Voyage of the Invader

by Louise Omwake Eckerson

Chapter 6


orning brought us to the island of Maui.  This “Valley Isle,” claimed fame for its Hawaiian hospitality, which was immediately enjoyed by Dottie, Van, Carl, and me.  A young native who had watched our sails head inward greeted us out of curiosity but was soon the victim of our cordial acceptance of his hospitality.  He had a car.  And we were visitors.

Maui’s chief claim to grandeur, and a valid one, consists of the world’s largest volcanic crater—Haleakala, 10,000 feet high with a summit circumference of 21 miles.  A trip was scheduled to visit Haleakala at sunrise.  When the alarm clanged at three o’clock in the morning and sleepy heads emerged from their bunks, it was mighty cold and dark in the tropics.  We piled on sweaters, coats, and blankets and wished, when we reached the crater, that we’d had a few more.  It was winter on the top of Haleakala.

We hiked down into the giant crater and saw nothing but misty clouds, no bottom to the great hole.  The sun began to come up over its sides, a radiant, colorful, all-enveloping scarlet sunrise.  As the clouds lifted, the huge rim was revealed.  At early daylight we followed the downward trail for a short distance, far enough to see the rare silversword plant that grows only in that habitat.  It was possible to descend to the bottom of the huge pit, but our time didn’t allow us to explore at length and we hadn’t had breakfast.  At seven o’clock we returned from Haleakala and had pineapple juice, eggs, toast, and coffee.


Silversword plant in Haleakala.
Photo by Yelena N. Zakin, 1998;
reproduced with permisson.

We were in pineapple country.  We had seen them growing “like a starlit flag unfurled,” and we now had the chance to visit one of the factories where the fruit was canned for export.

Haleakala and the pineapple factory was enough sightseeing for the day.  Carl and I sought the seclusion of the beach.  It was good to feel the serenity and timelessness of sand, wind, and waves.  It was good to lose ourselves for an afternoon with little chance that anyone from the Invader would intrude on our privacy.  We walked along the sunny beach for some distance before we discovered a bush large enough to cast a cooling shadow.  Behind it was thick vegetation, before it only the sand and the ocean. 

How delicious it was to lie back on the grassy patch and listen to the ocean and feel the soft breeze.  The leaves rustled, the waves gently rushed up on the beach and softly sank into the sand.  To forget the Invader for a short time was needed therapy.

We left Maui under a full Hawaiian moon.  The wind was brisk and filled our sails, making their curved outlines gleam with uninterrupted smoothness.  We sat on deck in the bright moonlight.  This was the kind of sailing we had looked for on the Pacific.  But we were to have only one night of moonlight on the Invader.  The next day, we docked at Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

Oahu, meaning “gathering place,” proudly claimed Honolulu as “The Crossroads of the Pacific.” It lived up to its name.  To its many races and ancestral nationalities—Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino, and American—it had now added many thousands of American sailors and defense workers.  Honolulu was a bustling, busy metropolis—a modern city.

“Nautical but Nice,” the Honolulu Advertiser described us on its front page with a picture of the Invader’s “Salty Sailettes.” One sentence cheered us: “Captain Jack said he might sign on a couple of stewards here for the return voyage, as enthusiastic pot and pan wrestlers were scarce aboard.” The free advertising got results and we left Honolulu with two galley boys to help with such incidents as: “The stove, loaded with hot soup, broke loose one afternoon and pursued the cook around the galley, until he was rescued and the stove was captured and put in chains.”

As in all ports where we tied up, curious visitors came to look us over.  From morning till night people lined up and gazed at our seaworthy vessel, its unique crew emerging from the companionway.  We had no privacy on deck and it was hot below deck.  We spent little time on board.

One day, Carl and I teamed up with Jack and Hazel to see the island.  We hired a car and set off.  For security reasons, we could not approach Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, or Schofield Barracks.  All we could see of warlike preparations were ships far in the distance, some with white, foamy waves painted on the stern to give the illusion of movement in reverse direction.

The scenery on Oahu was a continuous unfolding of one breathtaking picture after another, rivaling the changing and exotic wonders of the island of Hawaii.

