On New Year’s Day, my dad, my brother, and I launched Telemachus, a 17 foot bay kayak in Mission Bay, San Diego. We, with help from my grandfather, built this boat over the course of the past three years.
Telemachus’ namesake is the son of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. He gets forgotten about a lot, but his story is important. The Odyssey is usually remembered the epic as the story of Odysseus’ return home to Ithaca. It’s easy to forget that it begins with Telemachus’s journey to find his father, a man Telemachus has always heard about, but never met. He outfits a ship and sets sail seeking answers.. Sometimes Telemachus’s journey, catalogued in the first three books of the story, is called the “Telemetry.”
Telemetry is usually associated with space exploration in modern western culture — it loosely translates to something like “collecting data or information from remote places.” A more literal translation of the Greek roots comes out as “far from war.” Both are fitting: Telemachus grew up during the time of Trojan War, but he was just a boy during all of the fighting that took place so far away from his home, where he lived with his mother — both waiting for Odysseus to return. Telemachus attempts to live up to the honor of Odysseus, and his grandfather, Laertes — two icons of strength and achievement in the Argive world. Telemachus’ journey is ostensibly to find his father, but it’s also to discover himself. I wonder if he knew he was searching for his own identity when he set sail, or if he imagined his journey would change him forever.
The story of Telemachus the kayak is not nearly as dramatic in reputation and action, but it served a similarly defining purpose for me. I named it specifically to evoke the context of the right of passage that comes from learning more about one’s patriarchs, and thereby, learning about oneself. Originally seen as a cool project for father and sons, this boat quickly emerged as an important symbol. It is the only project that had three generations of Ransons working on it, my grandfather, my father, my brother, and all had a role in turning this pile of materials into a swift-hulled boat.
Telemachus took a long time to complete, sort of like how long it took Telemachus to seek his father in the story. There were successes and setbacks around each turn. The additional time was in the end a gift, for it offered more opportunity for connection and time with each other than was originally planned. The accidental developments in the end were the most valuable parts. The boat is beautiful, and it handles so smoothly in the water. We’re all proud of the work we did, happy the way it turned out. I’m most pleased though that I get to say, “I worked on that with my dad, my grandpa, and my brother..”
Telemachus set out to discover what happened to his father, and in the end he found himself. That’s just how it goes.