In 2016 I spent a week on Chatham Island. Located 600 miles east of New Zealand, the Chatham Islands are the easternmost inhabited landmass, i.e., the first to see the sun. They consist of about ten islands, but only two are inhabited. Chatham is the main island. With only 600 inhabitants, one pub, one takeaway shop, one general store, one post office, one police station, and no cell phone service, it felt like time-traveling back 70 years.
On the night of my arrival (Ladies Darts Night at the pub) I got to talking with Floyd, a commercial diver who had spent most of his 47 years on Chatham Island. He told me about sharks—“They’re bloody everywhere, mate!”—which cast a dark shadow on my surf plans. He told me to check out Port Hutt.
I went the following morning. An idyllic little bay, blue and shimmering, at the center of it stood a hulking, rusting shipwreck. The beach was littered with what at first looked like seaweed but was in fact scattered sheep, pig, and cow bones. A skull here, a rib there, a jaw, a part of a leg. Adding to this macabre scene was an abandoned fish factory, with a couple of broken-down cars next to it. I went in for a close look. Both were rusty and splattered with birdshit. One, a Corolla, had vibrant green vines growing through the interior, with a few yellow flowers sprouting.
At the time I was processing a lot of loss. And as obvious a metaphor as it may be, it leapt out at me. I snapped a pic on my phone and immediately made it my screensaver. When I got home I printed it up 11″ x 14″, framed it, hung it next to my bed.
That home would soon burn to the ground in the Woolsey Fire, but thanks to the cloud, I’ve still got the photo.
Jamie Brisick’s books include Dazzling Blue: Short Nonfiction, Becoming Westerly: Surf Champion Peter Drouyn’s Transformation into Westerly Windina, We Approach Our Martinis With Such High Expectations, Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow, and The Eighties at Echo Beach. His writings and photographs have appeared in The New Yorker, The Surfer’s Journal, and The New York Times. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. He lives in Los Angeles.