A Ship and Her Crew

Blog, Hōlanikū - A Return to Pō

IMG_4631Another morning on the open ocean. Another full day casting away my thoughts into the wind across the vastness. I find Paul, the cook, outside. He’s a real genuine chef, originally from Texas, but now in his older years “a man of the world” having traveled nearly everywhere for work as an executive chef. Before, it was Norway where he met his wife. Now, he is on the lonesome Kahana. He’s sitting out on the deck under the motor boat, smoking a cigarette.
“I haven’t smoked in years. Quit a long time ago. But I haven’t seen my wife in two years, and I can’t handle the stress. So, back to smoking. After these next few trips on the Kahana I’ll get to see her. She’ll be back from Norway, in Texas waiting for me. Five more weeks and I get to see her again.”
Paul was a little baffled by Virginie’s vegan diet, but took the news in stride and felt inspired to cook different foods for her. Virginie tried to explain that he needn’t do anything special for her, but I think that was lost in translation somehow. Or, cooks are cooks and if you say you eat a certain way they’re gonna take it seriously.
“I can make just about anything”, Paul exclaimed two nights before our departure from Honolulu, late at night when we dropped our coolers full of our frozen food to store on the ship, “So let me know if there’s anything else you want me to grab at the store tomorrow. I’m still under budget. Really, anything.”

“Mornin’ Paul,” I say as I step out of the galley onto the deck to break in the fresh morning air.
“Gooood morning. Two eggs for ya this morning?” Paul loves to make eggs, and I think he really believes cooking food for others is a kind of healing power. I hate to say no. And I love eggs.
“You got it, fry em up! I’ll be back inside in a minute.” Paul snuffs his cigarette out and heads to the kitchen. I go to find the sunrise just over on the other side of the ship, behind the stack of containers. We are passing the French Frigate Shoals, Lalo, to the South, on our left. It is the next Island after Mokumanamana, and denotes the first of the low lying islands. We are now fully within the realm of Pō, which we crossed into as we sailed over the Tropic of Cancer, Ke ala nui polohiwa a kāne, “The great shining dark path of Kāne”, during the night. We did not have the fortune of viewing Mokumanamana, but I imagined it that night, with the constellation of scorpio hanging over right about where I though the island to be.
Mokumanana is the fingered island that embodies the furthest northern path the sun takes across our planet. The island that is told in molelo as the threshold crossing of light into darkness, day into night, conscious into subconscious, life into death, presence into absence, known into unknown. If the Sun is internalized within our psyche as the creator, like Helios riding his chariot across the skies, then its path becomes a kind of beacon of time, a key to the precisions and artful dance of all life. The sun effects everything on this planet, and is indeed in reality an omnipotent force determining the seasons and changes and collectively all the characteristic manifestations of life.
Contained within the sun’s path is our own planet’s path around the sun; as the sun appears to move across the Earth’s plane, changing slightly day to day – rising a little further south, setting a little further north – we as a whole travel around this source of life, bound to it through our movement through the cycle of time. And so then all the indicators of the sun’s movement is imprinted on our planet, like a giant compass, or a giant sundial – and all these markings, natural or man made – an island in the middle of the pacific, or an altar in the heart of an ancient civilization, are sacred knowledge of a larger, greater order dictating and determining all of our fates. You and me, dear reader, are the latest descendants of this great choreography of the sun and the earth and the moon. And as children of the sun, our star, we are beings of light that too walk a path across this earth. And our path is struck with the same fate as the sun, the same polarities, the same cycles of seasons, coursing through us and beyond us, waiting for our arrival, waiting for our return.
I have been waiting for this return to Pō, like an infant waits to be born. Like a boy waits to become man. Like a man waits for his inevitable death; to be taken by the very force that brought us into this world. The darkness waits patiently for our return.

The water is the calmest it has been, the wind as gentle as can be, pushing and lapping swells across the water, soothing waves massaging the ocean surface. With the first light of the sun peeking up, the moon sits suspended at its zenith, half illuminated, Kāloakūkahi.
The sky opens up with more light. A low hanging cloud behind the ship suddenly blooms into oranges and reds as the sun’s light hits it straight on. Everything today feels free of the past, and the future feels distant and unimportant. I feel only the beckoning call of my path, a pulling feeling extending from my na’au, my center.
I walk back down to the galley to eat my eggs, now with my sarong wrapped around my legs to protect me from the chill of the early morning. Mario, the captain of the ship, enters moments later, walks around me giving me a look up and down and says, “What the fuck kind of outfit is that? Are you a fuckin’ Mongolian now with your Yurts, or however the hell you say it?” The sleepy galley awakes with an uproar of laughter. Just yesterday up in the wheelhouse Mario was chatting away about some video he saw on T.V. where these two people were building Yurts all over Oʻahu. Drew chimed in saying he knows the couple; that they build Yurt kits and sell them for 20 grand and are self-assembled. Mario was wondering why anyone would want to live in a single circular room like that, so we went around lending our knowledge to the advantages of a Yurt:
“They are structurally sound, able to handle high winds,” Hanz pointed out, sitting behind us on his laptop where he was working on his own digital version of a house he is building in Alaska.
“It feels more spacious actually in a circular room. Less claustraphobic,” Drew mentions, popping a handful of sunflower seeds into is mouth.
“They are easy to take down and put back together. They were designed originally for nomadic life. From Mongolia I believe,” I said, and added as my wise-ass can’t help it, “ And I think Yurt is actually a plural noun. Not sure what a single Yurt is called.” Mario cocked his eye at me, then rolled them and that was that. We all turned our heads back to the bow and stared with that sailor’s stare out across the horizon.
I grin and shrug my shoulders as I flip potatoes onto my plate along with my two eggs and sit down with everyone else, proudly still wearing my sarong like a skirt. Joe the Engineer is sitting in his usual chair that faces the clock on the far wall. A very large man from the bayou – the swamp as he calls it, with a balding head and small glasses resting on his nose. He has one elbow on the table with his hand palmed along the side of his face, the other arm resting on the table with a green tea bottle clutched in his hand. Joe is one of those quiet shy giants.

