Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kingslands on Kingman Reef

On his thirtieth birthday, in a hospital bed in snowy New England, my father resolved to build a sailboat. He was recovering from a gruesome skiing accident, imagining palm trees and warm water in the South Pacific. Lofting, plating, and welding commenced before my parents even met. How blessed I am that fifty-feet long, fourteen-feet wide steel sailboats designed for serious world cruising do not grow in the backyards of most children. When I was a little girl, my dad would lift me up against the hollow hull of our nameless “big boat” to the spot of my future bunk on the port side of the forward cabin at the bow.

Yet faraway islands soon became a dream deferred not only to balance a fierce commitment to family and daughters’ educations, but also to develop the finest piece of floating sculpture my father’s hands could shape. Zero square corners. Marble galley countertops. A cedar closet. Bullet-proof pilothouse windows for sunbeams to stream through at anchorage. Rounded corner by rounded corner the boat progressed through my childhood until three decades later we launched Restless in Scituate Harbor, Massachusetts to the colored kazoos of more than five hundred people.

I knew Stanford @ SEA would prepare me to finally circumnavigate with my father after his impending retirement. But on his sixty-fourth birthday, the second day of the SEA shore component, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Our lives are terminal upon birth, I console myself, as I am uplifted by my dad’s dogged determination to fight far beyond his prognosis.

And so I sailed to the North Pacific, bringing with me part of him. Halyards clanging in the night, skipjack tunas hauled onto the quarterdeck, arching palm trees on Palmyra, the complexities of the Seamans’ engine underworld— all make me smile thinking of him.

Today, a shipmate poked me at 6:20 AM for a tranquil but tense morning watch. Not many of us were awake as Captain Phil and third mate Austin Becker navigated meticulously into the Kingman Reef lagoon— an isolated atoll of submerged corals spread between just ten minutes of longitude and four minutes of latitude on an inaccurate map unfurled across the chart table. We entered in more than 800 feet of depth where the charts read 42. I felt an unsettling sense of eeriness in a place that more sharks have seen than humans— an electrifying dose of the world’s vast unknowns, as mysterious as a cancer prognosis.
On right, the newly discovered Kingsland Island on Kingman Reef
We passed by a low-lying island Captain Phil discovered on the 2007 Stanford @ SEA cruise, a tiny strip of white sand and brown boobies wedged between grey cumulus clouds and Kingman’s sapphire lagoon. I scanned my telephoto lens to the waves breaking on the left. Something within their frosty horizontal linearity seemed amiss— a tan speck I knew the charts said did not exist. The islet appeared larger and larger as we approached, and voila!—we named it  Kingsland Island in honor of my father. Approximately 06°23.1’N x 162°22.5’W. It may not have palm trees, Daddy, but it’s enough for me to keep the dream alive of sailing Restless myself to the South Pacific.

-Haley Smith Kingsland
Earth Systems master’s candidate


allisonsmith32 said...

Great post, Haley!

-xoxo Cousin Allison

Katie J said...

Beautiful post, Haley! Thinking of you and your family, and all of SEA out at sea--enjoy and fair winds!!
Katie J