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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Time, Connections, and a Guy Named Joe

Time warped last Sunday, on Elliot Bay. It happened as I admired the view of Seattle's skyscrapers through the rigging of a 1913 schooner, and it made me ponder the nature of time and connection. Others aboard must have had those thoughts too. Like Joe Follansbee. We'd never met before but by strange coincidence both showed up for the public sail on the historic schooner ADVENTURESS, along with several people I know from Tacoma. It turned out he knew some of them too.

I was happy to see one of the teen-age girls from the Self & Sound program I've written about, with her family, and people associated with Tall Ships Tacoma. Somehow we had all ended up together on that gorgeous April day because of connection as strong and circuitous as a halyard around a sheave: our love of maritime history. That included the entire crew and Catherine Collins, Executive Director of Sound Experience, the not-for-profit organization that owns ADVENTURESS.

Everyone savored the afternoon, leaning against varnished surfaces that reflected the sun while holding its warmth. Enough of a breeze came up to arch out the yards of canvas and let us get a taste of what we'd come for: the timeless and organic triad of water, wind and wood. To the east the city spread out before us, so different now than the year ADVENTURESS was built. To the west the Olympic mountain range still white with snow, made a breathtaking border between blue water and blue sky. But of all the pleasures of the day, meeting Joe Follansbee and learning how deeply this man cares about Pacific Northwest maritime history, was one of the greatest. It seemed most fitting aboard a 96-year-old ship in the year 2009.

Joe Follansbee is a prolific writer and journalist with an impressive list of published articles in print and online, and four books to his name, including Shipbuilders, Sea Captains, and Fishermen: The Story of the Schooner Wawona. He was one of the people who tried to save WAWONA, and is one of many who now mourn the loss after her recent demolition at Lake Union Dry Dock. She’d been a celebrity since her beginnings in 1897: a three-masted beauty and the largest schooner ever built in America. On the deck of historic ADVENTURESS, wind in our faces, how could we not honor WAWONA’s memory and try to imagine her under sail?

Joe’s involvement with old ships goes beyond WAWONA. He’s project manager of the website Maritime Heritage Network, which is owned by 4Culture, King County's arts and heritage agency, and writes the MHN blog. He also serves as Director of Communications for the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, an educational organization that owns and operates two replica ships, the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain. He keeps busy on issues of local history. He's one of the people who cares. Without people like Joe I'd never have had the chance to see the current Seattle skyline and the rigging of the historic ship juxtaposed.

After three hours on the water ADVENTURESS tied up again at the Elliot Bay Marina and we all went our separate ways. I turned to take a look at her among the modern yachts, the past alongside the present. But what of the future?

I don't know when, if ever again, I'll end up in the same place and time as Joe Follansbee. But I'm glad I met him. From the perspective of a writer, I admire and respect his work. As a human being I am grateful to him and all the others like him who are dedicated to preserving our past. Maybe we'll never truly understand the concept of time, but luckily for us, Joe Follansbee is making the most of his.

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