Tag Archives: Honu

Midway beach becomes wall-to-wall sea turtles

Published January 27, 2018 in the
“Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2018 Susan Scott

A lost honu hatchling flaps its flippers in an effort to run or swim. It was released at the shoreline and swam away within seconds. ©2018 Susan Scott

Three weeks ago I wrote that an increasing number of green sea turtles, called honu in Hawaiian, are swimming to Midway Atoll to rest on a particular stretch of sand.

Researchers think that greens come out to warm up. Only the greens of the Galapagos, Australia and Hawaii haul out to sunbathe.

Haul is a good word for it. Because sea turtles have flippers for feet, moving their heavy bodies above the waterline is a slog. During my albatross work at Midway two years ago, I watched several 200-or-so-pound turtles dig their front fins into the sand and lurch up the beach, one laborious step at a time. I felt exhausted just watching.

On Jan. 20 a friend working at Midway sent an email with the subject “How many turtles?” Her photo showed turtles resting flipper to flipper on that same beach. “The count on this day was contested,” Jill wrote. “Either 69 or 70 depending on whether the computer image was enlarged.”

A few of Midway’s turtles basking on their favorite beach. The two in the background are dark because they’re still wet. ©2018 Susan Scott

Because few, if any, of these turtles hatched on Midway (it’s not yet a significant nesting site), I wondered how they know to go there. Perhaps there’s some kind of turtle telegraph advertising Midway as a great place to soak up the sun.

Another friend recently sent a smile-inducing hatchling video called “Turtles on a treadmill”; watch it at goo.gl/YhEqq7.

At night, when hatchlings emerge from their sand nests, they run toward the brightest light. In nature that’s the ocean. In urban areas, however, artificial light, known as skyglow, trumps the sea for luminosity.

When hatchlings head toward human-produced light, Florida researchers wondered whether the energy they used running around left the turtles exhausted when they finally reached the ocean.

To test this, workers placed hatchlings on a belt sander treadmill, using a light at the front as a lure. After the turtles had run up to 500 yards, researchers dressed each in a pink swimsuit and placed it in a tank of seawater. Tiny monofilament leashes attached to the suit’s back caused the turtles to swim in place for two hours.

Good news. Both the treadmill and lost-on-the-beach hatchlings rested longer than those of nondisoriented turtles, and that apparently helps the babies conserve energy. Blood and respiration tests showed that even after sprinting the length of five football fields, the baby turtles swam as well as the hatchlings that headed straight to sea.

The bad news is that baby turtles gone astray are easy pickings for predators such as cats, dogs, mongooses and seabirds. And if the hatchlings are still out on the sand after the sun rises, they soon become crispy critters.

Hooray for flippers. After seeing the photo of 70 honu basking on Midway’s beach, and watching hatchlings run on their treadmill, I’m giving green sea turtles a big high-one.

Peculiarity above water in Australia also amazes

Published June 17, 2017 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2017 Susan Scott

I’ve been home from Australia nearly a week, and I’m still smiling over some of the comments locals there made about Hawaii.

One day we anchored Honu in a picturesque bay in the lee of Hummocky Island. Because it was late in the day, and it takes time and effort to inflate our rubber dinghy and attach its outboard, we jumped in the water and swam ashore for a snorkeling excursion and beach walk.

About an hour or so after swimming back to the boat, our distant boat neighbors motored toward us in their dinghy. When the Australian couple saw our home port, Honolulu, on the transom, they called out, “Hello! We came over to see what crazies were swimming in shark-infested waters. Now we see. You’re from Hawaii!”

They sped away, leaving us puzzled. Did they think that Hawaii residents are braver than Australians? Or that we foreigners don’t understand the risk? Or that Hawaii residents are foolhardy? We never found out.

Nor could we find information anywhere that Hummocky Island is more “shark infested” than anywhere else in Great Barrier Reef waters, or in Hawaii.

