When I decided that my two old masts had too much rot to be repaired, David, the owner of the crane yard that pulled them out said that he liked working with wood and asked if he could have them. What could I say? He used his crane to pull the old masts out and was letting me use his busy industrial marine yard to build my new masts. As much as I thought my old masts, that had grown in the Kings Mast Forrest in Denmark and held up the sails on The Longest Sea Voyage in History deserved to be in a museum, there was really no way I could make that happen or use the wood for something else. For months as I adzed on my new Carolina pine tree masts David would walk by and say, “I’m going to cut them up and make a big round dining room table.”
Early one Monday morning I showed up to work on my masts and there was a big space next to them where the old ones had been. “Wow, they are gone at last.” I thought. I got hard to work and then I noticed the fresh chainsaw dust at intervals on the ground in the open space next to where I was working. “Oh, they were cut up into ten foot lengths.” I kept working, trying not to think about their legacy flexing across the dangerous seas and how they would now stand safely in a dining room. Then I thought, “Where are the white painted tops of the masts that had most of the rot in them? Will David use those tops as table legs or will I use their interesting shapes as bases for my sculptures? I’ll have to ask him where he put the mast tops.”
I first started making figureheads for my first boat when I was twenty years old. They were meant to help me survive the seas as figureheads always have. Over the years I realized that the “spirit world” spoke to me through wood more than any medium and I have had a lot of memorable psychic experiences. At sea, Soanya and I often pressed our ears to those masts to tune into the vibrations. I continued to work on my new masts.
Suddenly I had a vision of my white mast tops burning in a flaming fire! It was as if they were calling me! I dropped my tools and ran around the workshop and quickly scanned the crane yard. There by the entrance was a metal dumpster with flames leaping out of it and the tops of the masts sticking out! I sprinted over to the fire where they were still alive, burning like heretics on the inquisition fire. The fifteen foot mast tops had been cut in half. I pried the first seven foot piece out of the fire with a steel pipe. It fell flaming to the ground. For the first time since I had been in the crane yard I called on one of David’s workers to help. He drove a fork lift over and we managed to pry the last three out of the dumpster and pour water over them.
When they cooled off the foreman offered to use the fork lift to carry them around the workshop to my work area. I had him lift them up to some big steel beams by the Cape Fear River and we stood them up where they took a deep breath of fresh air and looked out over the river that flowed to the sea. We all got back to work, but I was having visions of those mast tops tracing arcs across the blue sky and stars. I have gazed at those dancing mast tops year after year, dancing on 31,000 waves a day. I must have seen them scribble in every language millions of times. Who knows what their destiny will be now as they channel impressions of ancient sacred sites through their bodies. . .