Virginie and I would always catch him late at night sitting alone in the galley waiting for his shift to start. “The oil ships I work on back in the gulf, man, we neva had so much time to sit around. I ain’t got nothing to do on the Kahana but stare at that clock from from six to ten. Just staring and staring.” Virginie and I perked up from our computers where we were separately working on photo editing. Both of us where surprised out of our work to hear Joe talking. I wanted to keep it going.
“What was it like on those ships, Joe?” I asked, and all of a sudden Joe was firing away about life aboard a vessel that brings oil to and from the rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico to shore, working the entire time, never resting spare a day at harbor between trips. “And even then you neva got good rest, cause there was always somethin’ to do. Not like this…” He trails off, staring back up at the clock on the wall.
Virginie asks him the longest he has been out at sea. “Three months” He answers, sighing, “and that’s plenty long for me.” Joe then screws up his eyes and looks at Virginie, “so you don’t eat meat?” He ends his question with a tone of curiosity and interest. Virginie replies that that’s correct, that she is a Vegan. “So what that mean, like you don’t eat anything that moves or nothing?” “No, not technically. I just don’t eat animals or animal products.”
“No animal products? You mean you don’t drink milk, or.. what else… no butta?” It was refreshing to hear someone ask about veganism who hadn’t heard of it, because he didn’t have a predisposed judgement on such a way of life. It was completely unheard of to Joe, who seemed to eat nothing but meat. He seemed to be fascinated by Virginie’s choice in not eating animal products. If he wasn’t able to understand why someone would choose to remove such foods from their diet, he was open-minded in accepted her choice in doing so. So, Virginie began to explain the issue with eating animals products, especially this day in age; with the amount of abuse and violence and waste involved in it. Joe kept his concentrated look on, staring down at the table, his brow furrowed, now holding both his elbows with his opposite hands, leaning into the Virginie’s words.
He nodded all the way through her lengthy logos, and when she mentioned GMO he perked up and looked at her and blurted out, “Oh sure yea I know all about those generically modified uh… organs or whateva they called. That stuff is scary, what they are tryna do to our food. These days you gotta go to a fama’s market if you don’t want none of that GMO food. Like if they going into our foods and changing them like that, whats it gonna do to our own body’s? There’s plenty of sickness already we don’t understand from eating all kinds of bad food. You gotta know where your food comes from otherwise you can’t trust what’s in it.”
Virginie and I looked at each other, giving each other the look that there was more to this simple man than met the eye. Funny how we all make assumptions about each other before taking the time to get to know one another.
He’s staring at the clock, as he always does, but looks over at my Sarong getup after Mario’s exclamation. Matt, the observant man that he is catches Joe’s glance, “what do you think of JE’s surong, Joe?”
Joe scowls and says loudly with his high-toned singing southern accent, “I don’t know, I don’t look at y’all!” We all laugh again as our Kure crew slowly but surely blends with the Kahana crew on our voyage into Pō.
The Kahana crew is comprised of Seven men. Mario the captain and the two ship mates: Drew and Hanz. Then there is the Engineer, Joe, and the two Able Seamean: Kekoa and Carston who introduced himself to us on the very first day as Sea-Monkey, which I proceeded to call him as often as I could. Lastly Paul, the cook. Just like our Kure crew, these men each have a story of their own, all coming from somewhere else, joining together for work.
Being on a ship on the open ocean provides an opportunity for mingling that I find very tasteful. A unique bond is created between the ship’s manifest and its crew, where you would find no common bond between such people on land – on the ocean all those stark differences are somehow left at shore. Everyone is curious about each other. Time just effects those underway differently. Anyone who’s been out on the ocean can probably contest to this.
At one point during the voyage, I was sitting alone at the front gazing out on the ocean as one does when seafaring, and Sea-Monkey comes around the corner and sits down next to me. He is from the Netherlands, but like many people I have met on the ocean, he left where he came from early on in life and never looked back.
“To do this work, you kind of have to have a messed up life. And I don’t mean that in any negative way, it’s hand some of us are dealt,” Sea-Monkey explained to me once, continuing on, “If you have loved ones you are close with, this work is tough man I tell you, it’s not fair to them, to be gone all the time. And it just creates agony for yourself. You can’t fully enjoy it. Just look at Paul.” I nodded, thinking about the lonesome frown on Paul’s face when he doesn’t know you are looking his way.
“So what’s up with you, why the long face?” Sea-Monkey says to me as he sits down. He caught me frowning as I stared off into my invisible thoughts.
I look over at him and smile, “Oh nothing! Everything is just wonderful, just as it should be,” My smile widens, trying to show him just how content I am. But he looks dissatisfied in my answer, as if he was fishing for something deeper. Sea-Monkey is a personable character, always laughing light-heartedly, and through his shared kindness I felt he deserved a little more. I raise up my left arm and show him the bracelet around my wrist.
“This is the shell of a Kupe’e. It was given to me by a friend, who in some ways knows me better than I do, and I’ve known her less than year. She gathered it herself a while back, and gave it to me as a reminder to not get stuck in the deep realm of introspection.”
I look over at Sea-Monkey to see his reaction. He took a puff from his vape satcheled to his belt buckle and said in his dutch, carribean-influenced accent, “go on,” exhaling the sweet vaporized oils into my face.
“The Kupe’e is a sea-snail that travels up and down the intertidal zone. It lives in both worlds you see, able to cross from the depths and darkness of the water out into the shallows and light of exposed air. Kupe’e itself means to reveal from hiding. Something like that. On my last day in Hilo before leaving for this trip, my friend latched this Kupe’e around my wrist, aware of the challenges that would lay ahead of me. I’m very good at diving down in to the depth of meaning, but unlike the Kupe’e I struggle to return to the shallows. I’ll hide, like the Kupe’e, in those depths, unable to reach out and reveal myself in light to others. So, the Kupe’e is to help me be like the Kupe’e: open up and navigate between waters with ease.”
“Ahh, I see. That’s very nice. That’s a good friend you have.” I nodded in agreement. But I was focused on something else, something surfaced that I had always wanted to know, but never considered finding the answer to myself. Now was the perfect opportunity. “Hey Sea-Monkey, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course brotha, whatevas.”
“Why do you have Holland and the Netherlands, and why are you called the Dutch?” His answer cleared it all up, as he was happy to share something that probably seems very obvious to him, but had to do with the Netherlands being a very small country, most of it actually used to being underwater before all the dikes were built, and Holland made up the largest and most powerful parish of the country, as it was the area along the sea. Our conversation shifted and we began talking about Carston, and how he ended up in Hawai’i. I found out he has two kids who he stays in touch with but doesn’t get to see as much as he’d like, as they are back in the Netherlands with their mother whom he met in Holland but ran away with to the Caribbean.
“I spent a long time in the Caribbean. It changed me. I got cut off from my life in the Netherlands. But I had to get out of there too. Too fucking small man. Seven years. So, here I am in Honolulu. Dive master. Just got my Able-Seamen certification. This is my first job with these credentials.” He went on to explain how the crew functions on a ship with the different levels of seniority and the required training needed, and how their shifts work. There’s always someone awake “below” monitoring the engine room and someone always awake “above” in the wheel house, “so the engine is always talking to the wheel,” he illustrated, waving his arms in the air to show the constant connection between the two, his many rings on his knuckles shine in the light, all huge and golden.

