Published January 27, 1997 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1997 Susan Scott
Today is the birthday of my friend and partner of 17 years. I mention this here because if not for him, this column would not exist.
When I met Craig, I was the essence of Midwest landlubber. Here’s how sea-challenged I was: My Wisconsin mother was so unfamiliar with things marine, she didn’t know the ocean was salty.
On her first visit to Hawaii, she asked why everyone showered after swimming. “Imagine that,” she said, when I told her about the salt. This odd form of what she considered “pollution” never ceased to amaze her.
Given this profound terrestrial background, I was not exactly prepared for my first snorkeling trip in Mexico. Nevertheless, Craig rented snorkeling gear, dressed me in it and led me stumbling to the water.
I was a spectacle. Even though I was a good swimmer, I thrashed and sputtered about, skinning both knees on the coral and gulping mouthfuls of seawater.
Still, I loved it. By the time we got out, my curiosity about this new and wonderful world was soaring.
“What was that big purple fish?” I asked Craig.
He shrugged. “I don’t know their name.”
“How about that little green one with the pointy snout?”
Again he shrugged.
I eyed him suspiciously. “How can you like snorkeling so much if you don’t know what any of the plants or animals are?”
“Because I don’t care what you call them,” he said. “I just enjoy being in the water and looking at them.”
“Well, I have to know their names,” I said.
And so began my study of marine biology. But even after I learned the names of fish and the habits of invertebrates, I had more marine hurdles to jump. And Craig was right there helping me through each one.
Once, when learning to scuba dive, I panicked. After purposely dropping my weight belt, I bobbed to the surface hyperventilating, sure I was going to die. Craig surfaced seconds later and helped me to shore.
“I can’t do it,” I told him, sitting on the beach near tears. “I’m too scared.”
“What are you afraid of?”
I shrugged. “The idea of being down there, I guess.”
So we went home and practiced being “down there” in familiar, shallow waters. We swam shoulder to shoulder, sometimes holding hands, for hours until finally I felt comfortable. Later that month, we got certified.
Now I knew the animals’ names and could get to their level. But I couldn’t just go to the same place over and over. To fully enjoy my newfound passion, I had to learn about boats.
We bought one in Connecticut and together sailed it home to the Ala Wai.
At the beginning of the trip, I was a nervous wreck. One night I woke Craig in a frenzy to report that a huge ship was rapidly bearing down on us. He got up, looked, then with great patience explained that the enormous chain descending from the ship’s bow meant it was going nowhere – it was firmly anchored.
Another time, our boat got holed in the Panama Canal. I was half dead with anxiety over the accident, but not Craig. I’ll never forget driving the boat while he leaned over the side, sanding his fiberglass patch and whistling a merry tune. To him, it was just another nautical adventure.
And years later, when my love affair with the ocean looked like a permanent passion, guess who encouraged me to start writing it all down?
Some people think I’m a natural around the water, but it’s not true. All my marine skills were learned later in life thanks to the untiring encouragement of a friend who understood my fears and stuck with me through it all.
Thanks, Craig. And Happy Birthday.