On average, three people die from shark attacks in Australia annually. Given the number of people in the water, the chances of an attack are so minuscule I never even think about it.

No sharks showed up on this trip, but we could not shake the sharp teeth of politics.

While checking Honu into a marina during stormy weather, I slid her official certificate over the counter. In big, bold capital letters, the heading says, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

“Sorry,” the manager said, pushing the paper back. “We’ve stopped accepting these.”

I was speechless. This vessel documentation is as official as it gets. No other boat papers exist.

“Relax,” the manager laughed. “I’m just kidding you. But, really, what were you thinking, electing that clown?”

How does one answer such a question? “We’re from Hawaii,” I said. “It wasn’t us.”

“Hawaii! OK, then. You can stay.”

That guy was joking, but a young convenience store clerk was dead serious.

“I always wanted to go to Hawaii,” she said, “but I saw a TV show on tsunamis and now, forget it, I’ll never go there.”

Rendered speechless again.

The friendly woman at Townsville’s Breakwater Marina, where we left Honu, gave us a farewell that made us laugh.

“Have a good trip back to America,” she said as we finished up the paperwork. “Sorry! I mean Hawaii.”

And finally, as I folded up the last of Honu’s laundry and said goodbye to another marina worker, she said, “You’re not leaving us?”

“Yes. I love Australia, but I love my home in Hawaii, too,” I said. “I’m going from one good place to another.”

“Fair dinkum,” she said.

Whitsundays offer preview of outer reef, more to come

Published June 4, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

CoralWHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, Australia >> Our cruising guide calls these 74 islands “a tropical paradise in the heart of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.”

It’s no exaggeration.

The Whitsunday Islands, so named by Capt. James Cook because he arrived here the seventh Sunday after Easter, or Whit Sunday, are two mountain ranges cut off from the mainland by ancient geologic events. The teeming coral reefs that now surround the islands can keep a snorkeler busy for months. But beyond the Whitsundays lie the platform reefs most people picture when you mention the Great Barrier Reef. The islands, therefore, are a leg up for sailors who want to visit the outer reef. The nearest, called Bait Reef, is about 20 miles east of the easternmost island, a three- to four-hour voyage for our 37-foot ketch, Honu.

Bait Reef hosts the famous Stepping Stones, 18 flat-topped coral pinnacles lining the southwest side of the reef. Each round tower rises 50 to 80 feet from the ocean floor and stops 3 to 6 feet below the surface.

It’s easy to swim from one backyard-size coral head to the next, and each is a snorkeler’s dream. Confetti parades of tropical fish swim at the pillar tops, and enormous fish such as giant trevally and Napoleon wrasse hang near the drop-offs.

The Great Barrier Reef hosts about 350 species of light-loving coral, making competition for space fierce. When coral-eating fish and invertebrates leave bite scars, the larvae of sponges, worms, crustaceans, clams and corals quickly claim the space.

Every imaginable shape and color of stony corals cover the flat column tops, with soft corals and giant clams elbowing their way between.

An Australian researcher recently surveyed an area of coral reef off Port Douglas, about 300 miles north of the Whitsundays, and reported that 90 percent of the corals he observed have bleached (turned white). I’ve seen no bleaching here, but the study is a stark reminder that this largest living organism on Earth is at risk from climate change.

At the outer reefs, weather is everything. Being submerged and patchy, the coral heads offer no protection from wind and waves. Skippers head out when the wind is light, and keep an escape plan in mind should the weather change.

So, fingers crossed, out we sailed. Soon after our arrival the wind stopped completely, leaving the water so flat and glassy, we were able to spend the night. As we sailed back the next day, two humpback whales, up from Antarctica for the winter, put on a show of breaching.

Our cruising guide for this area is called “100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef.” I couldn’t imagine a better title.