The day continues on. I spend a few waking moments between naps practicing our Oli Kahea for our arrival protocol to Hōlanikū, swinging in my hammock next to Tiana’s, who is laying in her’s, dozing. The evening strolls in. We eat a massive meal of brisket prepared by Paul, the softest tenderest piece of meat I’ve ever had. It is so good, I cannot stop eating it, and before I know it I have overwhelmed myself once again with the seduction of Paul’s cooking.
Mario raises another eyebrow at me as he sees me getting up for thirds, probably wondering how a skinny kid like myself can fit so much food inside. I’ve never really been able to answer that curiosity for others, but I do know that on this trip I feel like I’ve never eaten this much meat in my life. So much meat. Every meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. I notice Virginie is more or less absent during the beginning of meals, when we were all meat piling our plates. She’d sneak in politely, later, after we had finished, and Paul had considerately set aside a plate for her.
We all watch the sunset together as we pass Gardner Pinnacles to our north, Ōnū Nui and Ōnū iki, two jutting rock features, one large, one small, a surprising sight in the distance after over a day of seeing nothing but open ocean since Nihoa. At first it looks as if it is just one hunk of rock jetting out from the ocean, but as we pass around the south side the setting sun shines soft rays on its rugged edge and the one rock becomes two.
As the light fails, I crawl up to my Hammock earlier than usual, curl up in my wool blanket and crash early with the stars swaying in the night sky to the rhythm of the boat rocking between swells.


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