This short story follows a thrilling lava-viewing, ocean adventure on the Big Island of Hawaii. Relax and enjoy a front row seat to creation in process.
It was dark and raining when we arrived at our meeting location. Rain pounded the roof as we waited in the car and peered out the windows into the blackness of the parking lot. It was 4:30 a.m. As headlights came into view, I studied each vehicle… No boat. Not him.
On a Hawaiian vacation to the Big Island with friends, Dave and Lu, we booked a once in a lifetime excursion to see lava flow into the sea from the Pu’u ‘O’o crater of Kilauea volcano. Family members took the trip two years earlier and highly recommended it.
We stayed in Kona and were scheduled to rendezvous with the boat skipper, Shane, at 4:30 a.m. in Pahoa on the other side of the island. The meeting time required that we leave Kona at midnight. Ugh!
“Do you think he’ll call and cancel the trip?” wondered Dave.
“I doubt he’s willing to give up the steep fee he charges. No, he’ll be here.” My husband, Bob, saw things with a fiscal savvy.
We discussed how trusting we were to give our credit card information to a complete stranger who says he’ll meet us in a small town, in the middle of a rain forest, at an outrageous time. Not to mention, to do a crazy thing. It did feel a little unsettling.
It was 4:45 a.m. An attendant arrived at the gas station across the parking lot. Soon lights illuminated the station. He’s late!
At 5:02 headlights swooped into the parking lot… boat trailing. The truck and trailer pulled into the gas station. The driver jumped out and put gas in the truck. It was Skipper Shane.
We followed Shane to the launch sight at Isaac Hale Park and climbed into his 22-foot fishing boat with only a padded hatch cover to sit on. Crashing waves heard in the pitch dark stirred a twinge of fear as Dan, Shane’s deckhand, backed the trailer down the boat launch into the restless water. Shane started the engine as Dan jumped into the boat and the fishing vessel roared away from the tiny harbor, pushing through breaking waves. The boat heaved with the ocean swells and I felt my fingernails digging into the hatch cover. The rain lightly pelted us.
“By the way,” yelled Shane over the engine roar. “Life jackets are inside the hatch.” We exchanged uneasy looks and held on tight. Removing the cover to get life jackets would not be happening. Despite the easing storm, the rolling waves continued while the dim light of a pending sunrise shone in the East. It was 5:30 a.m.
Skipper Shane was a swashbuckling 28-year-old—“I’ve done this for twenty years" type. As we forged ahead on our adventure, I allowed my shoulders to relax, releasing the tension in my neck, and began to trust his ability to navigate the waters. We clipped along at 30 knots (about 35 miles per hour—56 km/hr) for 45 minutes through the swells—lurching and bumping—often crashing hard against the water.
The sun appeared above the horizon and I saw smoke trailing down the mountainside—lava burning up the jungle as it oozed its path to the ocean. We arrived at the first area where lava added land to the island—a front-row seat to creation in action. The skipper idled the engine and we floated along, edging closer and closer. We felt heat and smelled sulphur. Iridescent lava fingers reached over the land’s edge into the sea. Creating an eerie orange glow, steam swirled and drifted as the scorching liquid hissed into the water. The seesawing boat made it difficult to focus my camera for pictures and video.
The lava activity seemed to cover one-half mile of coastline. Bobbing thirty feet from the flowing lava, Shane encouraged us to dip our hand into the water. I reached in. Very warm. About 100 degrees—just like our spa back at home.
Shane steered the boat around and took us back past the scene one more time. Over the mountainside a rainbow appeared. Rising from a haze of steam, it arched high against a powder blue sky framed by billowing clouds of pale pink and soft gray and landed in the mountainside jungle. Beautiful!
As Dan put out fishing lines, I felt my body could no longer reconcile with the rocking boat. Trolling for fish on our way back would take ninety minutes. Oh boy! One and a half hours more of rocking. Over the side of the bouncing boat, I leaned and heaved. My husband, Bob (my hero), wrapped his arms around my waist, fearful that the next bump would pop me out of the boat. And as time wore on and on, others carried on pleasant conversations while I gazed longingly at the shore, watching waves crash against the black cliffs.
Finally near our destination, Skipper Shane maneuvered the boat to setup his approach. Little did we know, the beach here is a hot spot and the local surfers turned out for the ten to fifteen foot waves. Shane idled the boat for a moment and waited. Without warning he gunned the engine, caught a trough between waves and glided into shore. Facing aft, I saw a large wave too close behind us and wondered Is it going to break on top of us? Adding to the spectacle, a deft body boarder appeared on the crest as it swelled to a break. I saw the whites of the aged Hawaiian's eyes as he took the ride of his life—following a fishing boat at that. Suddenly we skidded right as the skipper cut the engine to make the harbor—a move required to avoid rocks or grounding the boat. Before any of us could react, we came to a restful stop, and Deckhand Dan leapt to the dock and fetched the truck and boat trailer.
I was relieved to be on land again and finally able to appreciate the sheer adventure of the trip, especially "surfing" into the harbor. In his best Disneyland-ride-operator-voice, Shane bid us farewell. “Thanks for your business and be sure to tell your friends you had a great time…” he hawked. That was one trip to tell the grandkids… But I’m not crazy enough to do that again.
It was 8:17 a.m. Time for breakfast.