There is something about the sea…
I grew up on Flipper and Sea Hunt and Jacques Cousteau specials. I remember choosing a school binder with Cousteau images on it, collecting the magazines and books. Backrolling off a raft in the swimming pool as if I was a scuba diver. Splashing around in the temporary marsh that formed in our lower pasture when the snow melted. Begging parents to take me to the local lake to “swim” (it was a kind of modified doggie paddle, mostly involving touching the bottom with my hands as I splashed in the shallows).
I grew up landlocked, in a farming family that did not go to the sea. Our place is in the midst of farmland at the bottom of Pennsylvania, at the top of the Chesapeake Bay. Everything we do affects the Bay.
I remember coming up over a sand dune at age twelve or so, on a trip with my aunt, and seeing the sea for the first time; a vast water that rolled to the edge of the world and breathed!
Years later my dad took the family and a couple friends to Chincoteague’s Pony Penning. We dragged him out to the beach, where he clomped up and down in his farm boots as far from the water as possible, while we ran in and out of the sea.
I went back; with backpack and tent and kayak and scuba gear. I backrolled off real floatin’ boats in the middle of the ocean to look at sunken boats. I hung out with friends in the Longship Company, rowing and sailing our series of ships. I guest sailed on local tall ships, and steered a few (out where you couldn’t actually run into anything). Here I am on the Pride of Baltimore II, in the middle of the bay, with a real sailor (Megan, who actually walked the same planks as Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom… she crewed on the Lady Washington, the ship they ste… uh… commandeer, it’s a nautical term, in the first Pirates movie). My thought balloon is something like: what blit on the horizon am I aiming at? Or… starboard??? port???? eh, shield side??? sword side????
There’s something about a boat.
When a friend invited me to her friend’s cabin in the Adirondacks (given the choice, I will go to the sea not the mountains), she proclaimed “and they have kayaks!”
Uh huh. I’ll be underwater all week. I’d brought my snorkeling gear.
On the first dive I discovered the visibility was approximately to my elbow.
“What about those floatin’ boats?”
I got in one, blue, long, with Aquaterra scrawled across its bow, weebled, wobbled, got it to go straight… and didn’t get out for the rest of the week.
A year later I had my own Sea Lion, (same brand), blue, long…
(here with buddy and Longship Captain Dave Tristan)
A kayaking buddy gave me this one year…
A greenstone hei matau… aka Maui’s fishhook. I found the puka shell necklace on Chincoteague Island. The hook is, of course, a Polynesian thing, the hei matau specifically Maori of Aotearoa (Middle Earth to you). Surfers and kayakers adopted it as a connection to an oceanic people, and to the sea itself.
Last year sucked giant moa eggs for me: I got sicker and sicker until I landed in the hospital with the most fabulous case of Crohn’s Disease they’d ever seen. I recovered, mostly, and saw Finding Dory, then Moana.
Meanwhile back in the Bay, one of those canoes was treading the same waters I had.
Hokule’a, of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a 40+ year old reconstruction of the double hulled oceanic vessels, the wa’a (waka, vaka depending on what island you’re from) the Polynesians had used to get to all those fly specks in the Pacific, was in our very own Bay.
Of course, by the time we heard where she was, she was somewhere else. So we never got to see her.
I began following her blog and facebook page, which you will see links to here, often. You can also go to her webpage and follow her directly. And buy stuff, or donate, to help her mission.
Mission? Is this just a bunch of people having fun on boats?
Here in the Bay, we have a number of historic reproduction vessels: War of 1812 privateer Pride, pungy schooner Lady Maryland, 1769 Schooner Sultana, a slew of skipjacks, and others. Like Hokule’a, they sail with purpose. They keep an era of history alive and breathing with the sound of sails snapping out like dragon wings, with the hum of wind in the rigging, and the boom of cannons. They take kids on adventures of learning in a way no earthbound classroom can. They create a connection between us and the natural elements the ships are part of. They fly on the volatile interface between two fluids: air and water. They bring us closer to how those forces shape us, and how we affect them.
On Hokule’a, the crew, both Hawaiian and haole, pause in the preparations for a leg of the voyage to share an ancient ceremony…
These vessels, the spacecraft of our ancestors, born of the innovation and ingenuity our ancestors utilized to build and sail them, were made of physical things but grounded in a deep respect for the things that could not be seen. Beyond the art and science of wayfinding is the reliance on ritual to help voyagers find their way.
There is a deep spiritual side to voyaging of any kind, whether kayak, wa’a, or tall ship.
The math tells us that the ability to find a target as small as Rapa Nui is pretty impossible using the system of navigation that we use. Putting the math aside for a minute, let us consider that thousands of years ago, Polynesian navigator Hotu Matuʻa found the island. In his wake, many other navigators whose names have been washed from our memories found the island as well. And on the deck of Hōkūleʻa, sitting next to the steering paddle named for the sacred beach of Kualoa, we are reminded that this canoe too, with our navigator, found that impossible place in an impossible dream only 18 years ago. Interesting how the impossible becomes possible when we come together and work as one. Nāʻālehu Anthony
Words that have meaning for all of us on our own voyages, or our larger voyage as a country and as Island Earth…
As Venus rises above the Ki’i Wahine, Orion stands overhead, and we are awash by Mahina the moon, we do as we have done for thousands of years – we ask those who cannot be seen for protection, to help us reach our destination as one.
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