Here In Hula Heaven

The passage from the mainland was great, and Hawaii serves up some earthly delights. From the Roger Henry Files for our July 22, 2010, CW Reckonings

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Alvah takes in the rhythm of the sea as the Roger Henry heads to Hawaii.Diana Simon

A perfect ocean passage is the one that ends reluctantly. That is, if the winds are right and the boat is happy, the crew settles into a timeless nautical rhythm. Thoughts of things modern and maddening slowly fade from one's psyche. You trim the sails carefully, and when the windward and leeward telltales lift in unison you think it is one of the most beautiful things you've ever seen. And you're right, for however simple it appears, there's a complex yet elegant phenomena at work here.

You scan the horizon for signs of fish, whales, and perhaps a new species of bird, some lonely wanderer, like yourself, frightfully far from land. You search the night sky for your favorite star. In my case it is Procyn, my patron. Or because you finally have the luxury of leisure time, you grab that 800-page presidential biography and confirm your suspicion that all life on land is corrupt. For now, for a while, it is good to be out here. The ship is your world and the ocean your universe.

But as land approaches your thoughts are pulled forward through the tenses of time and you can no longer hold the moment. Diana broke first. Little postie-notes of things to do in Hawaii began to flutter around the navigation station. This prompted me to pull out coastal charts and began thinking about the approaching lee shore. That's where the hard stuff is-the scene of ship wrecking shoals.

There will be officials. Will Diana's time in Canada and at sea qualify as a "meaningful departure" from the USA in order to renew her tourist visa? Will we have time to obtain a permit to visit Palmyra Island? I'll need engine oil, filters, and transmission fluid for we'll be a month out for Samoa.

And then, after 23 days of empty horizon, suddenly there it is rising up into the clouds-Hawaii, the Big Island-exotic, explosive and shimmering green.

Transient yachts are required to enter via Radio Bay, in the center of the Hilo Commercial Harbor. It's a protected little nook created by a massive breakwater and high docks. There's room for a few vessels to anchor out, and perhaps a dozen to tie up med-style to a concrete wall. Behind the breakwater lies a little beach shaded with acacia and palm trees. There, a native Hawaiian cultural club builds and maintains traditional Polynesian sailing craft, which swing on moorings among the few visiting yachts. Smoke wafts from homemade barbecues, brown children play on paddleboards while brightly clothed adults fish lethargically from the breakwater.

Radio Bay is a sleepy place on the wane. Fewer yachts are visiting here because the facilities are limited, and the port planners limit the facilities because fewer yachts are visiting-a self-perpetuating spiral.

The yellow quarantine flag went up as our anchor went down. In our post 9/11 quest for "Homeland Security" it's now required that each and every time you enter or exit the port on land you must be escorted by a guard. No visitors without clearance are allowed on your vessel, even if they come from the public beach, a spitting distance from the port security fences. This seems yet another triumph of style over substance, but you can't fight city hall.

From a payphone on the jetty we called security for an escort to Customs. A raven-haired Hawaiian woman with cinnamon skin met us on the jetty."Hello, I'm Pretty." She said.

She would get no argument about that, but apparently that's her real name. She escorted us to the front gate. What is it about Polynesians? Everyone seems so friendly and happy. The guard-girls at the gate patiently explained how to catch the free bus to town, and where the cheapest laundries and freshest groceries were to be found. The customs officer, a haole (Caucasian), has obviously been infected with this ambient happiness, for although thorough in his paperwork, he could not have been more friendly or helpful.

Once we cleared in, we telephoned our old sailing friends, Mark Snyder and Dorothy Maggi, off the yacht Dirty Dottie, whom we have sailed with in Galapagos, Polynesia, and New Zealand. Their Morgan Out Island is still in Tasmania, where Mark and Dorothy have cruised for several years, but they recently bought a house and acreage here on the Big Island to serve as a land base. I encourage this trend in all my sailing friends, often suggesting that perhaps they would like to develop these holdings into Charitable Homes For Wayward Old Sailors, for which I might one day qualify as a resident.

We knew we had too little time to do justice to all of Hawaii, so decided to focus just on the Big Island, which is world renown for its active volcanoes and astronomical observatories.

Mark and Dorothy drove us south to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where in essence we watched our earth being formed. Now that's not something you do everyday. It's fascinating yet somehow unsettling to literally look down the barrel of our origins, and most likely our ultimate destruction, for we live on precariously thin and porous crust that barely insulates us from a core of seething molten magma.

Diana Simon| |Alvah settles in at his Hawaiian office.|

Mark and Dorothy lent us their truck for a couple days to fetch diesel, groceries, LPG and parts. Diana explored the farmers market, always the center of action in any Pacific port, and treated herself to the last of retail reconnaissance, better known as window-shopping.

When we felt we deserved a break, we all drove to the top of 13,700 foot Manua Kea to watch the sun set below the clouds. As the golden light faded, we were treated to a crystalline view of the firmament rivaled by few places in the world. The air is thin and clean here, with no artificial light pollution. Countries from around the world have constructed elaborate telescopic observatories here to study the origins and nature of our universe.

The tropical latitude aside, it's cold up there, and our fellow tourists had traded in their lowland costume de rigor of bikinis and beach sandals for arctic parkas and quilted blankets.

Before we left the last outpost of modern connectivity, I had to locate Internet access to send off this post and other material to Cruising World. I found a perfectly sleazy bar gates complete with broken chairs and slashed couches and free Wi-Fi right across the street from the port. Of course, politeness demands that one purchase an ice-cold beverage or two in appreciation of the service.

Bright and hot outside. Dark and cool inside. I sat contentedly alone working in my new private office, until an attractive woman walked in, sat on a barstool and ordered a beer. She asked the bartender for the karaoke microphone then, turning on her barstool, began to serenade me directly with a sultry song, in a beautiful and professionally polished voice no less.

Maybe I am a simple man, and therefore simply pleased. But, I couldn't help but think back to my early years of wandering under sail when I would perhaps have mail contact with my family once in a year, and nearly as much time might elapse between the luxury of an ice-cold drink. And now I found myself with a frosty mug in one hand, instant access to my working colleagues, friends and family in the other, and a pretty personal entertainer to sing to me when my muses would not.

Now this is not the traditional image I held of Hawaii, swaying palms and swaying skirts on the whiteness of Waikiki, but nevertheless, I will depart with fond memories of this modern version of Hula Heaven.