Saturday, September 10, 2011

Uncle Saint in Hawaii 1962-1968, part three

Continuing a 1963 letter to his mother--

From the beginning (The Lady Pat on its way to Tahiti) took on water. We weren't unduly worried, however, for we were crossing the Alenuihaha Channel ("Laughing Water" we called it) - the roughest stretch of water in the world. We decided to play it safe and 24 hours later we put into a small, uninhabited ( except for goats) island called "Kahoolawe", or "Island of Death".

A strange thing happened on the way over. We had a fishing line out and we got an immense strike. The fish made a furious run and, just as we started to hand line him in, the line went slack. We brought it in anyhow, and on the end of the hook was a tuna which might originally have gone 15-20 lbs., foul-hooked through the tail. I say "originally" because a shark had taken off its head in such a way that all the entrails had gone with it--cleaning it as neatly as we could have done it with a knife. Our first dinner at sea was delicious.

Kahoolawe is a strange, barren little island, covered completely with 'a'a ( or sharp volcanic rock), kiawe thorns, and jagged shrapnel. (It was used as a target island by Navy dive bombers.) For three days we did nothing but explore the island until our feet looked like hamburgers and skin dive waters so thick with fish that you literally had to push larger ones away with your spear to get at the ones that would fit into the frying pan.

One funny experience: I "poked" ( as we say) a huge octopus--the largest I have ever seen in these waters. The tentacles were about ten feet from tip to tip, and when I threw him on board he stuck one of his tentacles down through a scupper hole. Two of us finally pried him off and with him came a five foot strip of white paint off the side of the boat. I cleaned him ( you turn his head inside out and strip off the ink sacs and brains) and stuffed him into the pressure cooker -- since we figured this would be the only way we could tenderize an old brute like this one. We turned on the fire and waited. Nothing happened. After ten minutes had gone by I heard this strange knocking noise, so I went below to investigate. The pressure cooker was literally throbbing up and down with such force that I was afraid it was going to blow shrapnel through the sides of the boat. I threw it overboard to cool it off, and when we brought it up and hour later and pried the lid off, the blast of steam which escaped still shot 10 feet across the decks. It seems the octopus, in his final revenge, had stuck the tip of his tentacle up into the steam release valve and blocked it -- and in another few minutes the ship would have gone down like a sieve. I'll say one thing--he was tender by the time we got him out of there.

We also explored the island and found a deserted army camp with a cache of 4 year old "C" rations. We swam about fifty cans of them ( "Ham & Lima Beans", Roast Beef & Mashed Potatoes", etc) back to the boat & opened up a few of them. The food was still good -- so good, in fact, that we never once dipped into our original supply of ship's stores.

Another time I ran down and caught one of the multitude of small goats which inhabit the island, but it baa-ed so plaintively I released it to its mother -- in far better shape, I might add, than I was in after the barefooted chase up the side of the cliff.

"What happened then, Mr Crusoe?"
"I went back on Friday".

Anyhow the hull did not swell up as tight as we had hoped and, to be technical in terms I won't remember 6 months from now, we were still taking water on in the Deadwood under the Lazarette. (I love to sail but I can't speak the language) So one night the four of us sat down to a top-level conference and decided that the smart thing would be head back to Honolulu for dry-docking and a general "overhaul". We had no sooner settled down to our usual nightly goat - serenade when the first explosion went off 100 yards away. Night bombing practice! We hoisted the anchor so fast we almost pulled the bow under and headed away from Kahoolawe with every possible light blazing up into the sky. Bombs were dropping all over the place and, while it was comforting to know we were being protected "while we slept", we somehow wished we weren't being protected quite so close.

We pulled into Lahaina again early in the morning - just in time to catch the divers going out - and they solemnly lined up on the dock and shouted "Iorana" which is the Tahitian word for "Hello".
They thought they were very funny.

Two years after Uncle Saint's visit, 500 tons of TNT were detonated on the island as part of "Operation Sailor Hat". The mission's purpose was to simulate a small nuclear explosion and survey its effects on offshore ships.
In 1993--after decades of Islander protests-- the Navy turned the island of Kaho'olawe back to Hawaii. Today the island is only used for native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual purposes. The Hawaiians do not refer to Kaho'olawe is "the island of death"

Because Kaho'olawe is still littered with un-recovered ordnance, the rare visitor is taught "if you didn't drop it, don't pick it up."

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