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Crew Blog | Nāʻālehu Anthony: Senses

As I try to make this transition to land, away from the ocean and canoe, I am reminded that I was asked by someone before this leg began to try to describe the surroundings out on the ocean using all of my senses.  I tend to rely primarily on sight, but the cues provided as we voyage are equally powerful for other senses, so I’ll try my best to describe what it’s like out there using some of those.

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The first few days of the voyage are difficult; I try to hide it, but I feel uneasy and unsteady.  It takes a while to find my balance, but when it comes I know I can trust it. Beyond that core feeling of stability, other parts of your body have to acclimate too.  The sun was raging the first few days of this leg, as it often does on these voyages – no matter the sunscreen, my face and legs burnt; after 3 weeks in, my chapped lips finally begin to heal, but my legs and hands also start to peel.  

My feet also get pretty beat up.  I can’t wear shoes on the canoe because I need my toes for balance. But the deck – it has to be coarse so it remains sure to the step even on wet nights, but it’s like a pumice stone,  tearing off layers of skin faster than I can regenerate. Last trip my toes started to bleed from trying to hang on to the pitch of the canoe.  This time I tried what I think is more of a gecko feet approach, but they hurt nonetheless.  Besides the coarse texture of the deck itself, we spend hours each day in the steering pitch, that part of the deck which is centered on and therefore lashed to one of the cross beams that hold the hulls together. The lashing that holds the deck on the beam starts to be an irritant to the toes and heels, and now during my watch I find myself trying to avoid the lashing as I dance with the steering blade, in hopes of lessening the pain.  Walking on carpet once we got to land has been excruciating.

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My body reacts quickly to dehydration; I wake up for every watch parched, riddled with the backaches and sore neck that come to me as a sign from my body of not drinking enough water.  I try to drink as much water as I can – but it tastes like it came from a hose (which it probably did), that taste made stronger by temperature. Its definitely drinkable, and I am grateful for it, but warm hose water is hard for me to drink sometimes, no matter how much I know I need it.

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But now, let me tell you about the sounds.  The sounds are probably the most interesting. You can hear the steering blade fight against the restraining ropes that hold it in position and keep the canoe on course, creaking with the pressure against the waves. Often as I sit in the hull and write, I think about how much you can actually tell about the vessel speed and direction by the sound.  When we are going about 7 knots, you can hear the water rushing by as you rest in the hull.  The water sounds almost angry, moving with such speed that the hulls are actually humming on the small waves that the canoe surfs on. The sound of a flapping sail can give you direction; at least relative to the wind.  If the jib flaps uncontrollably it’s usually because the steersman has gone too high and the wind got around the back of the sail. When the wind howls, you can hear the waves breaking around the canoe.

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All of these descriptions I offer to you, faithful readers, to help bring you one step closer to standing on the deck of the canoe.  This is about life on the edge of what is possible, a 60-foot canoe and a dedicated crew that sail in the wake of the ancestors.  Some of what we learn on this journey can only be learned out on the ocean, living like those that came so many generations before us. So rather than complain about the scorching sun or the cold wind or the bleeding feet, we are thankful to feel that sun, wind and tender skin, because it shows us that we are alive, and present in this space of this journey.  

And it makes all the ice cream, cold drinks, and dry socks that much better when we get to port.
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Nāʻālehu


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