I greet Cindy at the airport holding a giant sunflower.
“In Hawaii most people meet their guests with a flower lei.” Cindy is wearing shorts with a jogging shirt that says, “I will run you over.”
“I’m not most people.”
“That’s certainly true,” agrees Cindy as we step outside. “When you called with an offer to fly to tropical Hawaii, there was a freezing storm blanketing most of Northern California. What girl wouldn’t leap at an offer like that?”
“Remember that when you see where we’re staying,” I tease.
“That bad?” laughs Cindy.
“It rents for $37.50 a night. They should have named it the Cockroach Manor.”
The next morning, walking down the pier at the Lahaina Yacht Harbor, Cindy quips, “You really got me with that Cockroach Manor jest.”
“I do like to tease,” I say placing an arm around her waist.
“Well, be serious now. I want to be a working member of the team. I can cook, wash dishes, help with the gear, whatever is needed.”
“I already have a job for you,” I smile mischievously as we arrive at our destination. We are standing before a 32-foot-long cabin cruiser. It has graceful lines and a tall flying bridge. Her white paint and varnished woodwork glisten in the light. Her name is Kai Kekoa, which means Ocean Warrior. She has twin engines and can do 30 knots. She has the most prestigious birth in the yacht harbor. We got a huge discount on her charter because the owner has high regard for Captain Jacques Cousteau. She flies the Cousteau flag.”
“What a beauty,” says Cindy running a hand along a polished wooden railing. “So, what’s my job, chief deck scrubber?” she asks throwing a snappy salute.
“Actually I thought you might like to skipper the boat.”
“What?” Cindy sputters.
As a student missionary in the Pacific, Cindy operated small craft, and she worked in a marina with houseboats while attending college, so she is well qualified for the assignment.
“Which would you rather be,” I ask playfully, “the skipper or chief pot scrubber?”
Cindy grabs my T-shirt and drags me closer, “Are you teasing me again?”
“Then treat your skipper with more respect or I’ll have you scrubbing the bilges, sailor,” she says punctuating her words with a fist into my chest.
“Yes ma’am, Captain Bligh.” I like taking punches from Cindy as it means she is in a playful mood.
Cindy’s job is to keep the charter boat close to our dive operations as a support vessel. From it, we reload the cameras, charge our scuba tanks and launch the rubber Zodiacs. For safety reasons, this means Cindy is always a distance from the whale activity—until that one glorious day.
It is a blustery morning. The wind is whipping the ocean into a froth of whitecaps. Sea spray drenches my skin, but it feels good in the tropical heat. I am in a Zodiac with Jean-Michel Cousteau when he sees a fast-moving pod of whales heading for the Kai Kekoa. He grabs a walkie-talkie, “Cindy, Shut down your engines, a user baleine is heading you.”
“Going dead in the water,” answers Cindy.
As we head for the Kai Kekoa, I wonder what the French words user baleine means. Baleine is French for whale, but a user baleine is a mystery.
Unbeknownst to me, Jean-Michel is referring to a user whale, which is the name for a cow in heat with bull whales in pursuit. Unable to outrun her hefty admirers, she looks for somewhere to hide and rest, which is difficult for a whale that can be 45-feet long and weigh up to 90,000 pounds. Jean-Michel knows that the cow is heading for the Kai Kekoa as a hiding place, which is why Cindy must shut down the engines.
I see Cindy in the distance sliding down the ladder from the flying bridge. She rushes to the railing not know why the whale pod is heading for her craft. She is just ecstatic to be in their path, not realizing that her vessel is their destination.
Cindy sees the cow surface just an arm’s throw away. The humpback shoots a column of water high into the air as she takes a rapid breath then dives. The humpback torpedoes straight for the Kai Kekoa. Cindy sees the submerged whale going underneath the cabin cruiser’s keel. She rushes to the other side anticipating seeing the huge whale swimming away, instead, she is about to get the whale-watching experience of a lifetime. The cow is trying to hide beneath the cabin cruiser. The 32-foot long boat only shelters the front half of the massive whale. Cindy can see the whale’s pectoral fins protruding outward from each side of the yacht and the massive tail extending out from beneath the stern. The deck shifts as the whale tries to get as close as she can to the Kai Kekoa.
