Voyage of the Invader

by Louise Omwake Eckerson

Chapter 5

he shout signaling that land had been sighted came in the early morning hours.  The morning parade on deck at 4:30 was a sleepy, cold looking, bathrobe-clad crew.  All were quiet.  It was received calmly, almost like having a sentence pardoned.  We received the news with deep feelings of thanksgiving.

This was not the first time that I had stood on a deck at sunrise to see land come into view.  But this July 28 had added meaning for weary, worried lay-seamen.  The feelings I experienced, the thoughts that came to me on that chilly July morning were a strange mixture of lightness and lead.  By all rights, unrestrained joy was in order.  But the dead weight of anxiety and seasickness had taken its toll.

Light, carefree moments had been few during the past weeks.  There had been some laughter, a bitter sort of mirth.  Laughter when the ship heaved and the man at the end of the table was engulfed in dishes, when Van fished day after day without catching a single fish, when Marvin daily lost his bet to Haven that the sun would rise, when seasick diners bolted from the table.  Disappointments, reverses, breakages.  We laughed at the inevitable because there was no other response in line with good sportsmanship.  Some reaction had to be expressed, and each Invader felt a pride in his contribution to group morale.

Before us was a respite—three weeks of carefree vacationing on tropical islands.  Emotionally, something was lacking.  I needed time to tune my instrument.  The physical and mental strain of the preceding weeks had to be overcome by rest and reorientation.


Frank—“Man overboard!”

The sun was rising, the first sunrise of the entire voyage.  We saw an unclouded crimson sky, as glorious as a sunrise.  One has no tendency to yell or sing or move quickly when the eastern horizon is gorgeously red and the clock says 4:30 a.m.  One speaks in low tones, or doesn’t speak at all—just leans on the rail and gazes, a bit dumbly but fully appreciative of the sight.  So the attention of the Invader’s crew was divided between the welcome sun and Hawaii.

Suddenly a shout came from the bow—“Man overboard!”  Action followed immediately.  Jack turned off the motor while Alice ran for the one life preserver on board.  We saw Frank swimming confidently on the starboard side as our ship was passing him.  With perfect aim, Alice threw the preserver into the water and Frank grabbed it.  He was back on deck within a minute from the time he fell overboard while adjusting the jib sail.

Just as daily rain had spared us the consequences of a critical water shortage, a broken motor at that time was a blessing.  Had the engine on the starboard side been functioning when Frank plunged overboard, he would probably have been sucked under the ship. 

After the rescue, we discussed the possibilities of such an accident happening at night while at sea.  The most hazardous incident of the crossing could have occurred at any time.  In this instance, we had the beginning of daylight and all of us were on deck to offer help.  During the night only two people stood watch.  In the dark, and without assistance, one foot fault could have resulted in the loss of one of our crew.  It was Frank who had fastened the rope to the life preserver!  He got his just reward.  Alice also received appropriate praise for her quick thinking and accurate aim.  Frank whittled a miniature life preserver, attached it to a miniature rope and printing an inscription: “To Alice from Frank—for saving my life.”

We were of one mind when we tied up at dock on Hilo—get a hot bath and a long, cold drink.  Within two minutes after the Invader docked, its crew had deserted like rats, leaving only Captain Jack to stand guard.  Within fifteen minutes practically all of the Invaders were lined up at the same drug store counter guzzling Hawaiian Delights or something similarly tall and refreshing.

We were a sight for native eyes.  Bud, with his taped denims and worn sneakers, and proudly boasting a bristling beard, was the schooner’s most colorful representative.  Joe’s beard was a greater accomplishment because his hair was dark and thick.  We all carried the salt of the sea with us.

A newspaper reporter discovered us and did his best to uncover a glamorous and romantic sea adventure, but we were in no mood to give away family secrets and he found the interviewing rough going.  In his article he sized us up: “The first unusual thing we’ve noticed about them is that they’re not particularly interested in publicity. . . . We’ve found it mighty hard to get them to talk about themselves individually. . . .  They don’t know much about each other, some of them not knowing their shipmates’ names. . . . In the eightien days they were at sea they didn’t care to find out anything about each other, though mal de mer may be the reason.”

This phenomenon of human relations was real.  Eighteen days at sea had not provided enough time to delve into the past.  No one cared much who we were or what we had done.  We were not much concerned about ages, vocations, previous travel, or marital status.  I recall my surprise one evening about two weeks after I met Carl when he inquired if I was married.  Suddenly I thought about my lack of information about him and the rest of the crew.

It was not often that a yacht the size of the Invader visited Hilo, and immediately it and we became objects of interest to local inhabitants.  The Hilo Yacht Club, located close to our dock, opened its doors to us and we lost no time in showing our gratitude.  The privilege most enthusiastically accepted was the use of hot showers with soap and clean towels thrown in. 

