Even the seasoned hands were holding their breath. The Sphincter Factor was off the charts. We all knew the stories of tragic shipwrecks and huge hungry sharks this place generated. We had heard it was a “No Go” for most sailors. The jagged, hungry coral heads racing just feet below the hull told us why. I’m not sure if our Captain simply figured we had all lived too long already or what but White Rabbit was flying full sail through breaks in the reefs I’m not sure even he knew were there. His head was slightly cocked to one side as if he was listening to the ship rather than the Jefferson Airplane songs blasting from the boombox as he ran the ship insanely well in towards the beach. It was like watching good porn. Dancing across the water that looked like crumpled sheets, his hands deftly working her controls, she would slide her ass around in near defiance of the dangers, apparently because it felt good. No one would have bothered with instruments even if we had them. The water changed colors from blues to greens to exposed coral and back to blue so fast you couldn’t keep track let alone take note of measurements. Suddenly we were through the reefs and screaming acorss the bay towards a handful of boats and buoys scattered across a small port in front of a village. The Captain showed no signs of slowing down yet. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a boat at anchor whizzing past with its’ occupants too surprised to react. Reaching for his beer may have seemed a priority for the Captian at that point but it made me mentally count the steps to the railing. Koa tightened the straps on his PFD and I think I heard someone praying quietly. Just when I began wondering how long it would take them to find my broken body in the splintered mess of our ship shattered across the shore, and how many other ships we’d take with us, he baked the order “Drop anchor and hold onto something”. Good sailors know to instantly react and as the anchor bit fast into the rocky bottom the ship swung quickly but gracefully on the line until her stern faced the island, bow dipped slightly, in what seemed like a defiant “mooning” gesture announcing her success in another crossing. For a ship her age White Rabbit had Mana (Life spirit) and attitude to spare. She was solid, sleek, and ready. A thing of pure beauty. Through all of the hair, beard, leathe and shades the captain looked like an aged Hippie with a blue cloud of smoke ringing his head. I knew he was good and gutsy but he had solid brass ones when it came to sailing down here. He would have made Hemmingway feel inferior. Together he and the ship intimately acted as one. Eternal companions and lovers.
I had accepted this gig because the pay was high (Now I know why my shipmates called it Combat Pay) and I’d never been to this part of the South Pacific. One of the main income sources around was growing flowers and greenery to be used in leis and floral displays at resorts and aboard cruise ships. There was no hint of that when we sighted the islands. Just small peaks of land smothered in jungles of green and black and sun. We were their supply run and one of the few ships
stupid confident enough to navigate the waters. The off-load went quickly and the Captain wandered aft looking for his pipe and softly talking to himself ( or the ship?). it was shore leave time. Tamba was the first to hit the beach and according to the ancient Polynesian custom we had just made up he had to buy the first round. All hands reported directly to the bar with freshly frayed nerves and tales of how every one else seemed frightened to the point of constipation when we were flying over reefs…except the one telling the story. Gradually my attention focused on the woman selling flowers and leis across the small street. We exchanged smiles but played the game of pretending we were looking elsewhere until I excused myself from the crew and walked up to her stand. She had overheard some of the boasts coming from the crew and wondered how much of it was true. When I told her I thought I was going to die and everyone except the captain was in serious need of changing their shorts after the ride into the lagoon she laughed until she couldn’t breathe. As compensation for my having caused such distress I asked if I could buy her dinner. Making note of the total lack of actual restaurants she countered with a suggestion we meet the following day and she would show me where she gathers her flowers. I added the idea of a picnic and she accepted eagerly.
The road ( a generous euphemism for the jungle trail) was a steady, steep, muddy climb at the best of times. Malia’s ancient little pick up struggled valiantly. It reminded me a lot of a sleepy old burro climbing mountains with Juan Valdez in some old commercial. I was immersed in a world of countless greens, much of it slapping up against my elbow as it stuck out of the window. Malia slowed slightly for what I expected to be yet another vegetation clogged 90 degree switch-back. But as the truck squealed to a sliding stop I was totally blown away by the view before me. Beautiful fields of neatly partitioned flowers sloped down towards a low cliff. The lagoon, the reefs we dared, and a scattering of smaller islands were all there with an endless Mother Ocean beyond. There was no need to explain why Malia dared the mud and jungle to be here. We gathered just enough flowers to complete her orders and I chose the best place for our meal. Soon the smells of the still steaming rice and rich sweetness of the skewered chicken I created mixed with the jungle and flowers surrounding us. Malia produced a flask of a wonderful rum that set the tastes soaring as we both dove into the feast.
Later, as I returned from stashing the food back in the truck, I stopped in my tracks. I was stupified with a picture that even Gauguin would struggled to capture properly. Washed in brilliant sunlight, Malia stretched out on the blanket. Her sarong inticingly clung to every muscle and curve of her shape. One hand shielded her eyes as the other traced shapes in the huge clouds overhead. We made love with the trade winds cooling our sweat until the sky opened and tropical rain pounded down on us. We lay there laughing and caressing as the warm rains soaked us. Beneath me I could feel the island soaking into my soul. Above me was Malia, her jet black hair dripping rain like diamonds onto my chest and into my heart.
We laughed and sang old songs all the way back to where White Rabbit waited to sail with the tide. The farewell was as sweet as her touch. I barely had time to leap aboard dodging (and at the same time obeying) the Captain’s curses mixed with his orders. Sails set and the anchor on board, the ship paused as if she too was hesitating to say goodbye. Even the captain looked pensively back over his shoulder then broke the silence with a soft “Let’s boogie…” as if were whispering to a lover. His words still hung in the hot wet air when the wind caught White Rabbitt’s sails with a loud “thwop” and we raced once again toward the reefs and certain doom . Grace Slick boomed over the captains’ stereo…
“ Remember what the dormouse said -Feed your head “
You can recreate the picnic here: