On a fine sunny morning not long ago, I was out for a morning walk along the beach and suddenly I thought I was seeing things! There was a time warp somewhere along the road, and I guess I must have stepped through it, because I was looking up at a wooden barquentine tall ship docked at the end of our pier! I must have been a sight, walking along the pier with my mouth hanging open and my eyes bulging out! As many of you know by now, I am a long time admirer of Captain Cook, and here at the end of my pier was a ship right out of his time period! Suddenly I saw a small brown face look over the gunwale, smile, and wave to me...I waved back and woke up. I noticed the name on this beautiful wooden seafaring artifact was the Kri Dewaruci, and her flag was Indonesian. (The Jolly Roger in the picture was only flown during tours). She was visiting our island as a goodwill ambassador for her country, on her way home from participating in an international celebration of tall ship sailing and education that had taken place along the Rhode Island waterfronts.
This lovely ship and her crew of Indonesian Naval officers and cadets were outstanding ambassadors for their country. We were invited aboard for a tour of the ship, and that was when I really went back in time. The name Dewaruci comes from the name of a sea god in Indonesian mythology symbolizing honesty and bravery. Seeing the beautifully carved figurehead of a sea god transported me back to a time when ships like this were the only method of travel across the vast oceans of our world. What would the pilgrims have done in 1620 were it not for the tall ship Mayflower? The ill-fated HM Bark Bounty was one that had been commissioned for bringing produce from the New World back to the old. The Cutty Sark and other clipper ships brought tea from China to the waiting cups in London and Paris. Captain Cook's own ship the Endeavor was a converted logging ship, and the charts and trade routes that he mapped out were still in use up to the mid 20th century!
The courage of the crews on these ships is staggering! To brave the storms and unknown terrors of places so far away that years went by before they saw their families again, is something that modern travelers cannot even imagine. Stories of warlike native tribes and sea-monsters flew around the waterfronts with the speed of rumor, yet still the ships found crews. So many of the tall ships were used as war machines, and of course we have our romantic visions of pirates plundering the Spanish Main...what, I wonder, would our history have been without the tall ships? Perhaps less violent, but definitely less interesting! Would the botanical wonders of the pacific islands, the fruits and vegetables of the east, the spices of Africa and the Orient have been as well received 50 or 100 years later? Or would the faster paced, more industrial consumers of the later time frame merely write these things off as "curiosities"? Luckily we did have the tall ships, and can enjoy the fruits of their labors. (No pun intended).
The crew and officers of the Kri Dewaruci were most definitely of today's world, even if their ship was not. They participated in a round-robin soccer tournament against some of our local teams, during which they proved that though small, they were very powerful young men. And during the tours and parties they threw for our island residents, their "gift shop" was always open for souvenirs of their visit.
On the last night of their stay here, the crew provided a parade from the ship, down our main street to the beach...covering roughly 12 - 15 blocks. During the parade, which of course included a military marching band, we were treated to cadets dressed up as ancient warriors and animals, always smiling and occasionally scaring the island kids. Pretty soon the kids were marching right alongside the cadets, and by the time we all got to the beach everyone was in the mood for fun and friendship.
I may never know who ate the first artichoke, or sipped the first tea, or candied the first sweet potato. But I do know how these things traveled around the world, to delight the families and descendants of those brave and stalwart men who sailed to the ends of the world in the tall ships.