Sailing Pacific is fun, but Oahu's always home


POSTED: Monday, June 22, 2009

Last month, I wrote about sailing single-handed across the Sea of Cortez, and the great e-mail responses to that column have me glowing still.

To those readers, thank you for letting me know my adventures inspire you. The feeling is mutual, believe me. Your letters keep me going.

As much as I enjoy sailing the Pacific and discovering new marine life, I love being back on Oahu. There are few moments more satisfying to me than looking out my airplane window, seeing those green mountains rising from the blue ocean, listening to visitors gasp at the beauty of it all and thinking, I live here.

My favorite marine animals live here, too. A lot of them scared me when we first met, but they later won my heart and have it still. The Sea of Cortez may have creatures I've never seen before, but my love of marine biology began with Hawaii species, particularly the ones I saw from my boat in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

I went there last week to check on the progress of Honu's slip, which was condemned by the Department of Land and Natural Resources five years ago. Progress is zero, but I enjoyed the visit anyway. My old friends, the moon jellies, were there in full bloom.

As I stood admiring these creatures' graceful pulsing, I remembered a scene years ago when Craig and I stood on the same sidewalk watching these umbrella-shaped jellyfish bump into each other. A Japanese visitor stopped and watched, too. “;Very dangerous,”; she said, making a shuddering gesture.

“;No,”; I said. “;This kind doesn't hurt us.”;

“;Yes,”; she said. “;They make very bad sting.”;

At that, Craig stepped into the water where the jellies ran into his legs like a slow-motion pillow fight, and picked one up. He held the sagging, dinner-plate-size jellyfish out to the woman to show her.

She actually screamed as she backed off. Even after we explained we studied Hawaii's jellyfish and their stings, she still thought we were masochistic maniacs. This visiting architect went on her way shaking her head in disbelief.

I understood her fear. As a born-and-raised Midwesterner, I was once afraid of nearly everything marine, including tides. (I didn't understand the source of the wrongly named rip tides, which are surf-driven.) Since my fears faded with knowledge, I enjoy trying to identify the things that frighten people here, and then put their minds at ease.

Most often, the culprits are snake eels, fish that slither around scaring people half to death. One visitor recently sent me a descriptive e-mail about the sea snake she and her friend saw in an Oahu tide pool where “;two terrified women stood on rocks on ankle deep water.”;

When I sent her information about snake eels she wrote back, “;I Googled 'snake eel' and that was exactly what I saw. Thanks. It was fun being next to it thinking it was something rare and poisonous and ready to attack me. My friend went back to Finland thinking the same. I won't ruin it for her.”;

Ruin it? The fun for me is learning about the animals in this vast ocean, and then enjoying them.

Exploring the Pacific by sailboat has been a highlight of my life, but calling Hawaii home is right up there, too. Mark Twain wrote about Hawaii, “;It is the only supremely delightful place on Earth.”;

I haven't been everywhere on Earth, but I'm working on it. So far, I agree with Twain.


Susan Scott can be reached at www.susanscott.net.