The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Famous color woodcut published between 1830 and 1833.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Famous color woodcut published between 1830 and 1833.


Note the boats out at sea waiting for the %22all clear. Photo from

Note the boats out at sea waiting for the all clear signal. Photo from

A few days ago Ray Pendleton wrote in his HawaII newspaper column that April was Tsunami Awareness month, and it reminded me of an experience I had there thirty years ago.

Bob and I lived in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island where he’d opened Hogan Boat Works, and I commuted to my office on Bishop Street in downtown Honolulu. While we waited for a slip at Kona’s Honokohau Harbor, our 50-foot cutter “Discovery” remained berthed at Ala Wai Harbor, not far from my office. On trips to Oahu I lived aboard; a perfect arrangement––until the day the tsunami sirens went off.

I knew what to do: Call Bob in Kona and tell him not to worry, I’ll take the boat out to deeper water; find a friend to follow me as I drove my rental car to a safer parking place; and then…take the boat out to sea. I parked on the top deck at Ala Moana Center, which was located on flat land probably only 1000-yards from the ocean, (in retrospect clearly not the best choice) and my friend drove me back to the boat where I readied Discovery for sea.

(With tsunamis, a boat is always safer in deeper ocean with no land around, because a tsunami’s swells surge under the boat unnoticed, while waves that form in shallow water rush ashore and destroy. Rogue waves from out of nowhere that wipe out boats altogether are another story.)

Back at the boat I struggled to take down the heavy canvas sunshade covering it from cockpit to mast. All over the harbor sailors hurried to get their boats out to sea, others hurried to Hawaii Yacht Club bar for a drink and a look out to sea from the lanai.

Several sailor acquaintances walked by. I asked them for help––but they all made excuses for why they couldn’t­­––and moved on. Finally, our slip neighbor obliged, then started his engine and quickly left the harbor, joining a steady line of boats filing out of the channel. I hurried to do the same and was backing out of the slip when a friend with extensive cruising experience, strolled by, on his way to the bar.

“Would you crew for me,” I asked. He said yes.

“Whew,” I thought, “Discovery is in good hands.”

Halfway down the slipway a woman on a boat nearby yelled, “Could you tow me out to sea? I don’t have an engine.”

She tossed us a line, my crew caught it and made it fast to a cleat. We continued toward deeper water, then bobbed offshore with several hundred other vessels, turned on the radio and waited for the “all-clear” message. Boat owners called back and forth, chatter filled the airwaves. I fixed a nice lunch off Waikiki. The sky turned to dusk and our two boats, still connected by a Dacron umbilical cord, floated on the small swells. Honolulu city lights flicked on. Finally, we heard “all clear” and we headed back to the harbor.

After we tied up in the slip, I plugged in the telephone and called Bob to let him know we were OK. Next, my crew called his wife to tell her where he’d been–– and she went ballistic!

“Where have you been and what have you been doing?” she yelled accusingly into the phone, so loud I could hear. She wasn’t happy when my crew explained that he’d been out at sea––on a boat, with a woman, and another woman under tow. Nor did she applaud him for helping me. instead, she ordered, “Get home right away.”

I don’t know what happened when he got home, but I’ll be forever grateful that least one Good Samaritan stopped to help.

Happy Easter Season, and aloha





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