Woman Power

As always, I find myself drawn to stories of women who should be more honored in history than they are. I just finished preparing a lecture for later in the year on the convict women sent by the British government  to Australia, and I am feeling more than my usual  pride in my gender right now.  These girls and women, some as young as  twelve,  were transported  after first convictions, in many cases, and almost always for petty crimes, whereas the men who were sent were generally repeat offenders of far more serious crimes. This only makes sense when you know the whole troubling story.

The men the British authorities  most wanted to get rid of were the hardened criminals.  Makes sense.  The convicted girls  and women were another matter, since they were still what any penal formula might consider salvageable.  Why not just let them serve their time and get on with their lives?  It’s partly because at the time even petty crimes were deemed worthy of capital punishment, and it was hard to fathom how that much legalized government killing would have squared with the British people’s sense of their basic decency.  So these girls and women needed to be sentenced to death, then have the sentences commuted to transportation either for seven years or life, depending on the case.  If they died of disease or neglect, at least no one had to witness them dangling at the end of a rope.

Not a single woman was sent for prostitution for the simple reason that prostitution was not a crime.  Rather, they were sent for stealing a silver spoon, or a lace collar, because the few pennies to be gotten from pawning these were often all that stood between themselves (and in some cases their children) and starvation. And yet, the stories that are focused on are of the “floating brothels” they sailed on, or the criminal acts of some women who formed “flash mobs” in the colony as a means of rebellion. These first arrivals to Australia were bad women. Bad. Bad. All of them. Or so it would seem…

It appears that the one redeeming characteristic they possessed, in the eyes of British officials, was their wombs.  Convenient, it was, to send young pickpockets and thieving kitchen maids  off to where their nether regions could make them useful  either to populate the colony or serve its sexual needs.

It is genuinely cringeworthy to hear how the pretty ones were auctioned off to be house servants (with benefits—to the master at least), or if they weren’t so “lucky,”sent into what amounted to slavery in what were (sort of) euphemistically  callled female factories.

Some women were quickly swallowed up by this inhumanity, but others prevailed and even thrived.  They are the nation’s founding mothers as well as some of the first successful business owners, ranchers, and more.

One of them, Mary Reibey, went on after serving her sentence to found the first bank in New South Wales, and is pictured on the Australian  twenty-dollar bill.   I am feeling a familiar  buoyant pride in  the great honor it is to share a gender with these souls who echo Maya Angelou’s great words, “Still I Rise.”  I will lecture in their honor.  I can’t wait!



Home Again!

Last year I bought a t-shirt that says “Home is where the anchor drops.”  Right now my anchor has dropped in my little condo in San Diego after a great trip with a particularly fun group of people. I had trouble getting photos to post the second part of cruise,  hence the silence. Still not sure how to fix the problem, but I have a little time before leaving for Manaus, Brazil in mid-March. Will be posting my itinerary for the first half of 2019 soon. Hope to see you aboard!



Luxury ships are such a pleasant cocoon that one forgets the outside world. This can be a good thing, but occasionally I am reminded of how easy it is to let wonderful things pass by. Today I had a last-minute chance to escort a tour to the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens outside Hilo, and it was such a gratifying experience just to be out breathing in the wonderful green world of tropical plants and luxuriating in the presence of flowers. Ahhhh, thanks!  This sleeping butterfly needed that!


Wannabe Is Not a Hawaiian Word

Today I visited the Iolani Palace, home to the last monarchs of Hawaii. It was really disquieting to see how clearly they had chosen western culture over their own. The palace had all the trappings of European court life—the velvets, and damask, and gilt, and really it could have been anywhere, except the royal faces looking out from the ballgown and military style dress in the photographs  were brown.

I get it. I just wish it weren’t so, that the palace was something less European and more like the fabulous  palaces and lavish surroundings of the great Asian courts. But of course these were already flourishing before westerners came along, and the emperors of China or Japan were hardly likely to say, “wow, thanks for showing us how royalty is supposed to live.”

It made me a little sad to roam around the Iolani Palace and contemplate not just how much of the indigenous culture the royals had willingly.sacrificed, but the betrayal that was to come. Indeed, the daughter of the king who built the palace would be the last monarch, deposed by westerners she and her forebears had so desired to emulate.

I had to breathe, so I ducked out of the palace and saw this hula group practicing on the grounds. Now there’s a twist. Coolness has traded places. Western wannabes?  Forget it!  This class, a mix of innumerable ethnicities and backgrounds, just want to claim a little  of their “inner Hawaiian.” I bet Kamehahmeha and his descendant kings and queens would be pleased.


Aloha—No, Really!

I have always been annoyed when people say Shalom” in Hebrew is the word for hello and goodbye. No it isn’t. It is the Hebrew word for peace, and Jews say that in place of hello or goodbye because it’s a more meaningful sentiment. Back in my college days we used the word “Peace” the same way to greet each other, and it conveyed a bond of understanding of the world and ourselves as actors in it

Yesterday I gave a lecture on ancient Pacific Islanders and their brilliant navigational skills.  There has been a rekindling of interest and pride in their accomplishments in the last few decades, spearheaded by the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii, and realized most concretely by the replica voyaging canoe Hokule’a, which has returned recently from an around-the-world voyage using only traditional navigation techniques, and no western instruments.

