... the crew of the Hokule'a would not be the slightest bit bothered. This traditional canoe recently voyaged to Micronesia, Satwal and Japan, relying on traditional wayfinding methods using the stars, ocean swells, cloud formations and bird sightings to reach their destinations.
[Click here for video]
This morning I went to meet a student of this ancient art and take a look around the canoe. Ka'iulani Murphy showed me the vessel that was their home for 5 months earlier this year. The first thing I noticed was the construction - not a nut or a bolt in sight, just lots of rope lashings.
The second thing was that there is no real "below decks" area - from the central deck there are just canvas screens that unzip to reveal long rows of bunks, end to end, along the lines of the two pontoons of the double-hulled canoe.
The canoe looks very seaworthy, but not very comfortable - a bit like my boat, really.
Ka'iulani told me that, even though she has been studying wayfinding for over 7 years now, she is still learning. Not all the skills can be learned from books - the subtleties of sensing changes in direction of wind or swells have to be experienced to be fully understood.
My interest had initially been to find out more about wayfinding - I am interested in it from a very practical point of view for my own voyages (just in case), but also as an example of a traditional wisdom that is now being successfully revived and passed on to a new generation. There are countless other examples of native skills that worked well for centuries but have unfortunately now died out forever, obliterated by the world of technology, so it was encouraging to find a success story.
We found lots more to talk about as well, including the concept of malama honua. This Hawaiian expression means "caring for our world", but it has broader and deeper implications too. Like gaia, it recognizes that the health of the land, the health of the oceans, and the health of all living creatures, including us, are inextricably linked. If one part of the organism is sick, then the other parts will be affected too.
This brings me back to my mission for the first part of my Pacific row - to draw attention to the problem of plastic debris in the oceans, and to emphasize that it is not just a problem "out there". I am looking into how I can develop an educational section on my website that will build on existing online resources to create discussion topics for schools to bring these issues into the classroom. And I also intend that next year, when I am in Hawaii for a bit longer, I can get involved in a very hands-on way, with beach clean-ups and the like. This way, I will be involved in both prevention AND cure.
[photo: Hokule'a, courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society website]
Along with surfing, loud shirts, floral garlands and hula dancers, outrigger canoes are what Hawaii is famous for, so I felt it was important that I should give it a try in the hope of understanding better the culture of these far-flung islands. I am also deeply absorbed in a fascinating book on the ancient Pacific art of wayfinding - the method the Polynesians used to navigate from one island to another by observing the stars, clouds and migration patterns of birds, long before the invention of compasses or GPS.
After several nearly-but-not-quite missed opportunities, this morning I went out for a paddle at dawn with my friend Mariya and her housemate Dan. I had hoped that my rowing background might stand me in good stead, but found that, other than involving water, a boat and human power, paddling is nothing like rowing.
For starters, there were three of us in the boat. Odd numbers don't work too well in crew rowing as you'd go in circles. (Note: properly speaking, rowing involves each rower having one oar apiece, set to one side or other of the boat. Rowing with two oars, one in each hand, as I do in my ocean rowboat, is actually called sculling.]
Second, the paddling movement is very much DOWN, powered by the hand on the top of the paddle, rather than the sideways sweep of a rowing blade.
And third, in rowing (on rivers at least) you rarely get the chance to surf - and if you do you are not grateful for it. This morning we paddled out to an area alongside Flat Island (imaginatively named) where some decent-sized waves were rolling towards the shore. Catch it right, and you get a free ride at high speed. Catch it wrong, and you end up with a boat full of water and a lot of bailing to be done. Hmm, maybe not so different from ocean rowing after all...
It was a LOT of fun, and I can't wait for my next chance to give it a go. Conditions were too rough this morning for a novice, but I would LOVE to try my hand in a one-man outrigger before I leave. Watch out, Margo!
[photo above: Mariya, me and Dan, at dawn this morning, with the 'Mokes' islands in the background.
photo below: Surfin'!]
This morning I went for a swim in the ocean - I am finding that the sting of the saltwater helps clear my blocked sinuses, at least temporarily. As I luxuriated in the clear blue waters washing up on a white sandy beach, I thought about the evil oily blight currently afflicting the San Francisco Bay.
I first became aware of it last Friday when my friend Paul Nordquist from the South End Rowing Club (located by Fisherman's Wharf in downtown SF) wrote to say they can't row on the Bay at the moment because of an oil spill.
Then this morning David Helvarg, president of the Blue Frontier Campaign, emailed me a link to this article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times.
As he says at the end of his article - we all need to do something. The question is: what? A good place to start is with David's upbeat book, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean.
I am looking at how I can do more. I want to move from my row's stated goal of 'raising awareness' of the ocean crisis to doing something tangible and measurable (back to the SMART criteria again). Securing corporate sponsorship for a beach clean-up in Hawaii maybe? Even the beaches on uninhabited islands here are sometimes afflicted by piles of trash. Or possibly figuring out a way to get the message to the coastal communities of Mexico and South America, for whom leaving rubbish on the beach and waiting for the next storm to whisk it away is a widely practiced method of waste disposal.
In the meantime, another good way to help save the oceans is to donate to the Blue Frontier Campaign, which supports grassroots (aka 'seaweed') groups in their efforts.
A fine example was set by my friend Mariya, who I am staying with here in Hawaii. She had a birthday party on Sunday and asked her guests if, rather than buying presents (thereby contributing to consumerism and damaging the environment), they would make a donation to Blue Frontier Campaign (thereby helping the environment). A useful few dollars were raised, and a great time was had by all.
[photo: Kailua Beach]
Yesterday morning, dosed to the eyeballs to mask the worst effects of my cold, I went to speak to a group of Girl Scouts in Kailua. A frighteningly long time ago, I was a Girl Guide myself (the British equivalent) and I used to love the challenge of working for badges and learning new skills.
I especially loved Guide Camp, although it usually seemed to rain and our campsite was invariably full of cowpats. It was just fun to be out of doors and living under canvas, foraging for firewood and feeling close to nature.
I eventually earned enough badges across a broad spectrum of disciplines to become a Queen's Guide, the highest award in the British Guides. Looking back, it looks like I've always been into setting a goal and working hard to make it happen...
My talk yesterday was based on the Girl Scout mission: "Girl Scouts builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place." It may have taken 25 years longer than expected, but I'd like to think that the Girl Guides set me on the path towards achieving those objectives, and I think that the Atlantic experience was another step in the same direction.
It struck me when I read the Scout mission that it neatly sums up the internal qualities that are needed to fulfill the external goal of making a positive impact on the world. In my 'old' life, I felt I lacked all three qualities of courage, confidence and character, so my ability to make the world a better place was very limited. I was very duty-driven and always tried to do the right thing, but I simply didn't have the inner resources. Once I took some time out to focus on myself and to develop those resources, I hugely increased my potential to (hopefully) be of service to others.
So I especially like it that the mission statement puts the inner qualities first, followed by the outwards manifestation of them - in my experience, that is the right way round.
P.S. Thanks to all who have emailed or commented welcoming me to Hawaii - and for the offers of entertainment, hospitality, etc. I would love to get to see everybody but this reconnaissance week is going to be just too short. However once I've arrived here PROPERLY - by rowboat - I plan to spend Jan-Mar 2009 in the islands, and look forward to getting to know the place and the people better then.
[photo: with the Girl Scouts. I am wearing a lei of flowers - the traditional Hawaiian gift of welcome]