With the constant stream of traditional boat information flowing across the editorial desks here at Chine bLog, and the regular postings that come out of that stream [cough cough], we can sometimes lose a great story for a short bit. So it was with a quite interesting post by National Geographic about the Hawaiian voyaging canoes Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia, which recently set off on a four-year, round-the-world voyage to showcase the boats and the culture behind them, as well as message of ocean conservation and sustainability. The voyage will fully utilize only traditional wayfinding navigation, even beyond the Pacific.
Hōkūle‘a has been on my radar for a while. Mrs. Chine bLog and I honeymooned on Kauai, HI, and she happened to be in port when we were headed out diving one day. The dive guys noted that she was an important vessel, and I definitely admired her, but I didn’t think too much of the encounter thereafter. A few years ago, then, I read Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging (Legacy of Excellence), an account of the early voyages of a set of replica Polynesian voyaging canoes, focusing, in particular, on Hōkūle‘a (good read, by the way). It was only then that I realized what we had happened upon that day on Kauai and wished I had spent more time trying to check the boat out.
Though it isn’t a true “boat book,” I feel like many of you two readers would enjoy reading Susan Casey’s The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean. It is a study of the oceans most furious offspring and both what havoc the bring and what opportunity they offer, for a brave few. Yes, a great part of the work focused on the big wave surfing community, particularly Laird Hamilton. Casey embeds herself with these uber watermen (most ARE men) and introduces us to their skillset and mindset.
I found the surfing parts interesting, but the rest of the book focusing on wave science (lightly and readibly) and wave effects was more fascinating to me. She talks to the only very recent appreciation of the legitimate existence of rogue / freak waves and the increasing evidence that they are not so uncommon. I am not sure sailors needed to be told that, but science can be slow to put credence in folk tales. The number of shipwrecks she mentions is mind boggling. It is a quick and easy read and I’d encourage you to track this one down.
Severin aims to track down the inputs to Melville’s tale, deconstructing the author a bit (it turns out he ripped off a few folks) while showing the valid threads that went into the story. To do this he travels throughout the South Pacific to communities that still practice (or until recently practiced) traditional, sustainable whaling from small, traditional boats. Fascinating stuff.
One such community is on the Philippine island of Pamilacan. There, crews in ~30′ double outrigger canoes hunted first whales and then whale sharks and manta rays. The most astounding part is the how: a key crew member standing on an outrigger would leap upon the animal with a hook in hand and sink the hook directly while riding a mammoth creature. The hook man would then get back in the boat and the crew would take a “Nantucket sleigh ride” until the animal was too worn down to struggle. The then towed it home. Traditionally, this was done by paddle. The island is tiny, so this hunt was basically their sustenance. Not surprisingly, there are a host of beliefs that accompany this work and Severin details them nicely.
Another community is not far away on the Indonesian island of Lembata. Here the boats are not outriggers; they are more solid monohull canoes with square sails made of woven matting. The hunting also relies on leaping from the boat, this time with true harpoons. From what I can tell, the boats are built-up dugouts, with the extra planking lashed on. Severin notes that the canoes seem crude at first blush, but, in closer examination, they are quite well-built. The islanders believe that the whales will not come unless the canoes are correctly built. I love that.
Since the subject of whaling is on the table… The people of Pamilacan have been forced to give up their hunting, but they have embraced whale-watching instead, using similar boats. This is also true for communities in Tonga that Severin profiles. As far as I can tell, this is not the case for those from Lamalera. I believe that these communities represent sustainable hunting and should be allowed and even encouraged, assuming all traditions remain in place and the catch is not exported beyond traditional bounds. This is 180 degrees different from the factory whaling of the Japanese (science my hiney!). We can’t punish these traditional cultures for the mistakes of our industrial whaling past (and present).
Having shown off the boat, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on our first paddle in PEACE OF THE PUZZLE. We had been doing a bit of sailing on the Potomac nearer to DC, and paddling in this creek, Kane’s Creek, was such a pleasure. It was clean! Kane’s Creek emerges from a national wildlife refuge and is thus relatively pristine, given its proximity to developed areas. The water was fairly clear and full of life. My kids were dangling the feet and hands in it – a true pleasure of childhood boating – and we had no concerns.
Not so, just downriver from DC. Off Alexandria, we run into a decent amount of C-R-A-P (we saw the figurative kind, but apparently after a good rain…) in the water and on the shore. There, my wife and I couldn’t pull the kids’ appendages inboard fast enough. I know we have made a great deal of progress, but we need to do more to make sure our urban riverscapes are treasures for boating of all kinds, not just the “nice view, but, dear god, don’t flip it” kind.
Of course, I prefer the quiet of a creek like Kane’s anyway. There are many little “islands” of aquatic plants to weave around, low bluffs, and just a bit of foliage (its been so hot here…). There is a good trip report for this paddle on Paddling.net.
By the way, thanks to our friends at American Rivers for suggesting we all focus on the joys of clean rivers on this day and others. October 15th is Blog Action Day for the environment. Please join me in helping out.
American Rivers has released its annual list of 10 most endangered American rivers. I don’t personally know any of these, but I am going to take a guess that most of these a valuable boating rivers that need care.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, 2/13, at 12:00 EST, Conservation International will be running the latest in a series of interviews with conservation experts and other stakeholders. Tomorrow’s interview is with Sheila McKenna, senior research scientist at CI’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. Ms. McKenna had the rough assignment of diving off New Caledonia to learn how the customs and cultural beliefs of the local Kanak community are helping to preserve an important marine resource.
In good news for boats who prefer a natural run of river with plentiful native fish and wildlife, recent research put out by American Rivers gives economic heft to go with natural beauty. In two recent studies, one by a professor at my alma mater, Bates College in Lewiston, ME, property values seemed to be positively effected by dam removal initiatives. And this doesn’t even factor in other hard and soft benefits. It will be a nice day when the field of environmental economics REALLY gets going…
American Rivers has an interesting video out on restoration of the Elwha River in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Looks like it will recreate a nice river for boating, particularly if one likes mixing fishing with their boating. There is also a snippet of a nice native canoe.