Thursday, November 1, 2012

Poetry, Tall Ships and Last Farewells

This last week of October we have known fear and sorrow. We prepared for a storm that left tens of thousands without power, homes ruined, lives lost. We have seen one of the biggest, fiercest storms in history in hurricane Sandy. Already lives have been lost. 11 lives (as of Monday the 29th) in Cuba, 65 in the Caribbean. Tuesday's toll of dead on the east coast of the U.S. is 33 at this writing.

A tall ship, HMS Bounty, sank on Monday. She was approximately 160 km off Cape Hatteras, NC. Of the crew of 16, 14 were rescued on Monday. As of this writing, Captain Robin Walbridge is still missing. The newest member to the crew, Claudene Christian, 42 years old -- a direct descendant of Fletcher Christian -- perished at sea. I am praying for her family and for the crew. To suffer such losses so closely, so personally, is devastating. Ms. Christian's body was recovered and sent home to her family. A dear friend did not sail with Bounty this trip, though he very much wanted to. I am very thankful that he is at home with his family and well, though he is heartbroken -- as are many -- over the losses.

Bounty was built in 1960, for the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty.  180 feet of beauty, not only was the Bounty in Mutiny, but she also sailed in Pirates of the Caribbean  Dead Man's Chest. She has instructed many over the years with tours and opportunities to volunteer to sail her. I have personally known four people who have sailed as part of her crew -- something I would have loved to do, but was never able. A star in her own right, she shined for me as a beacon of adventure and history and she will be sorely missed.

She's only a little older than I am and her loss strikes me far more profoundly than I ever imagined it would. As I approach my 50th birthday, I become more aware than ever of what I haven't done. The loss of Bounty illustrates that, now, I am far less likely to sail a tall ship.

It wasn't just a whim of mine. I have always loved tall ships. I used to build models of them when I was a preteen. Cheap ones, yes. That was all I could afford. I thought it would be nice to build one of those more realistic, expensive models. I wondered what it would be like to sail on a real tall ship. I didn't know anything of Bounty then, as a real ship, only legends and history. I did learn about ships in school, and the draw of the sea whispered its lure through poetry I read then and since. We read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in English class and I think I was the only one who didn't drift to sleep. Frightening, yes, but wonderful too and I was held "with his glittering eye" right along with the Wedding-Guest, listening like a "three years' child" to the story of the albatross, the sailors and the open sea. The Mariner had my will ...
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
I fell in love with science fiction and even on Star Trek there was the theme of a Captain's love for his ship, the open heavens his sea. Perhaps it was that very thing which drew me. I was introduced by Captain Kirk to the haunting lines of John Masefield's poem "Sea Fever":

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

When I attended a church where one of the sailors also worshiped, I discovered that sailing aboard a tall ship might actually be possible. He sailed, his daughters, even a grand-daughter! With three young children, I considered it something of a pipe dream until last summer, when my husband seriously considered going. It didn't work out then, and we thought "Next year, maybe," and, "What a trip that would be!"  Next year won't come for the Bounty, but the dream doesn't die because the ship went down. It doesn't die for the men and women who sailed her, I am sure and it won't for others. I don't think it has for me, despite age, despite recent losses.

I am somewhat awe-struck by this water theme in my life right now. Since this month also marks my fiftieth birthday, it seems significant that such a storm should arise this week, such a loss should occur after a year for me that has been full of strange changes, injuries and the death of a loved one.

On Friday, it's The Big Five-Oh for me. Immediately, the theme from Hawaii Five-0 comes to my mind. Not that I will for it to be so, it just seems inevitable. I grew up hearing it. Still, more water; on it goes. The protagonist of my current Work In Progress, Mikkayl Arrayn is strongly associated with water. The symbol of a compass represents him. He always knows where he is. Familiar rhythms, healing and a refreshing spirit are key things he provides to those close to his heart. Yet, often he is at the center of storms, physical and emotional, that can damage those near to him.

A compass and a map mark my blog. Life is a journey, often treacherous. Water and waves are part of all our lives. We've been given such a gift in the ebb and flow. More often than not, the rock of the waves soothes us when we let ourselves feel it. I think, too, that it comforts us to know the times and tides of our lives. It reminds us, when it is weapon-fierce that there is more, in the hands of God, beyond it and us than anything we can imagine..

On this first day of November, I want to dedicate November's poem, to all the brave sailors of the HMS Bounty, to the ship and to the waters she sailed. Most of all, I offer this to the Creator Who made men and water; Who is and was and is to come.


fountains splash,
waves crash and sing
rain whispers,
mountain pools stash
fierce and deep
damp secrets
which never sleep

building storm
winds rage
on high
prayers arise
and God draws nigh
Darkened skies bring forth our fear
Be still my soul;
God is near

surges roll,
once more the squall
waves tumble;
barks pitch and yaw
plead Heaven's Grace
skies will clear without a trace

peace returns in quiet drips
sailors mourn with sunken ships
but God
preserves souls
--and some will live to sail out again--
tames the unassailable
holds firm,
is unshakable
victory His every breath
over water
and death

- Kristie Kiessling 10/29/12


  1. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing and I hope that you have a Happy Birthday!
    His mercies are new every morning!

  2. Very touching, Kristie. Thank you.

    1. I'm honored. That was my hope for this piece. Thank you.

  3. Your beautiful words touch so many chords in me. Books, the sea, fantasies, hopes, dreams... How reassuring to know—to believe—that God has a plan and, unlike us, he doesn't get distracted or lose his way.

    Say, has anyone told you lately that you can *write*, girl? :)

    1. Aw... one or two. :D Thank you very much. I have a heart for the sea and ships. I have often felt what I think Legolas must have felt when he heard the white gulls calling.