Back when Eisenhower was entering his second term as president, I was reluctantly entering Mt. Lebanon High School. I wasn't an academic overachiever. My mind was always miles away from where it was supposed to be. My English teachers were in part at fault. They required monthly book reports. By chance, I read Mutiny on the Bounty, and it was all over for me as a student. I wanted to be a sailor. Since my parents were old-fashioned and wanted me to get an education before I went down to the sea, I had to resort to daydreaming about being at sea while sitting in class. To add a little bit of realism to my imagination, I would intentionally pick books for my reports that dealt with sailing and adventures on the foaming main while I matriculated through high school.
I didn't go to sea immediately after high school. I had to do college and grad school. Then the family came along. However, four decades plus from those heady days a drift in my nautical imagination, I was finally ready to realize my seafaring adventures. I had planned to retrace Thor Heyerdahl's trip to Easter Island, then sail on to Pitcairn Island and Tahiti to follow in the wake of Fletcher Christian's mutiny and search for paradise on Pitcairn.
While researching my long awaited South Sea adventure, I soon discovered that if I was to realize my fondest dream of visiting that faraway island paradise, I would have to plead my case to both the Commissioner for Pitcairn, Mr. Leon Salt, and the island council. It quickly became apparent that because of the red tape (a license to land, a questionnaire filled out, two character references, and purpose for my writing about Pitcairn) I wouldn't get to my destination. In addition, there was a journalistic fee of $1000 per person. Before I even plead my case, Mr. Salt wrote me, "Pitcairners feel that they have frequently been misrepresented by the media and as a result will not approve visits by journalists without obtaining clear background of the individual and the person's previous publications or articles." (Part of the alleged misrepresentation has to do with the islanders' propensity for alcohol.)
To say that I was disappointed is certainly understated. It had taken me a lifetime to be in a position for this trip. I don't have much time left in this lifetime to realize my long held aspiration. However, I brushed aside my tears of despair and made the best of the rest of my abbreviated trip to Easter Island and French Polynesia. As fate would have it, six months after returning from that South Seas trip, you can imagine the feeling of being swept out to a sea of excitement when Chicago recently hosted over two dozen tall ships, one of which was the HMS Bounty. Well, it was a replica made for the movie of the same name. The original ship was burned in Pitcairn Bay after the mutineers reached their island paradise. Disposing of the ship would help avoid detection by the British who would come looking for them.
While waiting in a very long line to board the Bounty, I noticed a little
lad sitting on the grass adjacent to the dock. He sat there without moving for
about an hour with his whole body transfixed on the stern of Bounty. I wanted
to go over to the child, sit down next to him, and ask him about the thoughts
that ebbed and tided within his mind. Surely, he was imagining sailing the high
seas with the wind and the salty spray misting him as he searched the horizon
for land or perhaps another square-rigger like the ship that barely rolled in
front of him on the Chicago River.
The line finally moved ahead and I was soon standing on the gangplank to the HMS Bounty. With a couple bold steps, I was on board. I tried to picture the crew, Captain Bligh, and Fletcher Christian. All that I could see were images of Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando. But alas, I was on board the Bounty two hundred and thirteen years after that fateful voyage in quest of breadfruit plants. As I left the Bounty, I thought this a wonderful world in which one can dream of adventure and vicariously live it in books and board a ship that no longer existed. Above all, I hope that my little friend has a safe voyage through his life. Dream on, my small one, that is what life is all about.