Putting a boat back in water can be adventurous in itself

Published October 19, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

BUNDABERG RIVER, QUEENSLAND, Australia >> When I left my sailboat, Honu, here in July, it was in a slip in the marina. But while I was home in Hawaii, my friend found a problem that required taking the boat to dry dock. Colin repaired the boo-boos (fix one, find another), and that made my first chore here to splash the boat, meaning get it back in the water.

Splashing a 37-foot sailboat weighing 20 tons is accomplished with a contraption called a Travel Lift, a machine so huge, loud and odd-looking that it reminds me of a movie-style Transformer.

While I stood on the deck with Colin, workers drove this roaring robot over Honu to straddle her and fastened two giant belts under the hull, front and rear. When all was deemed secure, up rose the boat from its land supports, and off we drove to the launch site, Honu swaying in her slings.

During the short journey, I remembered boatyard tales of belts failing and boats dropping, but all went well and soon Honu was hanging over the water. Because boat engines pump seawater for coolant, you can’t start the motor before the hull is afloat. The driver lowered the slings and boat into the water, and it was time to try the repaired engine. The engine started right up — hooray — but when Colin and I dashed below to check for leaks, we found a geyser of that cooling seawater spurting throughout the engine room.

Quick, get the socket set!

Just as Colin finished tightening two loose hose clamps, plop, into the bilge fell the socket. The marina had assigned Honu a slip, and off I drove. I started out OK, but as I turned in, a gust of wind hit the boat on the side.

As a result, Colin couldn’t throw the rear line to a helper waiting on the dock, so he threw the front (bow) line instead. When the guy pulled on the bow, Honu’s rear end swung far from the dock. Nuts. I was going in sideways.

The result was six men shouting various instructions as Honu drifted askew. Fortunately, the two-slip space was large and empty. Eventually, with the help of my well-working motor and neighbors, I got Honu straightened out and tied up. In the wrong slip, but still.

The boat was afloat, and I didn’t crash it or hurt anyone in the process. Well, I hurt myself a little. I discovered three oozing scrapes on my right shin, a small gash on my left hand and a deep scratch on my thigh. I had no idea how or when each injury occurred, but my friend Alex maintains that if you’re bleeding and don’t know why, it means you’re having a good time.

We borrowed a Shop-Vac to suck up the seawater in the engine pan, and Colin drove to town and bought a replacement socket. When I reported to the office that I ended up in the wrong slip, the worker there did the typical Australian thing. Turning to the marina map grease board, she rubbed out the name Honu from slip 9 and rewrote it in slip 8. “There,” she said. “No worries.”

Now I’m provisioned, fueled up and at anchor in the Bundaberg River, the ideal place for our 2 a.m. departure. Yes, our. My longtime friend Colin, a shipwright and crackerjack boat fixer, said he’s heard enough about Pancake Creek and Lady Musgrave over the years that he wants to see them.

Alex is right about the bleeding. I’m having a blast.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Emails reveal shared love of sea creatures worldwide

Published December 29, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

You’ll never hear me complaining about email. It used to be that writing this column was a lonely job. Now each day I get to drink my morning coffee with people who share my love of the ocean and its remarkable inhabitants.

Some readers write to tell me about their own experiences with a subject I’ve written about, and others offer kind corrections or clarifications. Countless people just want me to know how much my articles brighten their Mondays and that brightens the hours I spend at my computer.

Every message has its charm, but a few from 2014 stand out.

Cutest story: Jennifer from Kualoa wrote that she gives the ghost crabs on her beach peanuts. “The big dudes take one in each claw and shuffle another around like a soccer ball … Sometimes they share, as with an apple core that washed in.” Another day, she wrote that her crabs “hold the peanut in one claw and nip off bits to eat with the other. But what about the ones with no claws? I know they will grow back, but in the meantime, what will they do?”

I loved learning that ghost crabs share apples and play soccer with peanuts. The fact that Jennifer worries about injured crabs tells me that we are kindred spirits.

The shortest and sweetest: In this era of information overload, I loved this reader’s economy.

