Written by Carlos
Underwater Photography by Jim
September 26, 2002
was awakened by the sound of rain spilling down in sheets
from the upper deck to the aft section of mid-deck. Initially
I believed Watt was taking a shower and I had slept in late.
But no, it was three in the morning, and he was sound asleep.
Returning to sleep I awoke before first light instinctively
wrapping the sheet around me to keep from the cold that
had penetrated our normally sweltering room. Remembering
other days when, as blue water spearfishermen, we would
rise at this ungodly hour and climb into cold wetsuits in
our pursuit of the ever elusive white sea bass that prowled
the cold California waters in the spring. But I am no longer
a spearfisherman, nor driven in the zealous ways of youth,
at least that's what I tell myself, temporarily embracing
my present state of denial with regards to this latest pursuit.
The morning light, such as it is, makes a feeble attempt
to alter the shores that distinguish light and darkness,
but enough to prevent me from rising bleary-eyed from my
bunk and peruse what there is of the dawn. The sky is the
color of a coal miner's lungs, heavy and low, weighted with
bullying deluge. An Aleutian wind blows hard out of the
north. It's as if I have awakened to another sea. Dawn doesn't
actually break so much as it seeps its way into hues of
grays, bleak with monochrome. I wonder how the terrestrial
crew is faring this morning, and if they were able to stay
dry during the night. Yesterday I learned that with a few
more hours of cruising we would be closer to Japan than
to my home island of Hawaii. It no longer feels like
anything I know of Hawaii.
The REA teams are huddled together on the aft deck, wearing
jackets and foul weather gear. They are a hardy bunch, and
my admiration for them grows daily. We, of the Documentation
team, on the other hand, quiver in the corner desperately
trying to come up with some rationalization for not going
out to check on an exposed shipwreck at the far end of the
lagoon, or at the very least delaying our departure until
the last possible moment. It is decided that we will wait
until some light breaks so that so that we might shoot video.
We could be waiting some time into spring. I'm afraid we're
going to have to jump into the fray a tad before that.
ten o'clock we have run out of excuses and time. On board
we have Keoki at the helm and with us today his ever cheerful
wife Yuko, along with Watt and Brian. All of us are bundled
up like we were off to Antarctica, the seas are up and the
rain is blowing horizontally into our faces with such force
we cannot see. Keoki puts on his face mask so he can at
least navigate. We run parallel to the barrier reef for
forty-five minutes, taking water over the zode, taking stinging
rain in our faces wondering why we are doing this, and asking
repeatedly; "so what is the purpose of this mission?"
When we lose sight of the Rapture in the downpour
isolation sets in, along with a feeling of vulnerability.
We are driven onward by some undefined, doom-filled, destructible
force. Twenty-six year old Brian looks at me with the grin
of a lunatic, "I love this kinda stuff," he says.
I don't answer him; it would only encourage that sort of
thinking. In forty-five minutes we make the cut in the barrier
reef, and running with the giant swells breaking port and
starboard, throwing white water foam and spray over there
combing tips Keoki masterfully weaves us through. Once inside
the lagoon one would think the seas would subside, and though
the swells are down, the wind still fetches seas that love
to pound the zode. I swear if I never ride in a zodiac again,
it will be too soon, they are awful. They are damn uncomfortable,
and endeavor to compress vertebra, and tweak shoulders while
one attempts to hang on to this sea going trampoline.
this swirl of wind and sea, something breaks off starboard;
two large mantas in a mating dance. We consider making a
jump, but frankly it is too much trouble to take off our
warm upper clothing and put on a cold wet suit. A half hour
later a pod of eighty spinner dolphins surround the boat.
Acrobats of the sea they jump and spin to music only they
can hear. As soon as they appear the rain ceases, the clouds
part for a time and the sun in its diffused state appears,
a stranger in a strange land. Eleven of the pod stays with
us dancing on our bow for several miles until breaking away,
lifting our spirits to embrace the simple joy of being alive.
Dolphins never cease to impart that message to me, and I
am forever in their debt.
can see the shipwreck from several miles away, and as we
near, its story is told to us by Keoki. In 1976 the Japanese
ship Houei Maru No.5 ran aground during a storm in
February. None of the crew of seventeen fishermen aboard
was ever found. A ton of questions are raised here. First
what were they doing here in U.S. waters, fishing within
the two hundred mile Exclusive Economic Zone? And what became
of them? There was no distress call, no mayday, nothing.
No survivors found? Green Island is in swimming distance
from the wreck, no one made it? Were there other Japanese
ships around to save the crew? Are foreign ships working
these waters routinely? Here we are doing all we can to
protect these waters, but in reality it would be extremely
difficult, if not impossible to monitor fishing vessels
in such a vast area. Perhaps Hawaii and the U.S Government
need to come up with a better plan to enforce the Exclusive
Economic Zone. However, they won't fortify these waters
unless an informed public raises the issue. We have a precious
resource here and it is extremely valuable, both monetarily
and aesthetically, we need to rally our forces and protect
our resources. Please consider yourselves informed.