In almost to the first breakwater at Nawiliwili on the SE corner of Kauai, we can now see the rich mix of colors on the cliffs: the red dirt of the exposed areas lies next to several different greens, blacks, purples. I can already see the pier where we’ve sat sketching in the past. Beyond the first headland, you can see another that sticks out South over near Poipu. The main mass of the mountain in the middle of the island is covered as it often is in clouds whose tops reach up and catch the sun.
We seem to have halted now, and I wonder if we’re waiting for a pilot. A small power boat is zipping out toward us. Yes, that’s who it is, a tidy yellow and black hornet of a boat, not wasting any time in what is a choppy sea for her. And a tug has come and stationed herself at the middle of the first curve we have to make, leaving the first light to our starboard, the second to our port, rather like trying to move a whale in a swimming pool. The pilot boat shoots off home having delivered her pilot, and we begin to move again, “Red Right Returning.”
It’s a bit confusing, using this alliteration to remind yourself that, coming in to a harbor, you leave the red buoys to your starboard and the green ones to your port in order not to stray from the channel. Then, leaving, it’s the opposite. But “Red is the Color of Port Wine” is what you use to remember that on the bow, at night, a red light is on the port side and a green one on the starboard.
We can think of harbors all over the world where we’ve navigated small boats to the safety of a dock or a mooring: New England, Greece, the Canadian and American San Juans, mostly sailboats, but an occasional “stinkpot” as we called them scornfully except when we were aboard one and very happy to be there. We even spent a week on the River Wey in mid-winter once on a Narrow Boat, sometimes having to break through ice but cosy and warm below.
We were three generations aboard on that trip: my mother and father, ourselves and our two sons. It was the 1978-79 sabbatical year we lived in London, and Mother and Dad had come (and helped us bring our three children) for Christmas. It was a snowy Christmas and it was between Christmas and New Years that we borrowed the “Guildford Dragon,” the Narrow Boat belonging to Tom’s sister and her husband, stocked her with food and drink, and took off. [Editor’s note: Please see photos of the barge trip below. – TCB Jr. in Portland]
It didn’t take long to learn how to work the locks. You picked up local knowledge as you went along like how much the water level might change in the night and how to adjust your mooring lines so you wouldn’t be strung up. My father later wrote a delightful article for a Seattle magazine about the whole experience.
The art of piloting was wonderfully described in a talk we heard at the Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. The speaker was a Columbia River Bar Pilot himself, and there’s no doubt that that Bar is one of the most dangerous in the world. He described what were nearly drastic experiences with captains who didn’t have much sense or tried to refuse his advice. Here on a calm, warm day in Hawaii there was very little tension, I suspect, and we glided in, slowed to a stop, sidled with our thrusters pushing us in port side to the dock.
[Below is the flashback to the December 1978 England canal barge trip mentioned above – TCBJr]