Subject box: “Upside-down jellyfish.”

Message: “Thanks — Really Good.”

Appreciation noted.

Most alarming question: On Feb. 12, Paul wrote, “Aloha Susan, Could the invasive algae be responsible for the missing Honu in the Ala Moana Lagoon? We have only seen one Honu in 4+ months.”

Happiest ending: On Feb. 19, Paul wrote: “Aloha Susan! Had to avoid a large Honu at Ala Moana Lagoon today so that makes 3 in 2 days. A welcome return after many months absence (for whatever reason.)”

Question with the easiest answer: While watching manta rays at night, a Big Island reader, Chris, met a woman who “claimed that there is a day, one time a year, when the world’s oceans all get super excited, and the water is effervescent and the tides change color and sea life large and small all becomes super animated … perhaps tied to a lunar event. Was this gal off her rocker?”

Um. Yes.

Best message from a distant land: Emails arrived from readers in Australia, South Korea, Pakistan and the Czech Republic. These were all fun starts to my day (Wow, Pakistan?) but the one that touched my heart came from the CR. “Hello madam,” Jan wrote. “I’d like to run away from Europe and live a spiritual life. It would be possible to settle in such a paradise? Good luck.”

I already had my good luck. I wished Jan equally good luck in finding his or her paradise.

Favorite video: My neighbor Joanne sent this link — bit.ly/1zad8WG — with the note, “In case you haven’t already seen this 46 times.” I had not seen it even once, but I’m now close to 46.

All my messages this year were positive, entertaining and inspiring. Thank you, dear readers, for making this column so much more than a job. See you in 2015.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

The graceful green turtle inspires name for sailboat

The 37-foot French ketch. ©2014 Susan Scott

Noumea, New Caledo­nia » I’m on the road again, my road being the Pacific Ocean and my vehicle being my old friend Honu.

Craig and I bought the 37-foot French ketch in 1984 on the East Coast with the plan to sail it home to Hawaii. The first thing we did to prepare for the voyage was give the boat a Hawaiian name.

In nautical lore, changing a boat’s name is supposed to be bad luck, but that idea came from men who thought bathing made you sick and that women on ships caused storms. We ignored the superstition, registered the boat as Honu and had an artist paint a sea turtle on the transom.

We picked the word for sea turtle because the boat reminded us of those graceful grazers, their shells heavy and wide yet efficient and seaworthy. Green turtles can weigh up to 400 pounds with shells 4 feet long, yet, like Honu’s Fiberglas hull, they glide through the water like angels on wings.

It took us nearly a year, but the two of us sailed the boat to its new home in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. As Honu’s original blue paint, cushions and sail covers wore out, we replaced them in green, even though green turtle shells aren’t green, but shades of gold and brown. The “green” in the name comes from turtles’ green fat, once prized in soup.

When we named the boat Honu, the word wasn’t widely used. But in testimony to the success of federal and state wildlife protection laws, today “honu” is common in Hawaii, both in term and turtles — but not in soup.

Honu Sailing

Honu Sailing

Honu and I have had some momentous passages together, and not just those of the sea. When I was 55 I sailed to Palmyra, Tahiti and across the South Pacific to Australia.

During my voyaging I discovered that the word “honu” also sailed throughout the Pacific. In addition to Hawaii, “honu” also means “green turtle” in the native languages of Tahiti and New Zealand. Cook Islanders call turtles “onu,” in Tonga they’re “fonu” and Fijians say “vonu.”

In all places, though, including here in New Caledonia, where Craig and I are preparing Honu for a passage to Australia, our boat’s name gets smiles of recognition. OK, it’s probably the turtle on the transom that draws the smiles, but the picture defines the boat’s name.

By 2012, in Mexico, Honu needed new hull and deck paint. I hired out the huge job, flew home and returned months later to find the painting top-notch — with one exception. The boat’s transom had a lovely new turtle painted below the name, but the O in “Honu” angled oddly to the right.

