As we backed slowly from dock it was easy to see the settlers standing along the edge of the shore waving goodbye. It was just as easy to imagine what the sailors aboard the Elizabeth were thinking as they shoved out to sea to explore what – to them — was a new world.
The waves of the Albemarle Sound gently tapped the vessel on the hull as if trying to wake it from a year long slumber. As we left the shelter of the small harbor and headed towards the center of the sound, the sails were unfurled. They filled with air and you could almost feel the ship stretching.
With all hands on deck, we quickly crossed the Intercoastal Waterway and headed towards open water. Crewmembers manned the rigging, making sure to swing the sails to catch the wind as the captain swung the ship side-to-side in a movement called “tacking”.
While some of the crew was aloft, others were busy on the main and mizzen decks letting out some lines and keeping others taut. Meanwhile, one was below decks fixing chow and two were stationed fore and aft as lookouts.
Being onboard it was plain to see that sailing this vessel was an all-hands effort. No job – no matter how small – was to be overlooked. In the time it takes to write this, disaster could happen if anyone became inattentive to where they were, what they were doing or what was going on around them.
Once the sails were set and we had cleared shallow water, it was time to relax a bit and have breakfast. With the helm and the watch stations manned, the rest of us sat on the deck wherever we could find a spot. After eating, some of the crew chatted quietly while others caught a quick nap. Someone broke out a deck of cards and a silent game of Cribbage was started.
I had a few minutes to clean the camera equipment so I found a spot on the leeward side of the ship and dug the supplies out of my gear bag. As I cleaned the equipment, I had some time to reflect and think.
What came to mind was how this trip was symbolic of a relationship. The two of them, crew and ship, became half of this relationship. I was the other half. Over the years of sailing, the crew could almost read each other’s thoughts and anticipate what the next duty was. They had sailed the ship in these waters and knew how the ship would respond to any given change in wind direction or ocean current. In other words, they had developed habits and traditions. I didn’t know how they would respond to me, or I to them.
At first we were cordial and polite…almost like dating. Each of us overlooked the other’s awkward attempts at balancing conversation with the tasks at hand. It was an easy relationship – as long as we were tied up at the dock. Then we set sail and the challenges of taking this relationship deeper into deeper water appeared.
They got in my way as I angled for the perfect shot of the lines being played in and I got in their way as they swung aloft. While I respected the purpose for which they were there and they respected the purpose that I had come for, we each had to figure out how to maneuver around each other and communicate. Seems like communication problems can be the single biggest thing to throw the ship on the rocks.
But we both were determined to make this work. We were committed to the goal of going to sea and returning safely. We each were determined to figure out how to survive in each other’s worlds until our two worlds became one. And we did.
After a few false starts, we finally settled into a natural rhythm with each other. I knew – almost instinctively – where they needed to be to hoist the sail or turn the rudder. They picked up quickly on where I had to be to get the shots that I needed. We allowed each other the space needed to do our respective jobs and yet, at the same time, admired how each job was completed before moving on to the next step.
Just like a relationship between a man and a woman, it was work at the beginning – but it was work that was worth the effort. By the end of the day I could look at the mainmast captain and tell you which foot he was going to brace himself with as we started into some high seas. By determination and commitment to the common purpose we were able to get past the “work” of the relationship and inhabit an easy and comfortable rhythm as we traded stories, picked at each other good naturedly and just enjoyed each other’s company.
The Lost Colony on Roanoke Island in North Carolina is the site of one of the first attempts by Europeans to settle what is now North America. Located between the mainland and the outer banks, Roanoke Island is home to Festival Park, a re-creation of the first settlement in the area. Also located on Roanoke Island is Elizabeth II, a faithful representation of one of the seven ships that brought the settlers over in 1587.
The Elizabeth II is berthed at Roanoke Island Festival Park across from the Manteo waterfront. The ship is a square-rigged three-mast bark and was built in 1983 as part of America’s 400th Anniversary Celebration that marked the quadricentennial of the Roanoke Voyages (1584 – 1587). Sixty nine feet long and seventeen feet wide, it draws 8 feet of water and was launched in November 1983.
Every year before being winterized, the ship is taken away from port for a shake down cruise. Riding along are 15 – 25 volunteer crew members as well as members of the Board of Directors and state representatives. I was hired to document the ship – and crew – at sea. You can see the shots that I took in the Museum Store. They’re on postcards, placemats, posters and hundreds of other items.