Ocean Watch
Susan Scott

Flying fish gives
valuable lesson

I surely live in the right place, because for me one of the best things about being away from home is coming back. Since returning from my voyage to Tahiti, I've been having a wonderful time visiting my old Oahu haunts and yakking to friends about my trip.

In some ways it's more fun than the trip itself. I get to relive harrowing experiences while sipping cappuccino from a clean cup on a level table. And if the table wobbles, hah -- I don't have to fix it.

The trip subjects that crop up often are those of fear and safety. Yes, I did fear for our safety. But not for long. An incident early on taught me that since I always worry about the wrong things, I should just do my best and then let it go.

The lesson came from a marine animal.

One of the things I looked forward to during this long, offshore voyage was seeing the animals.

Well, there aren't any.

Well, not really. But they're so scarce that most days it felt like there weren't any. "It's a desert out here," Alex said one day after staring at the water for several hours.

It's true. The nutrients in tropical offshore waters are so scarce they're the marine equivalent of a desert. But like terrestrial deserts, some animals have adapted elegantly to this harsh environment. You just have to keep your eyes peeled to see them.

Or not. Sometimes they smack you upside the head.

One night, it was so dark we couldn't see past the toe rails on our boat, and the seas were so big neither of us could sleep.

Oh, how I worried. What if we hit a log or drifting container and it holed the boat? What if one of us forgot to fasten our harness and got washed overboard by a rogue wave?

What if we couldn't figure out how to launch the life raft? What if pirates ... The fret list was endless.

Suddenly, Alex bolted upright from the cockpit bench. "Wow! A booby just flew right past my head."

"Really? I didn't see a thing."

"It came so close I heard it whoosh."

Just then, something crashed with a thunk behind the wheel. We jumped up with flashlights, and there lay a flying fish (malolo) as big as they get, about 18 inches long. The poor thing had made an admirable leap from a predator only to hit the equivalent of a brick wall.

Alex wiped the creature's blood from the bulkhead and threw the dead fish over the side.

"That wasn't a bird that flew past your ear, you know," I said.

"I know," he said.

"These fish can fly about 30 miles an hour. They're missiles with scales."

He shrugged. "I got lucky."

I had worried about everything I could imagine going wrong on the boat, and then Alex nearly gets brained by a fish.

I can't say I stopped worrying about things on the trip, but I did accept the fact that unforeseen things would happen and, lucky or not, we would deal with them.

It helped to remember that in time, the events would be good stories.

Now they are just that and I'm enjoying recounting them.

I especially like doing it on solid ground at a desk that holds still.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Marine science writer Susan Scott can be reached at http://www.susanscott.net.

E-mail to City Desk


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