As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m not a big outdoorsman, beyond enjoying the odd hike or swim in the ocean. Nor am I fond of fish (other than sushi.) I also have an unnatural (but reasonable) fear of being in deep water. So you may ask, what was I doing 2 miles out at sea in the treacherous Kauai Channel in a small fishing boat bashing through the waves? Why, trying to catch a fish, of course!
Cyrus’s Uncle R had finally gotten his boat working, after getting stranded at sea when a cotter pin broke in the steering mechanism, requiring a tow from the local Coast Guard. This is exactly why I hold the belief that it’s not advisable to be two miles out in the open ocean in a boat small enough to be swallowed whole by a whale, but I wasn’t about to refuse such a unique opportunity. The boat had since been out for a test run with Papa N, and Cyrus and I had been invited to go on a fishing expedition. Cyrus was reluctant to go, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why. Surely this was every boy’s dream, to bond with both of your dads on a fishing outing. It’s like the modern American Dream. After the first hour of bashing my spine against the seat and enjoying the constant shower of sea spray on my face, I was beginning to understand Cyrus’s disdain for all things nautical, and musing on how dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares.
We were all still recovering from the celebrations the day before, which had started as a joint birthday party for Cyrus, turning 11, and O, turning 12, who is the son of our friends T and J. They were soon to be leaving for Auroville, an intentional community on the East Coast of India, set up as an extension of the Ashram in Puducherry (Pondicherry), dedicated to the ideal of human unity based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and ‘The Mother’. Anyone is welcome to visit by invitation, and by community vote, may be able to live there. Although we had no intention of moving there, it did nurture the seed of travelling to India in our minds, with the possibility of visiting what sounded like an amazing and enlightened place.
The party had started off simply enough, with friends and family gathered at the pavilion at Anini Beach, having three legged races and playing ‘catch Violet as she jumps from the roof of the pavilion. Again daddy! Again!’ Soon, the party had moved to Papa N and his wife K’s vacation rental, complete with a Ping-Pong room, and quickly progressed to extreme Ping-Pong, fire spinning, and a fantastic music jam involving a room full of people riffing off of each other. Some evenings burn themselves in your mind and memory, and that was definitely one of them.
Back to our fish tale the next morning, we were slightly hungover, and not sure whether the indulgences of the previous evening or the waves were responsible for our state of being. We were using flocks of birds as our guides for where to look for schools of fish. Groups of diving seagulls indicated a cluster of fish close to the surface, so we were playing a constant game of chase, aiming for the flock of birds with our fishing lines trailing behind. Often as not, the school of fish had moved on by the time we reached them, and so we would cruise around looking for the next flock of diving birds.
After an hour of what seemed like a futile pursuit, we caught a fish. I stood up to watch the bludgeoning of the fish with what looked remarkably like a Billy club, and immediately started to feel seasick. Hmm, I thought, I don’t get seasick. Not that I had ever been out on the open ocean before, but the idea of me getting seasick wasn’t one that fit well into my perception of myself. Luckily, I had brought along some ginger candies, and remembered the acupressure point for motion sickness, the soft spot on the wrist right below the palm. Chewing the ginger and pressing the spot provided some temporary relief, at least to the point where my discomfort was manageable.
I staved off nausea and upheavals for long enough to notice that Cyrus wasn’t doing so well either. I gave him a candy, and showed him the pressure spot, which seemed to help, although I suspected he might have been putting on a brave face so as not to dampen the rest of our spirits. As we set out for the next flock of seagulls, Papa N pulled out a few beers. Far be it from me to question the logic of ingesting a substance that often leads to an end result similar to being seasick, but I figured it couldn’t get much worse. Heir of the salty dog, or something like that. Bottoms up!
Amazingly, it helped. In fact, I think it worked a little too well. I was soon standing up in the rear of the boat, holding the rails and treating the frail vessel like a giant surfboard. When the swell would rise, I would jump with the boat. On the swell’s descent, I would come down again. I was having a great time on my giant surfboard, miles from shore. The fish were biting, and all was well with the world.
All was well, that is, except for Cyrus. He had turned a nice shade of green by this time, and I wasn’t sure what more I could do to ease his discomfort. I brought it up with Papa N, and reminded him that we were due to meet the wives back at the boat launch 20 minutes ago. The reluctant decision was made to head back in. As we turned the boat around, we spotted a flock of birds close by. Rationalizing that they weren’t too far out of the way, we took a slight detour and made for the heart of the swarm, only to have them move off again to another location close by. We chased the birds for what must have been another hour. Finally, we had each caught a few more fish, which justified our outing and our disdain for all things temporal, and we headed in. We must have had a dozen or so Aku by that point, a small tuna also known as Slipjack.
After seeing Cyrus and Papa N safely ashore, wives slightly miffed, but glad we were alive, Uncle R and I decided to venture back out. We felt as though we really didn’t have enough fish to justify the effort required to get the boat out, or to feed the expected gathering that night. Neptune blessed our decision, and we caught eight more fish in the first hour, and rounded it off with a few more over the next couple of hours. Finally, after an hour of no bites, and a sun pointedly making its way towards the horizon, we decided to head in. We were about halfway back to the shore when 2 poles started to shake at the exact same time. Scrambling to steer the boat while reeling in the fish, we managed to haul the final catch of the day. Satisfied with our work, we made for the narrow channel through the reef, fantasizing about all the fabulous ways we could prepare a haul of fresh Tuna.
In a fit of trusting kindness, Uncle R, perhaps influenced by the sun, the beer, and a good catch, decided to let me have the helm. I had little, as in no experience piloting a boat, and was honoured and thrilled to have the opportunity. A quarter mile in, just as I was beginning to get a feel for piloting the wild seas, imagining myself a worthy companion of Ahab, a massive shape rose out of the water, followed by another, and then a third. Not thirty feet from us were three Humpback whales. On Uncle R’s advice, I turned the boat, killed the motor, and drifted down current with them for about twenty minutes or so, watching the graceful rise and fall of their curves as they slid in and out of the water. There is an incredible peace that comes from being in such close proximity to these gentle giants. The knowledge that they could easily crush you with a flick of their tail only heightens your respect for them, as they emit nothing but peace and grace.
In that moment, I felt as though I had found what I was seeking from Hawaii. I had been unaware that I was even seeking anything, but now, with a cooler full of fresh Tuna, a brief commune with one of the most majestic creatures of the sea, and having looked my own phobias straight in the eye, I knew there was little more for me here. Good thing, I mused, as our flight for Australia was only a couple of days away.
That night, we shared our bounty with many friends, some old, some new, and all dear. I learned the true beauty of the Hawaiian dish known as Poke, raw Tuna with sesame and green onions. Hawaii had been good to us, providing us with a safe and comfortable place to cast of some of the trappings of the life we had known, and had prepared us for the next phase of our adventure, destined as we were for lands and journeys as yet unknown. The Aloha was with us, and we were ready.