Lauhala Tree
Lauhala Tree.  (Photo by Kilauea Point Natural History Association)

No more beautiful a setting could have been provided by the Club.  The blue water rose up in white lacy ruffles against the rocky coastline, and waving palms lined the borders.  Occasionally, a lauhala tree graced the landscape with its roots pyramided above the ground and its great ribbon-like leaves.  As one looked skyward, most of the trees resembled giant stars.

Carl and I spent most of the first day at the Club, swimming and sunning and enjoying a civilized lunch.  In the evening, Van and Dottie wandered over and joined us for dinner.  For once, Invaders were gathered together, but the Invader was not mentioned.

Just before reaching Hilo we heard on the radio that Japanese credit had been frozen in the United States.  That was ominous news, but our own problems loomed more imminent and worthy of attention.  Later we queried occasional islanders, but we were warned not to discuss the subject because of the large Japanese population, and we were told that Hawaiians were less concerned about war in the Pacific than were people in the States.  We readily accepted this sleeping pill propaganda and proceeded to forget that we had any more serious worries than the homeward journey.

Black Sands, Hawaii

Black Sands, Hawaii

The return trip was on our minds and some of us considered leaving the Invader and booking passage on the Matson Line—we might sell our return tickets on the Invader to people seeking adventure on a schooner.  They would not be cheated.  With the money we would buy third class tickets on a Matson Line steamship that would carry us safely to the States in five days.  Later, when we reached Honolulu, we learned that no bookings were available for several months.

Keeping a date made on the cross country train trip, Bea, Ed, Carl, and I hired a car and drove it around the island of Hawaii.  Our first pause was at Black Sands, the camera-phile’s paradise where any photographer could shoot a prize-winning picture of land, sky, and sea.  The sand was jet black—powdered lava.  The sky was clear blue with cottony clouds, and the ocean reflected the blue of the sky.  Palm trees were silhouetted against sky and water.  We drank our first cocoanut milk and tasted the snowy white cocoanut meat.  We found the nut, cracked it open, and imagined that we were roughing it in native fashion.

Lava country

Lava country

Our caravan—for now we had several cars of Invaders following us—continued our trek through the lava country.  For miles and hours we drove over a single lane road cut through solid lava and saw not one blade of grass, insect, or bird.  There seemed to be no reason to travel in that bleak country except to see it once as sightseers.

In contrast to the weird, lifeless lava country, the Hawaiian National Park elicited from us the most superlative adjectives in our vocabulary.  As we approached the Kilauea Crater at the center of the park, we drove along roads bordered by luxurious vegetation.  Hibiscus, with enormous pink and white flowers, flanked the drive.  Dense jungle growth was on all sides of us.  Ferns, seven feet or more in height, seemed to thrive in the crowded conditions that the rich soil made possible.  Looking down, as our car climbed upward into lush verdure, we couldn’t tell where all of this thick growth left the ground, how high it was above the soil.  It was strange that such rich jungle existed only a few miles from bare, unyielding land where nothing in the animal or plant kingdom lived. 

As we encircled the island we could see, in the distance, Mauna Loa, the volcano whose famous crater—13,680 feet high—is visited on foot by the most able mountain climbers. 

We spent the night on the western coast, in a piece of old Hawaii—Kona.  The Kona country was famed for its coffee and here, too, we first became acquainted with macadamia nuts, so named for Macadam who engineered roads by that name (the connection eludes me!). 

Kona was a well known vacation spot with a modern, attractive hotel.  On our limited funds, however, we had to forego the pleasure of sleeping and bathing in grand style and stayed at a boarding house a short distance away.  We arrived at the house just before dinner and Bea and I agreed to meet the men “soon.”  To us, that meant after a hot bath.  In the middle of our rather primitive cleansing ceremonial we heard Carl and Ed calling.  We had only ten minutes in which to reach the hotel for dinner.  Our one chance to make ourselves feel sweet and feminine came to a sudden halt and we raced to get to the hotel.

Queen Liliokulani’s palace

Queen Liliokulani’s palace

The next day we visited the Royal Palace where Hawaii’s last ruler, Queen Liliokulani, spent her summers.  There we met a most gracious lady who had known Queen Liliokulani.  The queen had been the beloved ruler of her people before the United States annexed her kingdom, and her name will go down in history along with the first king of the islands, King Kamohameha I, whose praises were the subject of a song we tried in vain to learn.  The queen holds a small place in my personal bag of memories, and I tried to imagine her in the role I had heard about since I was a child.  My mother was invited to a tea at which the queen, while visiting the states, was guest of honor.  Queen Liliokulani, as a polite gesture to the young girl, requested that my mother, who was studying music, play.  The request was granted with shaking knees.  So begins and ends for all time my “association” with royalty!

