Three wooden masts towering in a blue sky, square sails drawn, hundreds of ropes fanning downwards onto bright wooden decks below, the Stad Amsterdam looked like it had sailed clean off the pages of a maritime history book. As it coasted regally into the Bight of Norman Island, dark blue and red hull sitting high above the water’s surface, it was easy to imagine the navy ships of old patrolling these waters for pirates and enemy ships alike. Anchoring just beside us, the Stad Amsterdam overwhelmed our miniscule 44 foot boat, giving us the best spot in the bay from which to view its curving lines. Seeing such a beautiful and massive sailing ship made me feel connected somehow to the nautical history of these islands. I felt like I could perceive the past more vividly than ever before, easily conjuring mental images of white sails, old fraying ropes, elaborate captain’s hats, muskets and cannons spewing smoke, and the ominous colours of the Jolly Roger snapping in a brisk breeze.
Several times on this trip I’ve experienced a similar sense of connectedness with sailors of the past. One moment of particular clarity stands out, having occurred during a solo shift on the ocean passage from Hampton to Bermuda. Gazing up at the stars illuminating the dark blanket of sky above I realized that all sailors throughout time had looked upon these same skies, felt the movement of these same waters, experienced the same emotions as I was feeling: a sense of awe with the beauty of the world, queasy from the rolling motion of the swells, small and insignificant when faced with the awesome power of the ocean, a sense of freedom when imagining new and unknown destinations.
I think that part of the adventure of travel is experiencing these kinds of moments, where you feel a link to something outside yourself, something bigger than yourself. For someone who studied history all through university I have often felt a sense of camaraderie with people throughout time, but never in such a dynamic way, and I think that understanding the history of a place helps to bring these kinds of vivid experiences about. There’s definitely something to be said about the merits of travel and the fresh thoughts and emotions that surface while observing new places.
Just some food for thought,