It seemed like a regular feature at first glance; a weekend crowd-puller event or something. But this group of dancers and the orchestra members looked and dressed quite different from everyone else on the marina deck at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront. The 50’s village-like attire, bare feet, rosy cheeks and the bright smile of a worry-free person who doesnt live in the 21st century – those were the visual cues.
The whole crowd just stood there watching. “It’s a very easy dance! You can come and join if you like”, called out a lady before falling into step with her group. It felt so surreal, I looked around to see if there was a camera crew filming a publicity stunt of some kind. None. It was just a group of people dancing and celebrating and the rest of us just happened to be on that deck that Saturday evening.
One of them handed out flyers to the watching crowd. “The Peacemaker” it read, with the picture of a beautiful Class-A tallship on it. To cut a long story short, some guy built a private yacht, sailed around just a bit and wanted to improvise before setting off on a longer journey. The Avany (1989) then remained neglected and forgotten for years, slowly eaten away by nature’s elements.
The Twelve Tribes, a religious group comprising people from many countries bought the ship in 2000 and set about restoring it by themselves. They worked odd jobs and ran cottage industries to make money for the ship. In 2008 the fruit of their labor and love was finally ready to hit the waves. The Peacemaker they named it, saying it symbolized who they are and what they stand for.
“Can we see it?” was the first question that popped into my head and even before I could say it out loud, I caught a glimpse of 12 national flags fluttering on a 100-ft tall mast. The rest of the ship was hidden by the buildings on the marina. Samuel, the guy who handed out the flyers, invited us on board, “This is not my ship. This is not our ship. It belongs to everyone. That’s what we believe in”.
As we impatiently walked around the obstructing structures, our gaze settled on the remarkably beautiful vessel. It’s not like it was made of gold or had fairies escorting it. But standing next to a long line of plastic boats and fiber yachts, The Peacemaker stood out like a tall, REALLY REALLY TALL work of art.
On board, it was hard not to feel amazed at how simple and ancient everything seemed: the bronze bell (which gave out a loud clang when my wife’s ring touched it), the mahogany upper deck, the enormous canvas sails (total area: 10,000 sq.ft!)… one couldnt help making a mental reference to The Pirates of the Carribean. The large, rustic community-family invited everyone into their home with a warm smile and answered all questions very patiently. “I live for them, they live for me” said the captain, who looked like a fairytale character with his long brown beard and wise eyes.
The Twelve Tribes set sail last fall and are currently on their way north to New England, along the eastern coast. A large chart listed their ports starting with Maryland and moving on to Virginia, New York and Massachussetts. Another presented a short list of items “The Peacemaker needs”: a pair of binoculars, a camera and a few others. A monitor on the wall ran a slideshow with the different stages of the vessel’s restoration, showing men, women and children of The Twelve Tribes working on everything from the rigs to the mast to the sails.
“So you just sail around?” we asked. “Yes. We have embraced this as our way of life and we want to share our philosophy and our belief in God by inviting everyone on board”, replied a member of the crew.
Even though most of us came away thinking, “I cant do that” at the end of the tour, there was a silent nod of acknowledgement we all gave to the crew: “But I just wish I could, just for a little while”. There’s a reason why this way of life is given so much romantic and mystic importance in all our literature.
Bon Voyage to The Twelve Tribes! Good luck and best wishes to The Peacemaker (Link). [Look for Flickr link on the “Cam-Era” page]