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Ship Logs

The Shire
Lisianski Island

Written By Carlos Eyles
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
September 30, 2002

Lisianski sunset.The sun is unbroken and the seas are without wind. Clouds, the color of anchor chain, lay compressed, almost obscuring the horizon, the scene is other-worldly, and is punctuated by contrail quotation marks, high and bright, as two airplanes streak for the still hidden sun. Save for the slightest of breezes coming from an indistinct source the seas would be glassed out. Amazing! Beneath the slick surface, like a great slumbering beast, a ground swell rolls restlessly out of the north east. The sky above is as open as a child's eye and just as clear.

The moving dawn turns, the golden orb setting wild fire to all things it touches. In this single moment the gentleness of the Great Mother Earth is revealed, her feminine side laid bare, she embraces us all; the good and the evil, the ones who do her great harm, and the ones who touch her with loving hands. Sister sun breaks the horizon and kisses my face with her warmth, and tears roll uncontrollably from my eyes, washing my cheeks. Her light touches my heart and I am enormously grateful for being alive this fine morning.

We have traveled all night and finally arrive at the island of Lisianski at 10am. We elected to forego this island on the way up and are now catching it on the return. She lies south of Pearl and Hermes Reef and a hundred and fifteen miles west of Laysan Island. Although it is the third largest Northwestern Hawaiian Island, it is less than half the size of Laysan. Flat like Laysan with alabaster beaches dotted with monk seal and thousands of birds, about three quarters of all Bonin Petrels nesting in Hawaii live here. It is surrounded by Neva Shoal that extends southeast for 106 square miles. The name of the island comes not from another shipwrecked boat but from the first recorded visitor, a Captain Iurri Fedorovich Lisianskii who in tandem with Captain Krusenstern of the ship Nadeshda were the first Russians to circumnavigate the globe.

Documentation Team members Watt and Eyles.The Documentation team is back on schedule, the last ones to get a boat and thus the last to get into the water. Keoki once again is at the helm with Mike, Brian and Watt. With these windless, slick seas we have high hopes of exploring these waters that are rarely visited. Looking over the side of the Rapture, before departing I comment on the green hue of the water, Watt optimistically allays my suspicions with, "just nutrients, lots of life here." Soon we are off, Keoki takes us to the northeast corner, "clear water there," he says. The glassy water is shallow and allows us to look into it as we skim across its slick skin. The green and blue coral relief races below, blending into one another like some mad dreamscape. I watch the show fly by, trying to see beyond the blur of color and relief, but soon it is the motion of the colors that mesmerize and hold me to that which I can not otherwise see. The shallows break away into deeper water, as we soar directly out to a deeper sea, searching for the cerulean water that indicates clarity and depth. We are several miles off the island when finally we halt and Keoki puts his head under to take a look. He likes the look of the reef, but there are no fish in evidence. We bounce around checking reef after reef but strangely cannot find any fish populations. Have we become jaded with abundance? It's more than a possibility. In the heat of mid-day we are basting in our own juices, and when Keoki likes the looks of a reef that still has no apparent fish, we nonetheless drop the hook.

Coral garden at Lisianski Island.The seascape is as strange as any I have ever seen. There are peaks and valleys of exquisite coral mounds that appear right out of JRR Tolkien. Very much like an ancient village of Hobbits once lived there. There are multi-leveled coral castles and studded farm houses, with coral pigs and sheep and dogs and cats. There are tiny ornate coral houses with peaked roofs, there is a village of coral shops and a coral bowling alley, a coral theater with a rerun of Lord of the Rings playing in coralvision, there is a tiny coral airport with coral airplanes circling, waiting for permission to land. There are coral sheds, statues and murals, grazing lands of sea weed, for coral cows, but there are no fish. At least not very many fish, not many at all. A single ulua follows us around the entire dive, probably believing that we might lead it to some other life form that swims. I do not take a single photograph; we all cut the dive short without ever communicating our desire to return to the boat, we have all gone our separate buddy ways and converged on the anchor line at the same time.

Coral garden at Lisianski Island.Watt, who always has high expectations and is rarely disappointed, is disappointed. Mike May is his usual even-keeled cheery self, and Brian who would just as soon ride a Galapagos shark on every dive joins Watt in commiseration. It is decided that we should have lunch and begin again; Watt is determined to find fish. We eat lunch and return to the search. We search high and low, close to shore and way off shore, we circumnavigate the island and all we have to show for it is a hundred million flies that have taken refuge in our zode. By three o'clock I have to return to the boat so that I might tell the story of our day, such as it is. The boys will go on without me; there is talk of running straight out to sea to look for pilot whales but then the shoal extends so far out to sea, forty miles, Keoki says, that there is little chance of anything being found. As it turns out some other Team needs the boat and so the day is over for us all. We come on board the Rapture, bringing sad tales and the flies with us.

As bleak as I paint this picture, it is from the point of view of the Doc Team that is always seeking the spectacular. Not everything in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands can be spectacular. I would imagine that the coral guys are gleefully going nuts and the seaweed guys are seeing things they may never have seen before; they have yet to come in, so stay tuned. The adrenal popping Doc guys have long been over due in their daily rush of heart-stopping thrills. Time to take a back seat to the scientists, time to chill out, we still have a week to go.

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Talk About It!

Mahalo for the journals!

Asked by Mark on Oct 2, 2002.
Carlos and all, I have especially enjoyed your postings and musings on this trip. Photos are fantastic. Your writing brings it all back home to me. Mahalo for sharing this with the world. Be Safe!

Answered by the NOW-RAMP Crew on Oct 3, 2002.

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