close to hand but an old chunk of wood. I heave it and miss. Tyler laughs and then screams away on his bike.
“I’m tellin’ the whole wide world!” he shouts back over his shoulder. “Little Skiff Beaman cried like a baby!”
He will, too. Not that it really matters. When your whole life is sunk, it don’t matter what nobody says about you, they can’t make it worse.
Still, I wish I had that hard green apple.
Skiff Beaman has a problem. A BIG problem. He needs to fix up his family's fishing boat, but to do that he needs money. A whole heap of money.
His father isn't going to help - he can't see further than the next can of beer since Skiff's mother died - and nor is his classmate, Tyler, inventor of the nickname "Lobster Boy".
But Skiff can still hear his mother's voice telling him "Never give up". So he comes up with a plan. It's crazy, it's dangerous, and it's going to take all Skiff's grit and strength to win a great battle against the sea.
An inspirational and compelling story of survival against the savagery of nature, and life as the underdog. From the award-winning author of "Freak the Mighty".
Not available for purchase in the EU.
“"Beautifully written and instantly enthralling."”
The Funday Times
Rodman Philbrick has been writing since the age of sixteen. He had published more than a dozen novels for adults before the publication of his first book for younger readers, Freak the Mighty. Since then, he has won numerous awards and honours, including the prestigious California Young Reader Medal, the Arizona Young Readers' Award and the New York State "Charlotte" Award. Freak the Mighty has been translated into many languages and was made into the feature film, The Mighty, starring Sharon Stone, with theme music by Sting. Rod divides his time between Maine and the Florida Keys, USA.
“Has echoes of Hemingway and Cynthia Voigt within its watery depths...Philbrick writes for boys brilliantly. ”
“This book was quite different from other books I’ve read because it was all to do with boats and the sea and I don’t know much about either! But it was really interesting ‘cos he had so many problems in life with his mum dead and dad an alcoholic that it was so much more than a book about boats. It’s a book about real life. Basically anyone would love this book: you don’t have to know anything about boats to appreciate it!”
Stephanie Ho, Teen Titles Book Review Magazine
“I liked the way this book was written. I found it easy and exciting to read. It was also sad as he had lost his mum, and his dad had just given up on life.”
Layren Mason, Teen Titles Book Review Magazine