Abruptly, a mass of plunging and diving bull whales surrounds the Kai Kekoa. The cabin cruiser rocks from side-to-side as the massive bulls brush against the hull or whip it about with blasts of current from their huge tails. Two bulls propel their massive bodies high out of the water in dual flanking breeches then slam back into the ocean. Whitewater from whale-induced belly whoppers explodes into the air sending a deluge of saltwater cascading across the boat’s deck, soaking Cindy—much to her delight.
The Bulls are maneuvering to get closest to the cow as they ram each other. Feet long slabs of skin and fat float on the water from the violent impacts. An aggressive bull attempts to nudge the cow out from under the Kai Kekoa. Its huge body is so close Cindy reaches out to touch the descending bull as it plunges down right alongside the hull. A bull swings its towering tail high into the air. The fluke is taller than the Kai Kekoa’s flying bridge, and then the tail slams down. The impact echoes across the water like a cannon shot. The yacht rocks wildly in the thrashing tempest of whales.
We are 200 yards away when the cow makes a run for it. She surfaces next to the Kai Kekoa for a quick breath and then flees. The bulls charge in pursuit passing closely under the vessel as their wakes send the yacht spinning.
The whales are racing toward us in the Zodiacs. Jean-Michel cuts the engine and yells, “Everyone into the water!” Michel DeLoire and Clay, his safety diver, roll over the side. Clutching an underwater still camera, I quickly slip in after them. We descend beneath the frothy water. I will stay at a shallower depth to keep from hindering Michel’s cinema camera. I am still clueless about the term user baleine.
The humpbacks appear suddenly, a crowd of huge charging bodies that fills the underwater horizon of my faceplate. The whales are racing at the divers below. The gigantic marine mammals are each the size of an 18-wheeler truck. It is an subaquatic stampede with the whales charging ten times faster than human swimming speed. The humpbacks’ pectoral fins extend outwards like the wings of giant birds in flight. Incredibly, each of the racing whales alters its course upward or to one side to keep from running over the two tiny creatures hovering in the path of their lustful rampage. The cow passes just above Michel but then, perhaps feminine curiosity has her wondering what these little silver creatures are, she rolls onto her back and carves a sharp, descending vertical U-turn for a second look.
As the cow comes level with Michel DeLoire’s camera, she accelerates with strong beats of her tail. The trailing bulls are jostling to get closer to her. A bull nudges her underbelly, which prompts her into overdrive. The mammoth bulls charge in pursuit, each executing sharp-cornering U-turns just feet from the wide-angle lens of Michel’s 35mm movie camera. For 30 long seconds, we are in the vast stampeding pod. The enormous bodies gliding by seem almost surrealistic because all of this frantic mammoth activity is taking place in the total silence of the submarine world.
Watching the nimble humpbacks, I think how amazing life is when one actively pursues adventure. I am fortunate to be here, yet it is not by accident. To seek adventure, to go on a life quest, one must develop a variety of skills, indulge in serious physical and mental training, broaden their knowledge, develop true character, and pursue opportunities because dreams are within the realm of the possible.
I aim my camera at the last bull whale as it passes a dozen feet beneath my flippers. The rapidly swimming whale takes only three seconds to pass underneath me before disappearing into the gloom of deep water. I feel a wisp of remaining current from its passage, and then the three of us divers are abruptly alone in the wake of a mighty adventure.
Surfacing, out of breath, I see the whales again arriving at Cindy’s boat. Their spouts of water and mist surround her small craft in an aquatic celebration of life. Cindy is running from rail to rail hollering happily at the whales.
That is one of the wonderful benefits of pursuing and achieving your dreams, it means you can take the ones you love with you. A dream shared is the best kind of living fantasy, and, just like in a fairy tale, it leads to a purer, happier, and deeper love of one’s companion.
Before Cindy arrived, the expedition had been full of adventure and excitement, but her presence lends a sense of wonder and playfulness that convinces me I want to spend the rest of my life with this exciting woman.
It is curious that physical courage should be so common in
the world and moral courage so rare. —Mark Twain
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