As seen in The Courier-Gazette
It began in Brittany on the rugged west coast of France. Our hosts, the crew of "Le Traict" run a program very similar to the one Station Maine has been running with Joie de Vivre. Mike Newmeyer, (formerly of the Apprenticeshop in Rockland and places beyond) had dreamed with me in years past of combining crews of different cultures and training together towards a common goal. That common goal became the International Youth Challenge for Seamanship in Toulon, France.
Our hosts met us with a sardine roast at the campground that would be our home for the next two weeks. We were surrounded by green woods and hedges, but an easy walk away from the tiny village of Mesquer which boasted a small grocery, a stone church, a school, a pub, and a market on Sundays.
We were taken on "tour" of this wonderful coast before our lives settled into an enjoyable routine. Mornings were generally free. Afternoons were about training on the boat. Two crews, two cultures, two languages all had to learn to work as one unit. We decided early on that the cox (French or American) had to speak in his or her own language and the mixed crew would make the appropriate adjustments and translations. Evenings were about food. Often I cooked. Simple fare always, but it was hot and plentiful. Often the young members of the crew, French or American, cooked. And shared. We never knew how many we were cooking for. Just make a lot, make sure there's lots of bread, and the guests will do their share.
Twilight lingers in Brittany in the summer. Parties of one sort or another framed every evening. We were even made welcome at the home of an intrepid crew member who served a five course sit-down feast for 26 of us. The young ambassadors from America donned their best "dress to impress" clothing and manners, and rose to the occasion.
It was hard leaving Brittany, even though we were leaving with all of our new friends. But after two weeks of serious training every day we were ready for the Cap Marseille. More friends. Teams to race against. We all sailed to a rocky island with water so clear that we could see the bottom, although it was more than 50' deep.
We left Marseille for Toulon and the enormous International Challenge, a contest similar to the Atlantic Challenge seen here in Rockland in 2002,
only bigger. Much bigger. Twenty six gigs, plus dozens of traditional boat, lateen rigs, yole de Ness, and others I'd never before encountered. Teams camped in airplane hangers on an old Navy base only five minutes from the little town of Saint Mandrier. The French Riviera is everything you've ever heard and more. Clear, warm water, beaches everywhere, brilliant sunshine, and truly warm people. Contests on the water alternated with parties ashore with growing numbers of friends from a widening circle of young gig sailors.
How did we "do"? People ask me every day. I have to think what it is they mean. Oh yes, it was a contest. The French told us early on that the first rule was to have fun. No problem. Aside from that our mixed crew took third over all in Marseille. Toulon was more difficult to judge. I know our "Le Trait" near the front of the pack. I know that we placed first in the Captain's Gig contest because, apart from being the only crew who were applauded by the spell bound spectators, the judge showed me the scores, which were nearly perfect. The kids did so well.
I basked in the praise that I hear on the dock. These Americans are so strong. They are so disciplined. They row with impeccable timing. They are so cooperative and so willing. I swell with pride. I think of the parents, the aunts and uncles, the teachers, the shop keepers, the friends and neighbors who have raised these kids. The people who reminded them that guests are served first. Please and thank-you. The constancy of table manners, of right and wrong, and the continual sense of caring for one another. These kids, these superb ambassadors, are the product of a community that still cares how we bring up our young. They were raised by all of us.
If there is any hope for world peace, it rests on the sturdy shoulders of these kids who pull an oar at 6:00 in the morning. If these days and weeks in France are any indication, I can't help but believe that these young ambassadors will serve this world well. We wage peace.
Station Maine would like to thank the Maine Humanities Council, the Maine Arts Commission, The Unity Foundation, and the mid coast community for their help and financial support towards sending the ambassadors of Station Maine to France.