Blue Water CowboysARCHIVES
Creating Blue Water Cowboys has been a kind of sabbatical for Outer Voices, so long dedicated to documenting crucial unheard voices of women leaders in remote parts of the world. In the many years we have done that work the Pacific Islands became a central part of our beat. In the process we discovered a key reason why so many important stories on these far flung islands throughout the Pacific remain unreported. It can be impossible, or close to it, to get around this place. Timelines and travel budgets expand exponentially.
Back in 2005, we first laid plans to travel to the Polynesian outliers of Temotu Province in the Solomon Islands. We hoped to document traditional navigators and boat builders who still were building and sailing their own canoes. The problem? There was honestly no way to get there.
Well, almost no way.
Enter Steve and Cheryl Kornberg, and their boat, the Gershon 2, along with Terry Causey, their first mate on the trip. They offered up their boat, their time and their skills to sail us there, via the neighboring island nation of Vanuatu, and then they’d sail us a thousand miles up the Solomon Islands chain to get us to the airport in Honiara, the capital, where we’d fly home.
It’s possible other boats could have sailed us there, but it’s doubtful that there would be another crew that had the experience necessary to manage the complexities of sailing and documenting, as well as decades of knowledge of and respect for Pacific islander life, and knowledge of what the trip would require of them, their boat, and of us. We drew the lucky straw when we found them.
Once we were finally on the boat and underway, we’d talk with our crew at night, listening to stories of their own amazing adventures of shipwrecks, escapes from the law, boats bought and sold, and islands rising up from the sea.
It was hard to ignore the obvious truth: their stories also had to be told some day.
And a larger truth: our boat was crewed by people who knew how to live life to its absolute capacity, and knew how to marry that with a profound respect for the ocean and for other humans, borne from the limits and challenges of life at sea.
This hardy group of sailors is a small representation of the many extraordinary blue water sailors in the world, but they are the ones who it’s been our privilege to get to know. Their lives and their boats have become inextricably intertwined over the years that they’ve known each other and sailed together. So we’ve laid out this timeline to unravel the strands a bit, both for their own gratification, we hope, but also for ours, as onlookers to be able to even superficially examine how their lives were lived, their boats were made and mostly, how the sea has created them.
Sailing with them taught us a thing or two. It’s made us better people, and in turn, we hope, more honest in our work as documenters.
We bow to you all. And we offer up this archive of your life and work.
“You must sail with the wind you have, not the wind you wish you had, or the wind you think you might get.”
– From Blue Water by Bob and Nancy Griffith
“Can’t do” was not in her vocabulary. Even in her 50’s — when I first met her — she could climb the rigs… just could do anything, and had this love of live, this love of sailing, and kept up with creative ideas. And then there were her sailing adventures: three circumnavigations in the 60s and 70s… just really inspiring.”
STEVE AND TERRY ON NANCY
“Sailing can be romantic, sailing can be challenging, sailing can be dangerous, sailing can be peaceful. Sailing can be everything. And, so you have the opportunity to have this moment of ecstasy in which it’s just absolutely charming and you’re speechless at how beautiful the situation is, and how beautiful the sky and the seas seem. Other times you’re on your knees praying that you were somewhere else. And so it goes. It’s like the agony and the ecstasy. But it challenges you, and you realize that you have strengths to cope with all these things, and that it’s well worth it to get out there to just to get these incredibly uplifting and inspiring moments.”
INTERVIEW WITH TERRY (Newport CA, 2015)
“I knew this guy when I was younger, Irv Rosenthal. He was a writer and her headed this commune in San Francisco. We talked about life a lot and he said, you know, the most difficult media to be an artist in is to make life your art. Make life your art. And I – that’s kind of been my rubric, just that one simple sentence he said that one time; make your life your art. That’s the most difficult thing you can do.”
“Aren’t you shirking responsibility when you lead a boring life that isn’t rewarding to you personally, and you work at a job that you don’t really like, or you’re in relationships that are mediocre? Aren’t you shirking your responsibility to live, just to live, when you you live that kind of life?”
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE KORNBERG
Some of these materials were used in this piece for NPR’s weekend edition.
CAPTAIN BRUCE ON THE HOKULE'A (part 1)
CAPTAIN BRUCE ON THE HOKULE'A (part 2)
CAPTAIN KALEPA ON THE HOKULE'A
NAVIGATOR KALEO ON THE HOKULE'A
Thanks to NPR southeast regional bureau chief Russell Lewis for editing Around the World in One Canoe.
Many thanks to my dedicated intern, Matt Mahoney, who turned his back on sunny days and warm ocean for seven weeks while he dove head first into learning Everything Ocean, and then laid out our organizational strategy for the Blue Water Cowboys Archive.
Lucky for us, Canton Becker, web designer extraordinaire was available to help turn this big idea into a beautiful reality.
None of this would have happened without the inspiring lives of all the people who are documented in the archives. I appreciate all the time and care you took in finding old photos and news clippings and allowing me to interview you. I am so deeply honored to get to know you all.
And finally, gratitude to Terry Causey, for supporting this whole thing – heart, soul and pocketbook. Thank you my friend.