In which Morgan and Emily meet the crew of a traditional Hawaiian boat circumnavigating the globe without modern instrumentation; construct the frame for the hull of their Mississippi-bound vessel; get eaten by the unusually vicious coastal Maine mosquito; go for a brisk sail on the Atlantic; and are still generally welcomed by the generous and kind people of one of the oldest boat building schools in the country, despite a broken coffee cup.
This week we found ourselves looking up more than usual–at the moon, which was full, brighter and larger than the dock lights below; at the stars Arcturus and Sirius as the crew of the Hawaiian vessel Hokule’a led an informal lecture on the ways of navigation without a compass, a clock, or a sextant; at the jib on our first sail of the season as it luffed in preparation for a tack; at two of the Apprenticeshop’s apprentices late at night in the shop as they finished up work in the balcony above us as we made (poor) attempts to serenade them by singing off-key and shuffling our feet; and, more often than usual, at the sky, which seems to burst into a regatta of sailing clouds all its own every other evening here.
All this looking up provided some respite from all the looking down, hunching over, bending to all-manner-of-angle that happens during the building process. We spent a lot of time this week setting up joints with hardware and glue—as they say in shoptalk, “gluing and screwing”—and finessing lap joints with a skill saw, all activities reliant on a forward-bent body. Between all the looking up and looking down we managed to build most of the frame for the hull.
Until classes officially started at the Apprenticeshop, and we started getting up earlier than usual to attend morning meetings with the apprentices, we worked odd hours, sometimes deep into the night. We set up construction lights and put on blues music as the water lapped the harbor next to us in a kind of rhythmic accompaniment. The moon rose over the horizon of anchored boats with surreal beauty, and the mosquitos took advantage of our distracted gazes by swarming our exposed legs.
Mid-week we started seamanship classes with the apprentices. Being river and lake people mostly, we were initiated into some salty dockside lingo and helped to rig up a sloop. I managed the sheets for the jib as Morgan took the tiller and experienced seafarer, boat-racer, one-time-architect, and current apprentice Joao made sure we didn’t flip the boat or (worse) crash into some unsuspecting anchored vessel.
Toward the end of the week we found ourselves rolled into a trip to the Hurricane Island Foundation with a group of people from the Apprenticeshop to see the Hokule’a, the double-hulled canoe docked and visiting from Hawaii.
The ferry ride to Hurricane Island was a bit of a haze, too early and too poorly caffeinated for proper thinking and inaugurated by me breaking one of the Apprenticeshop’s communal coffee cups by accident and losing all my coffee with it. Luckily, this unfortunate christening didn’t taint the rest of our time on the island. We walked its perimeter and learned about its long history as a granite quarry and its current life as home to the Hurricane Island Foundation (who, by the way, do amazing work) before taking a close look at the polished geometries of the docked Hawaiian canoe by rowing around its hull. We operated an ocean digny like it was a river canoe, much to the amusement of the island people.
When Hokule’a crew-members Kaleo Wong and Catherine Fuller gave their afternoon presentation, they talked about cultivating a deep sensitivity to the swell patterns of the open ocean and patterns of bird flight, keeping track of the direction of the wind, counting off seconds as bubbles drifted past the hull to keep track of their speed, and vigilantly watching celestial bodies. (Hokule’a is actually the Hawaiian name for Arcturus, an important navigational star, the zenith star for Hawaii and the fourth brightest star in the sky.) Catherine rolled out a giant map of the heavens, divided into houses based on traditional Hawaiian seafaring, and visitors to Hurricane Island walked across the sky like stars. We found ourselves looking down to understand looking up.
Kaleo talked a lot about paying attention to signs from their ancestors, signs that, although not exactly scientific, help the crew to determine a trajectory when other methods seem to falter. He emphasized happenstance as an almost reliable quality of nature.
Several weeks ago, just before starting work at the Apprenticeshop, Morgan and I tried to see the Hokule’a docked in New York City, one stop on its circumnavigation of the globe, but we were waylaid by rush hour traffic and missed the end of the welcome party by about an hour. As we idled on asphalt between uptown and Wall Street, the crew of the Hokule’a were probably preparing to return to familiar ground, the sea swells they know so well, and continue on their way north. We were disappointed that we missed them, obviously, but we still managed to enjoy some of the best things New York has to offer (the Met and mochi) completely unaware that the boat would follow us to Maine some weeks later and meet up with the people at the Hurricane Island Foundation, who would invite the Apprenticeshop–and us–specifically to meet the crew. Whether or not this convergence was a sign from the ancestors, it was definitely a fine moment of happenstance.