Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Waka in Bolinas

I was just finishing morning meditation when my neighbor Walter knocked on the door. Toting two cameras, he said, “Come on. You have to see this.” I asked what, as I was getting my shoes on, thinking it might be a large yacht or perhaps some monster pieces of the Bay Bridge nearing completion (we saw some heading to the Golden Gate a couple years ago, shipped in from China where they’d been fabricated). He said nope, and we walked across the field to the cliff overlooking Bolinas Bay. And there lined up was a fleet of seven boats, with these strange double sails that looked a bit like felucca sails on the old fishing boats Italians used to fish San Francisco bay with. Walter had his high-powered binoculars on a tripod so I was able to get a pretty good look. We could see crews on board each strangely marked boat, plus a white yacht accompanying them. At least one Bolinas fishing boat motored out to talk to them and, I found out later, bring them ice cream. Then it became apparent that these were catamarans, double canoes of traditional Maori design, their red sails and prows decorated with fantastic Maori art forms.

Walter explained what he knew. The boats were from New Zealand, and they were on a Pacific voyage to try to draw attention, via traditional sailing craft, to the plight of the oceans and the related plight of many Pacific Islanders threatened by global warming. They were sailing to San Francisco today, to take part in a World Oceans conference for a week. Then they’d head back to New Zealand, probably stopping again at Hawaii where they’d already been, and other Pacific islands from which their crews had come. That they’d decided to stop in Bolinas for the night added a bit of local pride to the visual thrill. Walter had actually seen them yesterday when fishing for salmon (some of which he gave me) out beyond Point Reyes.

I did a little search on the web and eventually found several accounts of what now seemed an almost magical voyage. What I learned was that the Waka (or vaka; the name of their boats) voyagers had left New Zealand on April 13, after traditional ceremonies, and headed for several other islands as well as Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. According to Hoturoa Kerr, chief of the Haunui waka:
“We’ve got people here whose islands have been covered by rising water levels and their fishing grounds are no longer as abundant. We’re trying to raise awareness to people who live thousands of miles away that what they do affects ordinary people who are, in some cases, subsistence living.” (Otago Daily Times, April 13, 2011).

Kerr also pointed out the “eco friendly” nature of the boats, constructed of carved wood and twine, and which use sail power supplemented by solar-powered motors for harbor navigation. Their food would consist of a great deal (they hoped) of caught fish, plus canned and dried goods plus locally-produced organic food. They intended, said Dieter Paulmann, filming the voyage for a documentary, to “map their way in the wake of their ancestors, using the stars, sun, wind, and wildlife as their guides.” The plan was to reach Hawaii by early June where the crews would attend the Kava Bowl Summit 2011 for discussions with scientists, media, political and corporate leaders to create ways to move toward the sustainable use of the ocean’s resources. Then it was on to San Francisco for another ocean conference on Treasure Island, with the return via numerous other Pacific islands, and the 11th Pacific Arts Festival on the Solomon Islands in 2012.

By the time we saw them in Bolinas, the wakas had already labored through the Pacific gyre where a revolting “continent” of plastic debris has taken up residence (see my June 6, 2008, blog, “Plastics etc.”). They had been through storms and food deprivation, as well as space deprivation (16 crew members on each 22-foot craft don’t have much space). But they were clear about their mission. The voyage was a kind of dress rehearsal for what humans were going to have to do on a larger scale:
adapt to dwindling natural resources. Here are a few entries from their website--http://www.pacificvoyagers.org/-- blogs:

After a few minutes of deep breathing and relaxing my mind I got the image of a whale’s tail in my head.
It slapped the water.
Listen to the breathing of the tides and know that all the world beats with one heart, breathes with one breath.
I started getting distracted by the music and noise behind me.
Slap, slap, slap.
“Listen, listen, listen!
You (humanity, the waka crews, us as individuals) have a special place.
You are the Key….
We do have a special place. It is by our hand that the world and the creatures in it will live or die….
We’ve been becalmed for two days and for two days we’ve been surrounded by all the Life in the sea. Well, seals, dolphins and whales, lots of them. Last night the seals were coming in like aquabats (acrobats with a speech impediment) zigzagging in formation thru the phosphorescence leaving trails of stars behind them. They’ve scared the girls by popping up beside the canoe and barking loudly. They’ve entertained us with their showing off, leaping and jumping, one even going so far as climbing on board the Samoan canoe and sitting on the bow doing nothing and barking at the captain whenever he talked to it (just like the rest of the crew so he tells me)….
And if we hadn’t been halted by the wind we would’ve missed it all. We would’ve zoomed on thru as we do for most of lives, distracted by the music and the white noise of the modern world and really just missing the point.
“Listen, listen, listen!”

and another:
We were told today in an email (thank you Shantparv) that our entry has coincided perfectly with a phase described in the Mayan calendar wherein a great unfolding of consciousness is seen for the first time. I’m all for that! I think a great unfolding of consciousness is somewhat overdue. I think our consciousness has been folded for a very long time. It’s time to take out the creases and realise we’re all on the same page! The healing of the planet will by necessity include the healing of ourselves. We are all essentially the same. We experience all the same stuff in human terms. The words we use to describe Life, the Universe and Everything don’t really matter.

Some lovely photos and quite a few videos are available for viewing on the Pacific Voyage website (http://pacificvoyagers.org/). That’s probably the best way to get a sense of the visual impact these boats and their crews make. Indeed, it’s something no one should miss—though I have to admit that seeing them off my own home coast gave it added juice for me. But you can also “join” they voyage by following along online and sending messages to the crew; they truly appreciate the support and the knowledge that someone is paying attention. And hadn’t we all better do that? The time for action is getting very very short.

Lawrence DiStasi
Image 9/23 Uto Ni Yalo © Tanja Winkler

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