A Midway Stop

We’re sailing northwest again after 5 days of unplanned time in the Midway National Wildlife Refuge. Our initial course would have taken us 125 nm east of the atoll, but strange changes in the local weather drove us closer and closer to the island. After 12 days and 1500 nm of sailing generally to the northeast we found ourselves maneuvering to avoid the atoll like a bug afraid of impaling itself on the haystack needle. And then there was a great wall of rain and lightning that swept over us and delivered some extra electricity to the mast with unclear results at 3 in the morning.

Our impression of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument was already well formed by our disappointment with the visitor permit process and the preference of remote managers to hide behind sloppy policy. We knew that it is managed as a multi-agency partnership, a bureaucratic petrie dish that has cultured its own special reality and a strange relationship with the citizenry who feed the coffers. But the new things we learned during our stay filled our heads and hearts, stocking us with hours of quiet reflection as the waves and miles slip under the keel and into our moonlit wake.

Wildlife will be the subject of a several photo essays in the fullness of time. We’ll never forget the hundreds of thousands of baby albatrosses of Midway, one parked every 5 feet over about 12 square miles, waiting patiently for a parent to return from weeks-long foraging trips covering thousands of miles of open ocean to collect food and bits of floating plastic in equal parts. We also feel the burden of our species for the obvious role we play in drowning thousands of these beautiful birds that launch into the harbor underweight and underdeveloped, driven by hunger, only to become waterlogged paddlers who succumb slowly to the sea or quickly to nocturnal sharks.

Every beach we’ve seen on this trip has carried its load of plastic trash, but nowhere was the impact of this trash more profoundly displayed than at Midway. So we carry home a cargo of shame for our disposable society and the trash that is fed to young albatrosses.

We would not want to repeat the circumstances that brought us to Midway. Yet there is balance, as our experience brought many blessings. We caught our breath at the sight of a young fledged albatross 50 miles north of the atoll, skimming the complex sea surface without effort and our hearts are still warm with the goodwill and hospitality of the refuge staff and the community of contractors who quietly helped us in ways we did not even know we needed. Well-evolved animals and good people prevail!

As for ourselves, we feel some ownership of this island as a place of refuge and restoration now that we’ve taken our place in the ancient fraternity of birds, turtles, seals, dolphins, sailors, and fliers who have found this small speck on the chart at just the right time to rest, repair, and continue.

32°26.82’N 174°41.07’W 16-Jul-11 07:28 UTC

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