Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Spirit of the Voyage: Researching the Next Book

The working title the next planned book--and I like it, it'll probably stick--is The Spirit of the Voyage. I've mentioned before that the way I envision this next project is as an adventure story for young people about traditional sailing in the islands of the western Pacific where I have lived for the past ten years. Specifically, the Marianas and the Carolines. To find this area on a map, find Tokyo, Japan and go south until you run into them. We're about 13 or 14 degrees north of the equator.

I'm pretty lucky because--well, I'm lucky for a lot of reasons, but in this case, I'm lucky because I can do research for this book right where I live and its pretty exciting stuff. Below are a series of pictures of a ceremony held last week to launch a hand-carved traditional canoe. In the first picture, I'm the old guy on the left. Next to me is my friend, Manny Sikau. Manny is from the tiny atoll of Puluwat and is a master navigator. This means that he started learning to navigate small canoes on long ocean voyages when he was a small boy and, after many years, proved himself competent to steer a canoe across the ocean using only stars, waves, wind, and sea creatures. The canoe we are standing in front of was built by his father and then he and Manny sailed it to Guam, a distance of about 500 miles. I've known Manny for maybe five years and we have sailed hundreds of miles of ocean together in my sailboat.

The ceremony involved making an offering of food and chanting to please the spirits of the voyage and of the canoe.

The man standing next to Manny in the picture at the left is his uncle. If you look carefully, you'll see he is missing part of his left arm. The truth is, a shark bit it off while he was spear fishing as a young man.
Below is the thatch hut, or "utt" that the canoe is kept in. It is considered a sacred place. The people are carrying the canoe from the utt to the water for launching after the ceremony.

Below you can see the canoe right after launching being paddled on its maiden voyage. Later it will have a mast and a sail. This canoe is too small to take to sea, but will be used in ceremonies and
to teach people how to sail.
So, you can see how exciting researching a book can be if you are really lucky. There are exciting things to write about all around you, though. You don't need to live on an exotic island.
So, this is the core of my next book, the central theme that all books need to have: two boys from different cultures have to learn to live and work together in order to survive the ravages of war. Learning to ancient techniques of traditional seafaring will be a major key in that survival.

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