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Written by Kaci Cronkhite Winter 1992 All rights reserved.
Nawiliwili Harbor, Kaua’i, Hawai’i
Alaska was at its darkest, coldest decrescendo. Perfect time to head to Hawaii. I wanted to think about sailing and set a course for my next ten years with a warm clear mind.
As fate had forseen, the friends who introduced me to sailing in Port Townsend had been struck and successfully weathered Hurricane Iniki on Kauai. From Oahu, I called to check in with them and they invited me to come visit and help, as long as I could camp. Backpack loaded with food and tent, I hopped a flight to Lihue and walked to the marina. Palm trees were stripped, houses roofless, power poles and other debris still littered the island. Most people still didn't have water or electricity. Aboard their voyage ready boat they were stocked for two months. When I arrived they were mired in Plan B, something to keep the fire stoked on much bigger plans. Plan B was a tangent indeed. A tack to the north of their previous course, an interisland interlude day sail from Kaua’i to Oahu. They invited me along as crew. I knew little more than I had in Washington, but they didn’t seem to care. I was little trouble to feed, had a stomach of steel and was handy with tools in emergencies. It was a short trip and one they could do with their eyes closed.
The chilly morning of my first ocean sail began at 0400. I throbbed with enthusiasm and could hardly sleep, restlessly anticipating the adventure. Finally my Timex triathlon watch alarm beat its familiar rhythms into my ear, signaling the start. With my eyes still closed I untangled my wrist from the pillow to turn it off. Another watch went off in the darkness. It went its full beeping time and I heard the muffled voices of a man and woman, his British English uninterpretable. The moldy smell of diesel sludge made me wince. Years of other peoples sleeps clung to my cheek on the clammy bedcloth.
Shoving queasiness aside I remembered what I was doing here and I grinned inside like Christmas morning. Gentle wavelets from the Nawiliwili river clapped rhythmically against the hull beside me, a new and happy, musical sound. It fit my mood. Then the boat rocked slightly beneath me. I heard a low groan and embarrassed, held my breath. Ten minutes later silhouettes emerged from the tiny vee berth still warm with sex, naked and unashamed. Dawn illuminated the stairs and the broad white chart table behind them. My body buzzed with the strangeness and expectancy.
He switched on a winking blue flourescent light then lay his mildew stained red toiletry bag on the chart table. With the unconscious rhythm of seventy some years routine, he squeezed paste on a toothbrush and crossed to the tiny galley sink to brush his teeth. My stomach turned as I watched him spit in the dishes. Next, he pumped a squirt of galley water on a threadbare washcloth with and rubbed in a small smudge of soap. He rubbed his body thoroughly as if in private, occasionally dampening it with more water. The natty rag neatly folded back in his bag, he bent to pull on a well-worn pair of azure swimming trunks. In the bright light the snags around his penis and across both cheeks glowed. I shrunk in the shadows, silently giving them the floor for their morning routines. At 32 feet on deck, efficiency trumps privacy.
Toiletries complete and the sun still not risen, pans were pulled clanking from under the stove, then pumped with water. Shy to emerge and disturb their space, I listened to the routine of checklists, fragments of information and jargon they both understood. I was clue-less, but soaking up every word.
I smelled propane, then a flick of a lighter burst into flames and I could now see a battered coffee pot. A few minutes later the smell of truck stop coffee and heart warming oatmeal filled the space. He clicked on the radio and I heard a Hawaiian voice reciting weather information. “Winds ENE 25-30 knots. Seas 10-12 feet in the channels,” followed by a stream of data I could not follow. He wrote down these facts and tapped the barometer. Then he stepped up into the dawn and began rustling around on deck. I hurried out of my top bunk fully clothed, embarrassed at my modesty. She pushed a steaming lump of oatmeal at me and I took it gratefully scooting in behind the table. “It’s best not to go out with an empty stomach,” she said. Then she reached over me and got her clothes. I stared into my oatmeal and tried to hurry, uncomfortably trying to evade the view of her body, anxiously focused on what was happening on deck.
Up top a maze of lines were loosened on the dock and we were away. I could see the different ropes now. She was at the helm as we cleared the first breakwater, then he took over as she went forward to sweat up the big mainsail. I held lines as I was instructed while they put in the reefs. As we rounded the second breakwater the bow of the boat began to plunge like the disappearing head of a bucking horse. Shouting to one another, she hoisted the staysail then he bore off at an angle to the strong wind.
CONTINUED in Part 2.