Dolphins' happy display lightens testing moment


POSTED: Monday, July 06, 2009

Often the things I don't want to do turn out to be some of my most memorable experiences.

That happened last week when Craig and I renewed our mooring in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. It gave me two memorable experiences.

Since I've been roaming the Pacific in our sailboat, Honu, for the last five years, we bought a smaller, simpler boat to sail here in Hawaii. In the Ala Wai, to keep a slip the holder must show each year that the boat's safety systems are up to date, and then a harbor worker must watch the boat motor out the channel to the outer buoys.

This is harder than it sounds, because these procedures are loaded with glitches. The inspections can be so frustrating that everyone I know who keeps a boat in the Ala Wai dreads these annual events.

After we passed the safety check, we made an appointment to be observed driving out the channel. A south swell came up the night before, and by the time we got to the boat, it had arrived in all its glory.

For reasons unclear, driving the same distance inside the safety of the harbor is not acceptable, and rescheduling the buoy run was complicated. And so, after watching the sets for an hour, we decided that if we went then, before the waves got any bigger, we would probably be OK.

The Ala Wai Channel is a real danger on high-surf days. Countless boats have been swept onto the rocks and pounded to pieces—a recent one during its annual buoy run.

We called the harbor office, asking to go 30 minutes before our scheduled time.

OK, a woman said. Go. Someone will come out to watch.

Our little trip was nerve-wracking. This was the maiden voyage of a rebuilt engine, and the huge waves breaking on both sides of the channel looked and sounded like all sailors' nightmares.

Still, we putted along. And then, just outside the breakers, like paint chips on a color card, the water gradually changed from turquoise to light blue to royal. After the olive-green waters of the Sea of Cortez, we could practically taste those sparkling Hawaii blues.

Then, as if marking the scene with exclamation points, the biggest pod of spinner dolphins I've ever seen came rushing toward us. These exuberant dolphins swam everywhere we looked, riding the bow wave, leaping straight into the air, spinning on their tails, spraying water with their blowholes.

After the bulky bottlenose dolphins I've been seeing in the Sea of Cortez, these little dolphins looked like sea fairies.

Feathered fairies were there, too. Two white terns hovered above the surface fishing, and a brown booby sunned itself on the red metal buoy.

Craig drove as I watched, and then I drove while Craig watched. As we headed back to the harbor, we agreed this had been one of our most memorable marine moments, and that Hawaii for us is still No. 1. Then a big set rolled in and we concentrated on reaching safety.

After tying up and sharing a high five, Craig listened to a new message on his phone that delivered the second unforgettable experience of the day: “;This is the harbor office,”; a voice said. “;The harbor master didn't see you go out.”;

Fortunately, it was a mistake. The boat passed, and the mooring permit was renewed until this time next year when, no doubt, more unique Hawaii experiences lie in store.


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