Giant Map of Dreams

Niall's mapIf a picture tells a thousand words, then a map is a portrait with countless stories to tell. Consider Cape Disappointment in Oregon, whose name on a map barely hints of the great and perilous journey of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. When it came to naming the place, a deflated Clark must have considered names such as Cape Lewisisanassforthiscrueljourney, but settled for the understated Disappointment knowing how difficult the alternative would be for school children to spell.

A few years before sailing away on Totem, we installed a giant map of the world, measuring 7’ x 14’, on a wall in our home. We marked out tracks of noted cruisers, and places that we dreamed of sailing to. In addition to numerous paper and digital charts on board we have three bulkhead mounted maps. A world map from 1839 is a reminder of the subjective, changing nature of human understanding. From this map’s symbols representing the “state of societies”, we’ve traveled exclusively among barbarians since 2008. An updated version would almost certainly show Australia as half-civilized. Lest we forget where we’ve been, another world map traces Totem’s route in purple marker meandering from Seattle to present location, Thailand’s Similan Island. Lastly, we like to display a regional map of the area we’re in to learn local geography. It also sparks curiosity for the tales behind the many Cape Disappointments of the world.

Thinking back to our giant map marked with places to anchor someday, we realize now that you can’t see them all – at least on the first lap. Galapagos, Palau, and Philippines are behind us, unvisited, or maybe ahead and waiting. There is magic, though, both in reaching long dreamed of locations on a map and in finding the ordinary, undiscovered places along the way.

Sailing out from the Straits of Juan de Fuca past the cape Captain Cook named Flattery offers up a huge dose of Pacific Ocean freedom. It also begs a question of the always methodical Captain Cook. Why did he pass by without investigating the vast opening in an otherwise unforgiving coastline? Perhaps Vancouver, then crewmember aboard Resolution, begged Cook to leave a few crumbs of land for ‘others’ to explore. Further South by Drake’s Bay one wonders whether it really was the bold privateer Francis Drake’s northernmost reach, or if secrets of his venturing much further north are lost to time. Further south still, the Channel Islands off of central California were discovered sequentially by Native Americans about 13,000 years ago, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, and by the crew of Totem in 2008. They offer an amazing blend of raw beauty, rich wildlife above and below the water, and a chance to learn the art of dinghy surf landings. Cabrillo died at San Miguel Island as a result of getting overturned on the way to the shore. I was rolled by the surf in our kayak, at Santa Cruz Island, but came out unscathed sans sun glasses.

Of the spots marked as must see on our giant wall map of dreams, French Polynesia and Fiji had the most stars by them. We didn’t appreciate that French Polynesia consists of five island groups over nearly a million square miles of ocean. Having sailed some of those square miles and seen lush, jagged mountains in Marquesas, gin clear water in Tuamotus, and a kaleidoscope of colors in the Societies we dream of going back. Of many memories there, one from Baie de Controleur (Controller Bay), Nuku Hiva, the same place where Herman Melville fled tough life on a whaling ship only to be caught by cannibals and lived to write about it in his book Typee, is particularly fantastic. One dark night we watched the trails of giant mantas glide and a hammerhead shark cruise through water lit by bioluminescence that gave the entire bay a green Jell-O like glow.

Fiji, it turns out, has more coral reefs than most beaches have grains of sand. They are literally everywhere with names like Charybdis Reef. Many are nameless and uncharted. Cruising there requires good eyes and slow going, but the reward is glorious snorkeling with endless underwater habitats to explore. Fiji also offers a nice balance of remote, unspoiled islands and popular tourist spots where many cruisers frequent when in need of socialization. Food is good and inexpensive, boating supplies and services are available, and local culture is welcoming (Mbula!), making Fiji, in the best of ways, similar to Mexico.

As a cruising destination, Mexico is has areas rich with culture and others as remote feeling as the moon. When merging a route up the east side of Baja with John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, one almost feels part of sunset chats onboard Western Flyer with Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Rickets: drinking beer and philosophizing or discussing specimens collected that day. On Baja’s west coast is Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay). Its moonscape like rocky edge and grey pelicans diving into turquoise water at great velocity, made anchoring there feel for the first time like we had left the beaten path of guidebooks and information behind. Our voyage of exploration began in Turtle Bay.

The giant map is far away, having fed our dreams of sailing to exotic places. Coming from an enlightened society, according to our 1839 map, we are happy to report that the barbarians haven’t been barbaric at all. Maybe we should assign our children a school project to update the 1839 map, designating areas by their “state of cooking”. It seems logical since we’ve shared meals with people of all manner of ethnicity, language, religions and belief systems. Symbols could range from coconuts for simple fare to a chef’s toque for haute cuisine. Our children’s differing personal taste would taint objective intent, thus rendering it as silly as the original: believable only if you believe in it.