All day today I have not been able to get out of my mind the importance of the accomplishments of Hokule’a and the Hawaiian most associated with its success, Nainoa Thompson. Among the nastiest spawn of western colonialism is the view indigenous people were encouraged to internalize—the cancer that said they knew, did, thought, and believed nothing of any real value compared to what they could accomplish  if they just forgot about all that foolishness and “improved” themselves by becoming westernized.

Today I also found myself thinking about, and looking into articles on the meaning of the word “Aloha.”  It too has suffered the same fate as Shalom. Aloha doesn’t mean hello and goodbye, it means—well, Aloha.

There seem to be about as many different ideas about how to interpret the word as there are articles about it on the internet, but the essence seems to be that it conveys an understanding of our place in the universe, and what that calls upon us to try to be. It conveys something like “my best self and my purest intentions greet your best self and your purest intentions.” It says “I see and honor you.” There’s something about the real and deeper meaning of the word that requires us to step up and be worthy of the wonderful privilege of life—to love our Mother Earth and to not squander our days or our gifts.

There’s something Hawaiians call the Aloha Spirit, but the word “spirit” is so often trivialized as well. We’re not talking rah-rah, or friskiness or any of the other things we might call “spirited.” Aloha Spirit calls up the deeper meaning of that most powerful of words, the force that as Wordsworth put it, “rolls through all things,” and is at the core of all our beings.

So while I am in Hawaii I am going to be mindful of this word and not just throw it around. If I say it, I am going to mean it the right way. I want  to belong to it and it to me if I use it,  as it does in the Aloha tradition indigenous Hawaiians  did not allow to be lost, as it does for those who raised up the wonderful symbol of all their strengths in making  Hokule’a a reality, and  who built this beautiful culture it is my good fortune to glimpse.


Sea Morning

Last night was calm and warm enough to leave the veranda door open all night to sleep to the sound of the boat moving through the water. I woke to what I think is sea day number four but it’s easy to lose track. This last bit of sunrise was waiting for me. Today, I give my final lecture for this leg. I began with Mutiny Goes to the Movies( about Bounty, Amistad, and Potemkin), then yesterday talked about Captain Cook, and today I will talk about ancient Polynesian navigation and its renaissance in Hawaii and elsewhere in recent years. Yesterday, as I sat watching the water, I felt a much increased admiration for those willing to put in the years of study, focus, and faith into learning to read swells, colors, cloud bottoms, winds, and stars to chart courses over thousands of miles. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given to share what to me feel like gleaming and precious jewels of knowledge with my fellow travelers. And now, on with my day. 


Coffee—My Way!

This photo captures why I love mornings at sea. For anybody who travels with me, this French press should look familiar! I like my coffee strong enough to stand up a spoon, but I get it that cruise ships need to brew something middling to please more people. Still, I am going to feel a bit bereft without my version of morning, , especially when you add half-caf to the equation so I can drink more without tripping over my tongue afterwards ( bad for a lecturer, no?) I always stock up on my favorite ground beans before I leave home, then every morning I call room service for a carafe of hot water and make my own little improvement on a beautiful day.



This is the first time I have cruised solo. Though the  cabin is exactly the same, it seems much bigger, maybe because there is only the clutter of one person. I haven’t had to triple up on hangers, or try to be thoughtful about not hogging space. But it does feel awfully quiet!  I  have been doing this so long I have already seen about a dozen crew I know, so I feel I am among friends, even if I am not traveling with any specific one.  I have wanted to try out doing this alone, just to see what it’s like, and so far so good.  But still, I suspect there are going to be plenty of times when I will wish I had someone to process it all with.  Guess that will have to be you!


Casting Off!


This morning I drove off from home in San Diego in this supercharged Dodge that is so not me ( hey, the rental company gave it to me for the price of a compact, so why not?). Now I am sitting in one of the lounges on the Silver Whisper, having just driven up from San Diego to Los Angeles to catch the first leg of the 2018 World Cruise. Itinerary is 5 sea days to Hawaii, a few days in various ports in Hawaii, then on to Moorea and Tahiti.

I titled this “Casting Off” because it seems as if that captures the spirit of leaving behind the ordinary and spending the next stretch of time being—well, different.

My first lecture, I am told, is tomorrow morning,  called “Mutiny Goes to the Movies,” about Bounty, Amistad, and Battleship Potemkin, as told in classic films.

Now that my revised website is up and humming, I plan on posting every few days, and I hope you will check in to see what’s happening on the high seas. Now, to unpack!



Happy New Year!

Waking up in a new year is always more of an event for me than New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been to a party or even stayed up until midnight (in my time zone) for longer than I can remember except when cruising over the holidays. Must admit, in that context, it is a lot of fun, especially because I can just stagger back to my room, and by that point I know so many people onboard that  it is hardly a Times Square night with strangers.

Other than that, I always wonder what it is that people are so excited about.  A bad year behind them? A new one with genuine likelihood of being better?  Excitement about resolutions that will kick in the next morning?  Yeah, right!

But there’s that glimmer in the morning of January 1–and no, in my case it’s not that daylight hurts with a hangover.  The unknown has dawned. I won’t be in charge of all that happens, and I won’t like a lot of it, I am sure, but I am still guiding the Good Ship Laurel, and I can make of this year what I will, in many of the ways that really matter. And that’s enough to put the happy in new year for me.