Our trek continued through the cattle country, including the Parker ranch, second only in size at that time to the King Ranch in Texas.  We stopped among the prickly patches to examine the cactus and take pictures.  The cactus seemed to be covered with pairs of giant rabbits’ ears. 
Ed, Bea, Carl, and the cactus

Ed, Bea, Carl, and the cactus
Our favorite pose consisted of standing between a couple of the pancake-shaped appendages, giving the face in the picture enormous pitcher ears.  On and on we rode, in and out of showers toward our scheduled hike down into the Waipio Valley.

A cobblestone trail, one mile long, descended steeply into the flat country below.  The spread-out panorama from the heights was worth the half day’s physical struggle.  Patchwork fields were surrounded on three sides by steep wooded bluffs, with the fourth side opening on the ocean through a ravine.  A picture of rare distinction lay before us.  Here was a little pocket isolated by nature from the rest of the world, and here a few dark-skinned Hawaiians were living in Polynesian fashion, unmolested by all but the most hardy visitors to their island.

Some of our crew took the easy way out and hired horses to carry them back up the stony path, but we returned the hard way.  It was a steep climb, but our frequent pauses were rewarded by views of incomparable beauty.

We returned to Hilo through miles of sugarcane, waving oceans of tall stalks resembling corn.  A one-way road was cut through the fields and for hours we could see nothing but sky and sugarcane.

The drive back along the eastern coast through a Hawaiian sunset and twilight completed our two-day tour.  High up on the bluffs we looked down on the ocean.  With miles of shoreline in view, and an endless expanse of water, the grandeur of it all made our little ship in the harbor look like an insignificant chip of wood.

The next day Jack arranged a luau for us.  Natives served us strange Hawaiian foods, including pork and fish wrapped and cooked in tara leaves and sweet potatoes with cocoanut sauce.  The meal was topped off with a bottle of orange pop!

The luau was followed by hula-hula dancing.  Their lithe bodies swayed with the rhythm of the waves and palms while their hands expressed movements suggested by romantic words of nature songs.  “Lovely Hula Hands,” was one of my favorites.  It expresses vividly the motion of hands accompanying movement in nature:

Lovely hula hands,
Graceful as the birds in motion,
Gliding like the gulls over the ocean,
Lovely hula hands—kou li ma na-ni e.

Lovely hula hands,
Telling of the rain in the valley
And the swirling winds of the Pali,
Lovely hula hands—kou li ma na-ni e.

I can feel the soft caresses of your lovely hands,
Lovely hula hands;
Every little move expresses, so I understand
All the tender meaning of your hula hands;
Fingertips that say “Aloha” say to me again “I love you,”
Lovely hula hands—kou li ma na-ni e.

When “Lovely Hula Hands” was played for us later in the United States, the tempo was increased and it ceased to carry with it the languorous, peaceful movement of all that is Hawaiian.  It was composed to be sung in the islands where the slow lilt is part of nature and the pace of life of the native people.

One song with Hawaiian words was never translated for me, but I loved its plaintive lilt.  I used to sing it when bathing and the beauty of it was apparent to me alone.  I am sure it speaks of lovers, palm trees, and ocean waves for it was the rhythm of nature, the smooth undulating quality of all the lives on the islands. 

Ben, Van, Bea, and Marvin decked with leis

Ben, Val, Bea, and Marvin decked with leis

As I experienced Hawaii in 1941, there was nothing staccato in the song or dance or the way of life in that Pacific paradise.  Three months later, war changed much of that idyllic atmosphere.

Time passed too quickly on Hawaii.  Our four days had endeared the island to us and we longed to stay.  When we set sail we felt the meaning of “Aloha.” Every language has its “Till we meet again,” and Hawaiians say it with flowers.  Each of us was wearing a flower lei as we set sail and as the wind widened the distance between the palm trees and our little floating island.  The sun was setting when we honored the Polynesian custom.  We cast upon the water our colorful and intricately woven flower leis.  From the stern of the Invader we watched the circles of color bob up and down in the wake of the schooner, and we took to heart the meaning of the ceremony.  We expressed in Hawaiian fashion our wish to return to the island.

Most of us slept between islands.  Sailing at night was no novelty to our crew, and those of us who were not on deck duty caught our 40 winks and prepared for the next day on shore.

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Voyage of the Invader Chapter Index

Introduction  Chapter 1  Chapter 2  Chapter 3  Chapter 4  Chapter 5  Chapter 6  Chapter 7  Chapter 8

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