The island first appears off the East coast of Japan on a map made in the 1700s. There is no record of anyone visiting it but it is clearly there, its distinctive shape inked on to the sea. It disappears for a while and then reappears a hundred years later in the Mediterranean, no name, no information. It is just there on the map. “Where did it go for the hundred years inbetween the two?” I ask Sam. “I guess it just wandered the Pacific.” Sam is the first person I meet who has lived on the island. He didn’t know anything about it until he came across it one day whilst fishing off the West Coast of Ireland, a decade ago. He climbed on, as you do, and ended up living on the island for five years. He fished in lots of different waters, he tells me over coffee. I want to know more, hear everything there is to hear about where the island has been, but he has to go. “Gotta keep moving,” he says. I ask if he has a phone number or an email address, some way I can contact him to meet again, but he shakes his head and then he’s on his way.
There are others who track the island on the maps of centuries past. They’re all over the internet, swapping tips and sharing rumours. The island can clearly be seen in the Gulf of Mexico on a map from the 60s, one types. Another – I’ve seen a map from the early 1900s which shows the island near Antarctica. 1870, the Baltic. 1932, sunning itself in the Caribbean. 2001, hiding amongst the Shetlands. And so on. Then there are the sightings, the conspiracy theories, the fictional accounts set on the island, science, geology, naturalists. I read all that stuff as well, but mostly I’m interested in the past. There is an apocryphal story that, at the turn of the millenium, the island was both the first and the last place in the world to see the new year in. Like a kid running round the back of the school photo so that they appear at both ends.
I have met other people who have been on the island and always found them to be pleasant individuals who are happy to talk about their time there. I think they like the fact that I do not ask them questions about how the island works or what they do when they are there. I just ask them where they have been. They tell me as much as they can and then hurry off: “Gotta keep moving.” As a historian, I make no distinction between those who were on the island ten years ago and those who left two months previous. All information is important. I log the island’s movements as dilligently as an astronomer plots the past, present and future positions of the stars with some idea that if I can see where it has been then I can work out where it will go. The island continues to move around, to disappear and reappear, to travel in mysterious ways as we all travel in mysterious ways, logged and monitored.
As for how it moves, my opinion is not important. But I do not think that it moves of its own accord. I think that maybe it is moved around, as though the ocean is a huge computer plotting a path and sending it on its way forever.