Monday, September 5, 2011

Uncle Saint in Hawaii 1962-1968, part two

From a letter Uncle Saint wrote to his mother in late 1963:

The summer passed more or less uneventfully. I lived and worked aboard a 48 foot sloop named "The Swallow", taking skin diving charters out for "South Seas Aquatics" in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. ( I also had a brief two week fling as a surfing instructor until a few mishaps--broken nose, chipped tooth, dislocated finger etc.--impressed me with the fact that there are easier ways of making a living than dodging your own pupils' loose surfboards.)

Hilton Hawaiian Village in the early 1960's

The chartering was marvelous. We would leave the harbor almost every day with a party of 4 to 10 skin divers and sail around ("..spanked lightly by Waikiki's ever-present tropical trade winds") until we reached the first clear diving area ("visit Waikiki's fabled coral gardens") where we would push them overboard.

Usually I would go over with then, after running through the list of standard admonitions: "The thing that looks like a pin cushion is a poisonous sea urchin. Don't touch it.

The thing that looks like a purple balloon with strings is a Portuguese Man of War. Don't touch it.

The thing that looks like an eel is an eel. Don't touch it" etc., etc.

And while they were down looking at all the things they couldn't touch, I could go out and spear enough fish, octopus or lobster for our dinner.

I did have two bad scares. One when a 12 foot mako shark made two ominous passes at myself and two young children I was diving with, only to swim off for no apparent reason at all.

And the other when I was looking for lobster inside an old sunken wreck in about forty feet of water and a sudden, tremendous surge threw me into a tangle of rusted iron pipes. I surfaced, bleeding badly from a number of superficial scratches on my legs, and spent the next two weeks flat on my back with a fever of 105 on down as a result of blood poisoning.

When summer ended and business fell off, I went to Maui to dive for black coral. This species of coral, as far as we know, is unique to Hawaiian waters. It grows in a tree-like form at a depth of 150-250 feet, and its intense black color is, of course, attributable to the lack of light down there. Its value lies in its fabulous beauty. As a full tree it is a decorative piece; but when it is cut up and polished the coral is so hard and lustrous that it can be carved into a variety of "costume jewelry" items.

But the diving is dangerous. You have a powerful current, low visibility and sharks to contend with as a starter--but the worst thing of all is the risk ( and almost certain risk) of the bends.

Out of a dozen divers who work for black coral, at least half of them have had the bends and two of them will never walk again. It would never have happened if they had stuck to the standard diving tables (how long one can work at a given depth, how long he has to decompress at varying ascending depths, etc.) but most of them are young and blinded with greed.

(Black coral brings $5 a pound, a good tree can weigh $20 lbs., and it's possible to bring up two trees or more in one day's diving.) They even have a macabre little theme song to the effect that "If you want to be a black coral diver/ Save your money so you can buy a good wheelchair".

I frankly did not feel that the money was commensurate with the risk, and when the chance came to sail to Tahiti on the "Lady Pat" I took it.

Lahaina Harbor 1963

A touching scene took place at the dock at Lahaina when the other black coral divers came to see us off. The "bends" affects the leg muscles, mainly, and the whole group of them bobbed and weaved and stumbled about like paraplegics as they waved goodbye and shouted "Aloha" to us. A half mile out, I turned around and they were still there, lined up and waving. They looked for all the world like drunken, spastic marionettes and I wondered what cruel puppeteer was yanking their strings. I felt sick.


  1. Saint always seem to have a beautiful woman around him. He had great connections for weed. He was sort of like a prototypical Hunter S. Thompson.

  2. Tell me more FRODO! My cousin says he 's almost certain he's seen my uncle --now in his 80's--walking on the beach.