On the far northern side of Oahu, there was a little jewel in a lovely but lonely setting, not even a town to keep it company.  It stood alone as a symbol of hope that had been crushed of plans that had not then materialized.  Near the coast in an unpopulated district we found a Mormon Temple, the largest at that time outside of Salt Lake City.  Since then the temple has attracted believers and is no longer lonesome.

The Mormon Temple was by far the most impressive architectural structure we saw on the islands.  Its pure white simple lines set off with a frieze above square columns gave it dignity and a sense of belonging in those isolated islands.  On an island that claimed 11,000 believers, it was the Mormon hope to establish a colony where land was plentiful, and nature was bountiful and beautiful.  At that time only 550 members of the faith answered the call, and the full beauty of the temple was known only to them.  After almost half a century, I still cherish my vision of that jewel in a rustic setting.

Back in Honolulu, we turned our attention to what the city had to offer: the Bishop Museum with its relics of ancient Polynesian life, and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and the Eastman Kodak Company’s presentation every Thursday morning on Waikiki Beach of native Hawaiian songs and dances.

Many pictures were snapped as the lovely Hawaiian dancers moved gracefully to plaintive Hawaiian music.  Beyond was the ocean with waves breaking in banks of white foam.  The accessories—a grass hut, surfboard, and outrigger canoe—lent an atmosphere of the days of King Kamehameha.  It was a delightful entertainment, but we couldn’t forget that this was a publicity stunt to encourage the purchase of Eastman products.  The colorful customs of the original inhabitants of the islands had passed away with the coming of modern civilization.

The other free Hawaiian show was staged at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, owned by the Matson Steamship Line.  At night, with the surf swishing below us, with palms waving above us, the hula-hula dancers, flower leis, and Hawaiian guitars reminded us of why we had been drawn here to the peace and beauty of Polynesian culture.  Those were moments to reassure, to absorb through all our senses, and to draw upon when we were back in the stress and strain of civilization.

Waikiki Beach, with its curving shoreline and clean white sand, was beautiful.  But, where one bathes, one must buy.  We had seen so many delightful beaches that were not commercialized, that the fanfare of Waikiki did not impress us.  We had in store for us other stretches of white sand on Kauai on which we could be kings for a day in solitary grandeur.

We said aloha to Honolulu, but it wasn’t the gusty, vibrant aloha that Hilo had won from us.  We were charmed by the country and small towns on Oahu but Honolulu represented to us the “turmoil of civilization” from which we had escaped.  This was a city of crowds, a wartime city shortly before Pearl Harbor.  We longed to swim in coral coves and listen to the wind and waves instead of the chattering of people in famous restaurants.

As the distance widened between our yacht and the dock, we were happy.  We were heading for Kauai, “The Garden Island.” Tourists sometimes visited Hilo but usually didn’t call at Nawiliwili on Kauai.  Even the sound of Nawiliwili made us smile and we were prepared for fun.

At Nawilwili, where we had docked, Dottie and I discovered an intimate little cove not far from our schooner.  It became our private beach where bathing suits were not necessary.  For four days in unscheduled hours we sought the quiet charm of the pretty little cover—swam, sunned, and collected shells.

Some farsighted members of our crew had read travel literature on Kauai and recalled a famous Hawaiian guide by the unforgettable name of Samuel Kamuela Kahinu Pokipala Peahu.  He was called “Sam.” In the little town of Lihus, several miles from Nawiliwili, we found Sam and immediately engaged him for the next two days.

Sam was a rare find—a rich combination of guide, entertainer, teacher, and friend.  He even played the part of benevolent thief on our behalf when we wanted an avocado that was high on a tree or a pineapple that must be carefully selected for ripeness and prepared for eating.  Sam was all things to all Invaders, at least to seven of us.  His collection of Hawaiian stories never ran dry; he had a hilarious anecdote to relate as we passed each mountain and river.  How much he invented we never knew.  He wanted us to enjoy Kauai and its Hawaiian folklore.  No effort seemed too great for him if he could win another friend—and perhaps, though he didn’t make it evident, another dollar to feed his kids at home.

There was no hurry.  No appointments had to be kept when we stopped for lunch or encouraged Sam, in his Robin Hood generosity, to acqiure pineapples and avocados.  We took time out to watch Sam teach June the hula-hula dance and to become pupils ourselves, trying to learn Hawaiian songs.  We did reasonably well on “O Makala Pua,” with native monosyllables that meant nothing to us.  But the rhythm of “King Kamehameha” was too strange for us even though the words were in English.  Sam strummed his ukulele while he sang.  He was a full-blooded Hawaiian and he provided more native atmosphere in two days than the other three islands had given us in two weeks.  Sam loved his island and its ancient culture and he gave generously of his talents and stories to extol them.



“Bring your bathing suits tomorrow.  You’ll be in them most of the day,” was Sam’s parting instruction when he left us the first day.  We might just as well have put them on before breakfast because he meant what he said.  Our first stop was at Hanalei Beach, one of the dozens of deserted clean, long stretches of white sand with occasional pieces of white coral protruding like antlers.  Kauai was ringed with one continuous beach without advertisements, refreshment stands, hotels, and sometimes without bathhouses.  We drove to Hanalei Beach.  It was, immediately, our exclusive property.

Here were the highest waves I had ever seen.  “Jumping the waves,” was an inappropriate expression, for one could not jump twelve feet.  We tried hard to learn the Hawaiian secret of riding the waves and in the flash of a second landing on the sand far from the starting point.  Sam lined us up and indicated when to plunge shoreward like a human surfboard.  Each time we tried to observe his split-second starting signal and plunged forward with our teacher—chaos rushed in upon us, gravity became an illusion, equilibrium was routed while thought, and voluntary control took a holiday. 

How did he do it? We studied his technique in vain.  Twice, by pure chance, I rode the wave and experienced the terrific thrill that accompanied it.  I hit the water at the precise moment and was whisked along like a streak of lightning until I scraped the sand and found my face half buried in it.  There I was, sprawled on land and the wave had receded.  Life with Sam and the waves was no peaceful summer outing.

The next surprise our host pulled was to drive us into a cave that had no forward exit.  We suddenly found ourselves producing weird echoes as we talked in this “dry cave,” and were bewildered by the complete blackness surrounding us.

Following the eerie acquaintance with the dry cave, we came into more intimate contact with a “wet cave.” Here, under a semi-dome, was a half circle of crystal clear, blue-green water that extended indefinitely in all directions through pillars—stalagmites—of stone.  We swam into the darkness behind the first row of columns and turned around to follow his lead back into the open pool.  The water was very cold—it looked and felt eerie.  Our voices were thrown back to us from the opposite wall and what we said sounded hollow and unreal.  This was a unique experience, although a little on the scary side. 

“Natural Slide,” marked the high spot in our day, and practically our whole Invader trip.  Sam led us to a small deep pool surrounded by rocks.  On one side was the natural slide worn smooth by a gushing stream pouring over it.  Sam showed us how to use the facility that nature provided.  He sat down at the top of the fifteen-foot slide and inched forward.  Suddenly, the force of the water pushed him along and he was on his unceremonious way downward.  Scarcely had he started when he was dumped into the cold water of the pool at the bottom.  What a spectacle! Did we have the nerve to follow him? In turn, each of us assumed the prescribed posture at the top of the slide, inched forward, and then lost control of our bodies as we sprawled downward, soon coming up out of the depths laughing, giving vent and expression to our feelings during the descent.

Sam demonstrated the backward, lying down frontward, backward, head first, and feet first approaches, finally giving June a ride on his back.  What daring performances! For hours we scrambled around the rocks and screwed up our courage to risk another innovation and then a plunge into the freezing depths below.  When the afternoon was over, we compared bathing suits and organized the “hole in bathing suit club.” We were all eligible for membership.

We had had a physical workout under Kamuelahkjinupolipala Peahu.  He had introduced us to strange wonders of nature.  He had gone off the beaten track to show us how to enjoy his island.  He had led the way.  This had been a day full of active fun and we were indebted to our Sam.  We forgot that Sam was a hired guide.  He had become our friend and we took him to our American hearts.  We parted reluctantly, but only after writing down his address and real birthday—January 26.  I wonder how many Invaders joined me in sending Sam a birthday card.  Actually, mine was a Christmas card with a picture of the Invader on it.  By that time Hawaii had been bombed.  I wonder if my card ever reached Sam.

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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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