Picture windy late-summer in the Swedish Baltic archipelago, low-angle sunlight, wind funneling between rocky islands whipping up steep short seas. All around me gleaming kayaks pitched up and splashed down, bright spray flying as we pushed for a sheltered island where we planned to camp.
Then one of the kayaks flipped over. It was a tandem: two people in the water, waves swallowing, anxious faces. A quick glance and I was beside the man clinging to the bow. He understood no English, so gestures, smiles of reassurance, thinking, “Let’s empty the boat and get you back in.”
This group of kayak importers and distributors was from a dozen countries with almost as many languages. We were not all kayakers. My job was to teach everyone enough to discern the differences between the kayak designs they would test in the next couple of days.
Two or three years later I got a message from Taiwan. Jahfong of Formosa Kayak School had been in Sweden with me as interpreter for our Taiwanese importer who spoke no English. He liked my teaching, would I visit to instruct? A year or two later I flew to Taipei.
Touring Taiwan, I was drawn in by the elaborately carved brightly colored temples, contrasting dense misty tropical forest and rain. Endless warm rain soaked everything until the very earth steamed like a simmering bamboo-scented pudding.
One day, Jahfong tied three kayaks to a small fast ferry and we bucked our way across the Japan Current from the southeast coast to Green Island, our goal to paddle around that island. While there I gave a presentation to attentive youngsters at the primary school.
Before graduating to secondary school, the headmaster offered each child the opportunity to circle their home island by kayak. I hoped another year I might join them.
Days later after talking at the university in Taipei, I was formally presented with a gift: the model of an open boat. With high swept bow and stern posts it looked much like a traditional north American canoe. Its sides were carved with red and black designs on a white background. This was the traditional native fishing boat used on Orchid Island, so I was told, even today.
I have endless curiosity and energy to tease out a story or reveal a connection. Boats, ocean currents, migrations, people: such a beautiful model boat was like a magnet to me. I had to learn more. Life is one thing leading to another. Around each corner is another view.
I wanted to see these boats, to learn more about them and the people who used them, so I followed the thread to Orchid Island. But of course it didn’t stop there.
My presentation could easily be about Taiwan. Instead I’ll use Taiwan as the stepping stone to its islands. I have chosen five, each quite different with its own special stories.
About the presenter
Nigel kayaks. It’s what he does. He is one of the best-known sea kayakers in the world. He began kayaking as a teenager and has made it a central core of his life ever since.
Growing up in England and driven by insatiable curiosity and yearning for new challenges he traveled ever farther to find different places to explore. He circumnavigated Iceland at age 24. He crossed Hudson Strait solo, guided trips in Arctic Norway and the Faeroe Islands.
Nowadays Seattle is home, where he writes books and designs kayaks, paddles and accessories and runs his web store. Home is where he plays guitar and paddles his canoe, but not at the same time.
From home he travels the world to teach kayak technique and promote his products, and then he could be anywhere: Australia, or China, Italy or Finland, Switzerland or Sweden.
About the presentations
Traveler’s Journal is a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition with local adventurers sharing their stories and photos with you. All of the money raised is used to buy project supplies and food for the volunteers working on the Olympic Discovery Trail.
Admission is $5 adults, youths 18 and under free. Shows start at 7 p.m. in the Sequim High School Library at 601 N. Sequim Ave. The seating is chairs and some people bring their own cushions.
Each year the dream of a continuous trail from Port Townsend to Forks gets a little closer. In 2017, about 200 volunteers put in more than 9,000 hours of labor on the trail.
One selected photo enlargement will be given each week as a door prize.