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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/refuge/


Ship Logs

Written by Carlos Eyles

Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
September 23, 2002

Spinner Dolphins at Midway.After a beach barbecue the night before, we took the day off yesterday. This was done primarily to 'off gas' the divers who have been making three dives a day since we arrived at Nihoa. Nitrogen builds up in the body and a day off gives it a chance to purge any residual. We needed a day off; everyone was fatigued, ground down by the sea and the sixteen hour work days. As is my custom I went off by myself and biked my way towards nowhere in particular. Generally I find that when I have no real destination, the destination finds me. Almost always it is the very place I should be, and I couldn't have found it had I tried to think it through. I crossed the giant runway and found an unused path that took me to a point off the south end of the island that went by the unglamorous name of Bulky Dump. Would anyone consciously decide to go to a place named Bulky Dump? I know I wouldn't but there is where I found myself.

(If there are any surfers reading this, my advice is to stop now, skip over this part and move on to the next paragraph.) I am a body surfer, not much of a board surfer, but I have a keen appreciation of a beautiful wave. The waves off this point were some of the finest I have ever seen. I looked miles to the east and miles to the west and saw nothing but breaks rolling into an off shore breeze that was holding the faces with delicate perfection. Lefts and rights, awesome wave after awesome wave, four to five feet the way Hawaiians measure waves, eight to ten feet the way they are measured by everybody else.

Doublebar Goatfish.Enchanted I made a place for myself in the sand and watched them roll in, and thought about the purity of this place. Here are all these perfect waves and not a single surfer, all these giant fish (fifty to eighty pound ulua swimming around the boat at night) and not a single fisherman, all these beautiful birds and not a single poacher. It was as if I did not belong here, that I had stumbled into some sacred place where humans were not allowed. The perfection that existed here could not be exploited, a perfect wave could not be ridden, should not be ridden, it could only be appreciated for what it was, nothing more. The fish appreciated for simply what they are and the birds appreciated for what they are, not for any pleasure they can give us in our exploitation of them.

How, you might ask, can I possibly exploit a wave by riding it? Because, there must be places in the world that don't tolerate a lineup of surfers that would otherwise blemish the utter beauty and perfection of the waves. (Perhaps only surfers can truly understand this logic.) There need to be places in the world that cannot be violated by our mere presence, we have long used up our violations. Places where we can't ride a wave or walk on a beach because the monk seals may or may not haul out on that beach. It is their beach, not our beach. It is the fish's ocean, not our ocean. It is the bird's sky, not our sky. There must be places where it is not permissible to leave any evidence that we were ever there. If you think about it, that is what a refuge is all about; it is a refuge from humans, not so much a sanctuary for wildlife, although it is both.

And so I sat with the sea and the waves until late in the afternoon. Sometimes I read a book and just let the sound of the waves reverberate through me, after a while you don't need to see them, just to hear them, to feel them is enough. And when it was time, when I was cleansed of the pollutants of the mind and soul, I gave thanks for wave's power and its blessing and made my way back to the boat and my tribe.

This morning the sunrise occurs in spectacular fashion with endless lineups of clouds sprayed with thick layers of crimsons and gold, like the Rose Bowl Parade of floats working their way down heaven's boulevard. The Documentation team is the last to leave with Keoki Stender at the helm. He is a member of the Rapture crew but had worked here on Midway for two years and knows his way around the island. He takes us to one of his favorite locations and we dive a cathedral of rock formations with ethereal light streaming through blue windows of porous caverns where big ulua (giant trevally) weave their way in and out of grand shafts of filtered light.

Spinner Dolphins at Midway.Jim Watt, our photographer, is tasked with 'shooting' some limu, (seaweed), and we have coordinates for an old anchor in Wells Harbor that Hans (our shipwreck expert) wanted tracked down so after our dive we head that way, finding both the limu and the anchor. In the doing, a pod of spinner dolphins finds us. I love dolphin, they have literally saved my life, and taught me precious lessons in the value of play.

They are curious about us, we are free diving the anchor in twenty feet of water. They roll and spin their way towards us, the ambassadors of friendliness. When we surface they follow us up, then breakaway, turning and engaged with our presence for a few moments. We float on the surface watching the pod cruise by, some upside down, some in sexual play, a few cavorting in the wild, rough play of the best troupers in the seas. But we do not join them, we watch as they wait for us to dive, but they do not wait long, and make one more pass before leaving. I watch them vanish into their sapphire sea; this time around it is enough to simply see them in this place of refuge -- to witness the perfection and harmony without having to ride the wave. This is their ocean, their refuge, not mine.

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