Friday, August 26, 2005

Hanauma Bay - Ocean Rules

I am returning, after a couple of days’ hiatus, to my series on Hanauma Bay.

I have actually had an email discussion with a friend in Seattle – rereading it, I find that I actually gave myself a good outline for where I’m going with this. There is most definitely going to be a point to it. Bear with me here & I’ll get us there. And then, once I’m done, I’m going to turn my attention to a letter to Maria Burks (as Mrs. Kayak Boy said in a comment yesterday – one person can make a difference, but they won’t if they don’t at least try, right?) Anyways, more on that at a later date.

For now – here are the “Ocean Rules”. Maybe a bit rushed as I'm on lunch hour, but here goes!

My last post on Hanauma Bay was about the unwritten rules I remember that concerned moving about on and around the reef; following those guidelines minimized the chances of an unfortunate brush with one of the reefdwellers. None of the creatures that called Hanauma Bay home were aggressive towards people, but some of them were more than capable of self-defense in the event that people were aggressive towards them (in the two specific examples I used of sea urchins and moray eels, aggression towards them would consist of stepping on them, or reaching a hand into their home). A modicum of respect and awareness allowed the human visitor to avoid any untoward incidents. Lack of awareness could result in a painful injury, and one that might send you to an emergency room (to have your moray bite stitched up, or the wana spines dug out of your foot) – but they were unlikely to be fatal.

The sea itself, though, was far more exacting.

Hanauma Bay is sheltered by the protective arms formed by the remnants of the ancient crater walls – but it still opens on the open sea.

When I think about the precautions that I, and other children in Hawaii, were taught to follow around the sea, they seem to boil down into one phrase –

Never turn your back on the sea.

I do not know where I heard that or read that first. But I know I heard it or read it more than once – and it sank in deeply.

The power of moving water is tremendous. The strongest human being is a gnat beside a wave. To try to outmuscle moving water is to risk exhaustion and death. I know, I know, that sounds awfully portentious – but it’s true.

The thing is – as long as you know that, and know the water around you, you can do a lot to minimize the risks. I suppose a less foreboding way to phrase “Never turn your back on the sea” would be “Always keep your eye on the sea”.

The main hazards at Hanauma Bay were waves and currents.

Waves are sort of the obvious ones. Even small ones breaking across the reef could knock you down & bang you up on the coral if you weren’t paying attention.

Big ones can pull people right off of ledges. You had to be aware of incoming sets – and in some cases you also had to pay attention to where they’d just been.

That’s why I was glad to find Trevre's shots of the Toilet Bowl - good illustration! The picture above actually shows the last bit of the trail, and also demonstrates what I'm talking about pretty well -

The Toilet Bowl is in a little inlet on the ocean side of the eastern arm of the crater. To get there, you would hike all the way out to the tip of that arm, around the end, and out along the seaward side. As I mentioned in my post with the original pictures, one of the things I’ve found out while checking the veracity of the facts I have had in my head since childhood is that the lava is eroded more quickly by the salt air than the waves, leaving a ledge of varying widths – the trail led out along this ledge, which was rough, with occasional sections where you’d have to do a little scrambling to get over boulders & things.

There were tidepools all the way out, and little places where you went over small channels – but what you really watched out for was sections of the trail that were actually wet. The Hawaiian sun and the heat that the dark lava holds dries the ledges fairly quickly, and if that ledge was wet – that meant that a wave had washed over that section of the trail fairly recently. If another large wave arrived while you were there, it was quite likely to wash you from the ledge and that was quite likely to be fatal. This happens in other places in the islands too. People really die – sorry, but there’s just no way to soften that fact.

In these pictures – there appears to be a LOT of water on the trail. Can’t see around to the other side – but a day when the trail looked like this might have been a day when my family skipped going out there.

It wasn’t a risk worth taking just to have a little fun.

The other major risk was strong currents – these aren’t as noticeable or dramatic – until you’re in one. The big one at Hanauma Bay – the one that always really impressed me as a kid – is the current that runs just outside the mouth of the bay. It’s called the “Molokai Express” because it runs towards Molokai, which is around 30 miles away. You can see the island from Oahu on a clear day, but your chances of swimming there were pretty much nonexistent. An unwary swimmer or diver that ventured outside of the bay could easily find themselves caught up in this current.

There was a awful lot of ocean out there. Yes, brrrrr.

The thing was – this may all sound terribly dramatic – but it was so much better to acknowledge the power that the water had than to not know about it or pretend that nothing could happen to you. You didn’t let it scare you out of enjoying the beauty that was there, but you did do everything you could to minimize your chances of coming to harm. That was just how people in this most beautiful of ocean states approached the sea, and that’s the atmosphere in which I grew up.

I’m going to close “Ocean Rules” by sharing an article I stumbled across while trying to make sure that I wasn’t blowing the risks out of proportion. Here’s an excellent Ocean Watch column by Susan Scott in which she touches on the same point I’m trying to share in this series of posts (see, it's not just me!!!).

I shall be a-schoonin’ all weekend – hope everyone’s weekend is good, and I’ll be back next week with the next installment - that being "how we nearly loved Hanauma Bay to death" - death, in part, by frozen peas! – and the rescue – and my first return there since "small-kid time".

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