Charts aid us now, imperfect and utilitarian as they are. If companies that produce charts had suggestion boxes, we’d have filled them by now with scraps of paper with notes such as, “Suggest review of chart at location 08° 40.09 north and 97° 38.50 east. Islet shown on chart does not exist, good snorkeling there though.” Or, “Please review point of land shown at 00° 32.72 south and 130° 27.30 east. Instead of the point of land, there is a tiny unnamed bay; we suggest calling it Safeinasquall Bay or maybe just Teacup Bay.”

If you’re reading this on the Sailfeed website, the Totem fund gods are smiling at you- thank you! 

Jamie and I co-author the cruising column for 48° North, a Pacific Northwest regional boating magazine. This piece for their for January issue caught us in a reflective mood. The complete magazine is available free online from their website.

11 Responses to Giant Map of Dreams

  1. Yvette January 6, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Fun fact if you ever make it to London in June- they have the world’s biggest antique map festival at the Royal Geographic Society, and you can paw through and purchase old maps there to your heart’s content!

    I have three from there- one from the 1800s of Pittsburgh (where I grew up), one from the same century of the sky (I like how it has “the great Andromeda nebula” and such as an astronomer), and I splurged a little more on one from the 1730s of North America where everything above modern-day Seattle just reads “parts unknown.” Old maps are fun. 🙂

    • Behan Gifford January 7, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      I didn’t know about the festival, but that’s worth planning around! I’d be in heaven. We sold almost everything, but one of the things we hung onto is a small collection of maps. The 19th century atlas came on board, and a few more are in a closet at my parents home. A passion for us too!

  2. Matt Davis - svyolo.com January 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    Great post Behan. Going to find a set of wall maps tomorrow! Thanks for sharing.

    • Behan Gifford January 19, 2014 at 10:18 am #

      Yeah!! Share a picture later?

  3. Gayann January 19, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    Just spent about 5 hours exploring your blog. Love it. But this post takes the cake! You’ve convinced me. We’re doing it. We’ve talked about it for years, but today is the day I commit to making it a reality before our boys, 10 & 11, grow up. Thanks for the inspiration. And your writing style is superb. I think I have many more hours of enjoyment and note taking ahead of me on your blog.

    • Behan Gifford January 19, 2014 at 10:14 am #

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Gayann, it made my day. Week. Something! Inspiring others to take the leap: this is a big part of why I write the blog. Thanks for the kind words, and for taking the time to share them!

  4. Jackson Hole Skier January 26, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

    Behan,
    Thank you for being such a great correspondent. We are preparing our cruising boat in Eagle Harbor for a trip to destinations unknown for the most part. First stop is upper BC then Alaska. From there who knows? We hope just to follow our noses, the winds and seasons.
    Thanks for highlighting some special places and experiences not to be missed.

  5. Jennifer Ullmann July 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Very nice information and photos. Love the world map, we had one too.

  6. James Phillips February 11, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    Hi! I am in the process of reading your blog as if it’s the best adventure novel I have ever read. You continue to inspire me to work toward a cruising life for our family as well. We are in Florida now, but lived in Portland, Oregon for 8 years. We would go camping at Cape Disappointment every fall.
    Fun facts- it is on the Washington side of the Columbia, with Fort Stevens on the Oregon side. It was named by Capt. John Meares in 1788, who was searching for the river to trade furs. He turned around at the cape, thinking the river opening was just a large bay, and thus was Disappointed not to find the river, even though it was right there. The river was named Columbia after the first ship to actually cross the bar in 1792.
    LOVE that place, and we have never left feeling disappointed!

    • Behan February 11, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

      Hey James, glad you are enjoying the blog! Great fun fact. I think we first heard about “Disappointment” origins in Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage- does that sound right? Love that you camped there! Here’s to working toward the cruising life!

      • James Phillips February 11, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

        Lewis and Clark refer to carving their names on a tree at the point ( I always wondered which one), and talk about having a vote as to whether to stay there, cross over to the south side, or go back upriver to the falls. First vote in the PNW, and first time a black slave and a woman voted. They refer to Vancouver’s voyage there. The cape was already named by Meares. I mostly know from the plaque there at the park, since everyone is always curious about the name. The whole area is full of mushrooms. You are not allowed to pick at Cape D (shhh), but are allowed to forage at Fort Stephens. Magical country, to be sure. We moved to Florida in an RV, and spent over a month on the Olympic Peninsula, and Deception Pass first. We miss it, but new adventures are always around the corner, and the people there will always be our tribe. We raised our tree-hugging children together, so…
        Anyway, fair winds, and hope to see you out there someday.

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