As I stared at the word, thinking, I must get this fixed, the American contractor said, “The O is a halo because turtles are angels of the sea.” He shrugged. “That’s what the artist said.”

Honu’s halo remains intact.

The previous pain on the transom. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

The previous pain on the transom. Courtesy Scott R. Davis


Honu from the side. Courtesy Scott R. Davis


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott

Navigating through customs can be frustrating, comical

Craig raising the quarantine flag, 2014.

What happened with the customs officer in Tonga?” a reader emailed, referring to a comment I made in last week’s column about a misunderstanding Craig and I had after arriving in that country by sailboat. “Perhaps other cruisers would like to know so they don’t make the same mistake.”

If only it were that simple. Countries’ entry and exit laws regarding foreign boats can be as hard to get right as sailing there in the first place.

It’s easy to read a country’s official policies online and in cruising guides. But because sailing schedules are ruled by the weather, boats sometimes arrive, or must leave, on weekends, holidays and during off hours. Often it’s not clear what to do at those times.

In addition, not all workers are up to date on their governments’ latest regulations. And even if they are, some officials view the check-in and checkout procedures more as guidelines than laws.

In 2006, for example, after arriving in the Cook Islands on a Sunday, I followed protocol and insisted that my crew stay aboard, at anchor, until Monday. After a difficult, upwind passage, this was like a jail sentence.

By Monday, however, after my radio calls went unanswered and no one came, we inflated the dinghy and went to the harbor’s administrative center.

“You should have come ashore,” the exuberant customs officer said when I told him when we arrived, “and enjoyed our beautiful island (Aitu­taki)!”

Other workers toe the official line. Last month we arrived in Vavau, Tonga, on Maundy (Holy) Thursday. Warned in Niue that everything in these devoutly Christian nations would be closed until Tuesday, we asked the locals who helped tie the boat to the entry dock what do to.

“Go there,” two men said, pointing to a nearby building.

Wrong building. A harbor official drew us a map to another building six blocks away. Wrong again. When we got back, an angry customs officer was at the boat.

“No one leaves the boat before being cleared!” he said. “Where did you go?”

The officer scolded us as we explained, apologized and groveled. Eventually the hand-drawn map convinced him that we had been misled, and he started us on our trek through Tonga’s customs, immigration, quarantine and health clearances, each division with its own inspector, forms and fees.

We were lucky. Customs officers can fine you, impound your boat or have you arrested.

Leaving a country by boat can be as tricky. In Suva it took us no less than four visits, each 2 miles round trip, walking, to the immigration office to check out. But the Fijian workers were so cheery about the time mix-ups — Oops, lunch time. Three o’clock? Sorry, we meant 6 — all we could do was laugh. Besides, after being on a 37-foot boat for most of a month, exercise felt good.

Worldwide, when arriving at a foreign port, vessels must request clearance by flying a yellow quarantine flag. It seems straightforward enough, but seasoned sailors know that hoisting a Q flag often signals the beginning of another memorable experience.

But having memorable experiences is why we go cruising.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Hollywood take on voyaging smoother than in real life

Published April 14, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Susan at the Navigation Station (desk) on Honu. In calm seas.

AT SEA IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC » We’re sailing from Tahiti to Niue, a tiny island country of about 2,000 people.

Craig and I have been at sea on our 37-foot sailboat for more than a week now, sailing in brisk 20 to 25 mph southeast tradewinds. As Honu trundles along downwind toward Niue (we skipped the Cook Islands due to wind direction), we grip handholds for our every move, struggle to cook one-handed and joke about Robert Redford’s recent sailing movie, “All Is Lost.”

In that film, we long-distance sailors agree, all is lost about offshore sailing.

Although that movie captured some of the challenges of open ocean voyaging, such as having to repair and improvise when things go wrong, the tale fell flat in its depiction of life on a sailboat at sea. Out here nothing is flat.

