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Ship Logs

Written by Carlos Eyles
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
September 26, 2002

Stocky Hawkfish, Cirrhitus pinnulatus.I 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 Hawai‘i. It no longer feels like anything I know of Hawai‘i.

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.

Green sea turtle, Chelonia mydasBy 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.

In 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.

Houei Maru #5We 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 Hawai‘i 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.

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