Before we knew anything about the Alanuihaha channel and after moving to the Big Island, we promptly struck out and bought ourselves a Triyak (3-seater ocean kayak). The thought was to go out and paddle on a regular basis, and so for our first sojourn slipped the boat easily into the water at the boat launch in Kawaihae. Keeping to the shoreline, we headed north. Soon a pod of spinner dolphins jumped and cruised alongside, and I thought wow – this is going to be common enough! How lucky are we? What I did not know – and rarely grasped until much later – is that this kind of magic is not my birthright, though I’ve certainly experienced more than my share. Blessings are blessings because they are unpredictable and doled out in rarely repeated themes.
The day was calm enough, though my arms were tired by the time we returned and portaged the vessel onto the truck racks. It was that good kind of exhaustion, where no meal tastes better; when water is the only liquid that truly satisfies. In our naiveté, little did we know how quickly the winds could gust there and how strong; how suddenly and profoundly the water’s currents could shift. But Mother Ocean was kind, and we learned in increments.
The scariest time was when my young athletic daughter accompanied us, which put me in the middle non-paddling seat. Heading out was no problem, as there was an offshore wind that seemed so subtle we barely noticed. Without a job as such, I happened to capture a look of concern creasing the features of a Japanese fisherman as we rounded the breakwater out onto the open sea. I brushed off any sense of foreboding until we headed back and it slapped me squarely in the face; when my strong and rarely-complaining husband, in an escalating voice nearing panic, shouted that his shoulder muscles felt like they were tearing. Feeling helpless and without something to keep me busy, all I could do was attune more acutely to the fear creeping up in both of these loved ones. And though we did return to shore, it seemed to all of us that it took forever.
The moral of the story has been enduring: this particular channel, positioned between Maui’s Haleakala and Mauna Kea, one of the planet’s highest peaks, is known to be one of the most dangerous in the world. One never knows – and though islanders who have lived and fished here all their lives have a better grasp of the signs and symptoms of impending trouble, there is still the occasional unobtrusive article slipped into page three of the paper or beyond – about one of these folks losing their lives on the blue road.
We paddled again further south in the more protected Kealakekua Bay during whale season, but never spotted a whale that day, nor did we ever again cruise alongside dolphins – although after hauling the ‘yak out, we swam with moms and babies in a delightful, pirouetting display. I finally got out of the water when the cold seeped into my bones.
Two months ago, we sold the Triyak to a nice local family.