During our 1,200-mile passage, the southeast tradewinds have been blowing for days on end, good for covering distance but also the recipe for rough, rowdy waves. These great walls of blue water tumble over in sizzling white foam, smacking, rocking and rolling the boat with utter indifference. Riding on top of these noisy, towering hills can feel like a carnival ride from hell: It’s expensive, it make you sick and you can’t get off.

In most boating films, when people go inside the cabins, all there is calm and quiet. Craig and I laugh about that, too. You might get out of wind and rain below decks, but the motion of the ocean persists.


The view from the cockpit of Honu, on the Coconut Milk Run 2006, during some rougher seas. Courtesy Scott Davis

As I write, I hold my laptop on the desk with the heels of both hands, moving fingers only, and my outstretched legs brace my body in my seat. The teak furniture down here squeaks and groans with the flexing of the Fiberglas hull, and the lines banging on the deck sound as if we’ve hit something. We’ve hit nothing. Craig and I take turns keeping 24-hour watch, but neither of us has seen a single man-made item. No boats, no ships and nothing floating on the surface.

From the reports of marine pollution, you might imagine Honu plowing through a sea of bobbing water bottles and foam cups. Not so. The ocean out here is a clean, sparkling desert of blue dunes marching over the horizon.

Like terrestrial deserts, marine deserts host animals, sparse and hard to spot but remarkable in their adaptability to a harsh environment. Several species meet here at the border of air and water.

From below, malolo (flying fish) burst up and skip astonishingly long distances over the surface, often plowing right through waves and popping out the other side.

Malolo are pupu for seabirds, the other creatures we see flitting between the waves in jerks like puppets on strings.

“Look,” one of us says, “a tropicbird (or booby or shearwater).” Because only one or two birds appear per day, a sighting is always worth a shout.

Weather forecasts are calling for declining winds, but even if it becomes glassy calm, the ocean will not be flat. Great smooth swells generated by distant storms will be rolling under Honu as we motor into Niue.

We’re looking forward to the change in sea state.

When it comes to sailing, it’s all about the ride.


In glassy seas motoring Honu towards Bora, Bora, 2005. Courtesy Scott Davis

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Captivating stony corals get a reluctant au revoir

Published April 7, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Coral, lionfish, urchin, in the Marina on Raiatea, 2006. Courtesy Scott Davis

Honu is once again moving west through the Society Islands. Although I’m happy to be sailing again, it was hard to say goodbye to Tahiti, with its jagged green mountains, friendly people and perfect french fries. But what I really hated to leave was Papeete’s Marina Taina, a boat basin that made me feel I was floating in a world-class aquarium.

When I was sweaty, tired and frustrated from boat preparations, all I had to do was step from the boat to the pier to get a spirit lift. The rock of the boat and my shadow on the water sent a confettilike shower of fish scurrying for cover. If I waited there motionless, out peeked those busy little color chips to see if the danger had passed. Deciding it had, the fish emerged and went back to grazing.

Boat harbors aren’t usually equated with excellent fish watching because their water is often dark and dirty. Not this one. In most places inside the breakwater, I could see the bottom of the pilings. (I could see fairly deep at night, too, due to the nearby superyachts’ underwater lights.)

But it wasn’t bare pilings that attracted all those fish. The posts and piers that secured our boats looked like candy dishes of marine goodies. With water temperatures 80-some degrees year-round, visibility to 50 feet and daily tides moving water in and out, the conditions in and around Marina Taina are ideal for growth of stony corals.

Stony corals don’t care about boats, people or even floating paper and plastic. All they want is clear warm water, lots of sunlight and a space to stick to. Leave them alone in those conditions and off they go, building the bases of the most diverse and concentrated gatherings of marine life on the planet.

Coral clumps start small. Each head, branch or plate begins as one individual produced by the union of an egg and sperm. Typically fertilization takes place in the water where the parents release their sex cells.

