River Queens: Saucy Boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America – Alexander Watson
Two men and a spotted dog restore a vintage Chris-Craft motor yacht and launch across the American Heartland from Texas to Ohio. The restoration, the people they met along the way, and life in an America which few know exists are the story of River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America.
I live in an island and there’s a river at the back of my house but I have zero knowledge of boating. So I was slightly worried that River Queens might be heavy on boating jargon. Author Alexander Watson reached out via email and sent me a printed copy. When I finally got it in the mail, I browsed the first few pages just to get a feel of the book and before I even realized, I have already read through half of it! This is one of the most engaging and easiest books to read.
Alexander and his partner, Dale Harris, both of whom were landlubbers, bought the Betty Jane on what seemed like a foolish whim to save a beautiful antique designer boat. Such impulses I could totally understand because I have been known to buy a Walter Van Beirendonck jacket from a thrift store despite not having the right body type nor the weather for it. The driving force being, I must have/save this beauty!
We quickly learn that owning a boat is one of the most impractical things you can do. As the saying goes “A boat is a hole in the water you throw money into“. There were never-ending repairs and even during their trip, one thing or another kept breaking down. This kind of high pressure scenarios can make or break relationships. Alexander and Dale worked well as a team with a little bit of drama now and then. Many of these scenes were presented with self-deprecating humor that I find appealing and relatable.
Their adventures took them across several states and along the way, they absorbed the river culture and all the unusual people they met. There were keen observations and vivid descriptions of the river people that were insightful and illuminating particularly to an outsider like me. Some were laid out in in a way that referenced local Midwestern habits, icons and mannerisms and a few of these confused me somewhat, like the significance of the white gloves and its connection to the First Ladies, because I am not completely familiar with this part of the US. However I could gloss over these and it did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. Also, a little googling helped. Same with the boating terms. They were used often once the two men started on the renovations. I didn’t pay them too much mind and I could go on reading just fine. Later, I discovered there was a glossary helpfully provided at the back.
Sadly, homophobia still existed in some of the places they visited but there were much more genuine interest on Betty Jane and Doris Faye, and many acts of kindness and spontaneous connections remembered fondly throughout the journey. The river has its own dedicated community and its own rules and I appreciate the mutual respect and affection the river rats have for each other. Everybody loved Betty Jane and Doris Faye!
I love Doris Faye!
River Queens is a boating adventure that can be enjoyed by seasoned sailors and landlubbers alike. It is a well-written portrait of the American Heartland told with openness, sensitivity and good humor. Highly recommended!
Thank you to the author, Alexander Watson, for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits