I was a little worried when filmmaker Greg Roscoe got in touch and offered to send along a copy of his new documentary, Raw Faith: A Family Saga. The film follows the story of George McKay and his bizarre mock galleon, Raw Faith, and my fear was Roscoe would seek to romanticize both him and his boat. As I remarked here three years ago when Raw Faith finally sank off Cape Cod, though I always admired McKay’s tenacity, his parody of a vessel made my skin crawl. She was, very obviously, a disaster waiting to happen.
Roscoe, fortunately, doesn’t pretend otherwise. His film is very honest and focusses mostly on the nature of George McKay’s obsession and how it corroded his family. Like a lot of middle-aged men, McKay dreamed of building a boat and sailing away in it. Unlike most, his pursuit of that dream was both grandiose and utterly impractical. Originally he clothed his project in an aura of familial selflessness, declaring his purpose was to build a vessel accessible to his wheelchair-bound daughter Elizabeth and others like her. And the family does pull together to help George construct his preposterous vessel. But as soon as she is completed, they start falling away one by one, until George in the end is left alone with his inevitably selfish fixation.
Though of course I knew how this story ends, I watched this well-made film in slack-jawed amazement. It is visually arresting, as the ticky-tacky galleon seems to lend itself to dramatically framed shots, and is also dramatically paced. A good part of the narrative concerns McKay’s battles with the Coast Guard and local harbormasters, and one is left with an appreciation of our government’s inability to prevent us from doing stupid things on boats. There are some other themes, however, that might have been more fully developed.
I was surprised to learn, for example, that McKay’s interest in Christianity only developed after the galleon was launched. One of the best quotes in the film is from one of McKay’s sons, when he points out that it is not the devil that is thwarting his father. “Life is a bunch of obstacles,” he explains. “And that’s kind of the point.” The film suggests that many of the volunteer crew were Christian fundamentalists, but shies away from exploring the topic in any detail. Another supremely ironic detail–the fact that son Tom ultimately obtains his own small boat and pursues his own variant of his father’s dream–is likewise glanced over.
The ultimate demise of the galleon is also given short shrift, and the end of the film seems a bit hasty. We learn none of the details of the effort to save McKay and his one last crew member as Raw Faith finally sinks beneath the waves 160 miles offshore. More importantly, there is no after-the-fact commentary and no hint of how McKay or his family processed the loss of the vessel.
I urge you to watch the film in any event, particularly if, like me, you are inherently interested in seemingly crazy sailors with weird homemade boats. We most often hear about these people when they have succeeded in making their dreams come true, but it is useful, too, to learn about the dreams that fail.
Check the film’s website for screening times and places, or you can order a DVD.