If it isn’t eaten, the fertilized egg develops into a larva that drifts for days or weeks as it matures. When full grown, the tiny pioneer settles down, sticking to one spot where it immediately begins secreting a protective calcium carbonate skeleton around itself.

The coral expands its new homestead by making clones of itself, budding off genetically identical roommates that remain attached to each other. The clones make more clones, and on and on it goes with individuals growing up, out and over one another. As a result, only the outermost layer of a coral head is alive.

All clones in a colony are connected by a thin layer of tissue that allows them to share food. That’s why stepping on, or grabbing, living coral damages the entire colony.

Stony corals get their colors from tiny plants that live inside the skeleton cups. The corals in and around Marina Taina included blue rice, yellow lace, pink cauliflower and brown antler, so stunning it was hard to walk without stopping.

I felt sad saying goodbye to Tahiti with its charming marina full of coral heads packed together like a farmers market display, complete with pushy fish shoppers. My consolation is that more magic lies ahead.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott


Boat provides a challenge too daunting to sail solo

Published March 31, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Honu in Tahiti 2006. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

PAPEETE, TAHITI » Last weekend I flew to Papeete because I left my sailboat Honu here in October to sit out the southern hurricane season. That being over now, it’s time to pack the boat with brie and baguettes, cast off the mooring lines and sail on.

When I mentioned this upcoming voyage to friends and acquain­tances back home, the first thing they asked was, “Are you sailing alone?”

No. I sail alone on short trips, but I don’t go offshore by myself for one simple reason: It’s too scary. But it’s not the open ocean that scares me (usually). It’s the boat.

Cruising sailboats have most of the appliances we have at home, all the machinery of our cars, and an IT worker’s nightmare of computer-driven nautical systems. Towering above all that is an elaborate assortment of ropes, poles and wires supporting flexing masts and flapping sails.

We cram this mass of specialized gear into a small space (37 feet by just over 12 feet in this case) and sprinkle it with salt water while shaking and pounding it for weeks on end.

The sailors’ old joke that the definition of offshore cruising is repairing your boat in exotic places is only funny if you’re good at fixing things. I am not.

But no worries. I’m sailing with my husband, Craig. It will be just the two of us, but having a man who’s been sailing since he was 6, and is good at troubleshooting and repairing all manner of marine systems, is like having an engineer, navigator and sailing instructor all in one.

Oh, and he cooks, too.

The other questions people ask about concern our destina­tion, route, distance and timing.

Craig and I plan on sailing to the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia, where we will leave Honu in a marina and fly home to work. We have two months for this voyage, about 3,000 miles due west. This may seem like plenty of time, but when your vessel averages 5 mph, timing is a concern.

I want to leave Honu in New Caledonia for a while because it seems that whenever I see a photo of a fantastic new (to me) marine species, the location credit says New Caledonia. We shall see.

To answer another question, yes, I’m planning on writing my columns while sailing, sending them through my satellite phone email system — providing the satellite phone, computer and battery charging systems all keep working. I live in hope.

Satellite phones are marvelous inventions but they don’t transmit photos. I’ll try to paint pictures with words.*

The route Craig and I will be following is nicknamed the Coconut Milk Run because the prevailing winds come from behind the boat, making it an easy downwind run. In theory. I sailed this course in 2006 with two friends and had contrary wind directions and, of course, several boat system failures. Fortunately my friends were good sports and clever repairmen.

Now I get to again make the run with Craig, who on the boat is cheerful company and consistently optimistic. And, even given my deficient repair skills, he calls me captain.

Thank you, dear readers, for your caring questions and sincere best wishes. Stay tuned.

Susan aboard Honu during the Coconut Milk Run in 2006

*Susan’s web guy, Scott, was one of the crew on the 2006 voyage and will try to use pictures from that voyage to augment Susan’s painting with words.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott