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Magic Merman Boat Tour

Mark Heckey is a retired city planner with a passion for writing.

The second part of an epic vacation in Hawaii.

"I got to be honest with you, the snorkeling right now is not that great. Visibility is low. We don't like to put you in the water when conditions are like this. No fun. And the sharks can't figure you out."

Our captain, a middle age woman in a ball cap and swim suit began to lay out our options. We were about a mile out on a small craft, a twelve-person snorkel tour out of Whaler's Village, Lahaina. The part about sharks had our attention.

Our captain's name was Sammy, aka Samantha. Her younger brother Nate (same name as Chelsea's friend), a lanky recent college grad, provided the only crew. He had swim blades the length of his arm, and he swam along side the boat checking water visibility. "Only three feet here," he spoke through his snorkel.

Partial cloud cover followed us as we trolled along the Maui coast. We bobbed in the waves and looked for a good place to go in. Our craft really was built more like a landing craft, a heavy Zodiac like inflatable with a large green canopy and a large outboard motor on the back. We were seeing the ocean up close and personal.

At last, the captain said: "If it's OK with you folks, I want to do something different. We can give up looking for a good spot here on the coast and book it across to Lanai, to the Manele Small Boat Harbor. We can look for fish there and give you a view of the Lanai coast."

The Manele harbor is near the little-inhabited area at the Four Seasons Resort, on an island recently purchased for $300 million by Silicon Valley tycoon, Larry Ellison. Ellison got the owners, Dole Pineapple, to come down from the billion-dollar asking price in 2012. The island has few inhabitants but will grow as Ellison begins to develop it. Lanai City is on the central plateau and has around 3,000 population.

At the harbor, we went into the water and swam over great balls of yellow butterfly and tangs near the bottom. We could also see Moorish Idols and Pencil Wrasse. The strong current pushed us back and forth, not the mild snorkeling we had experienced on Kauai on a past trip.




We all struggled to get back to the boat, swimming in place as the current held us in its command. Malcolm returned to the boat and declared, "I felt like a salmon swimmin' up stream."

Our captain declared his new nickname to be "Sal". As we got to know our crew better, we learned of the economic hardships endured on Maui during the height of the pandemic. Hawaii had adopted stringent controls and most forms of work dried up. This little tour boat had just returned to service. Sam's husband, a commercial fisherman, had barely made it — and her family had eaten a lot of fish. Restaurants and hotels still have strong occupancy restrictions.

Many on-board were starting to get sea sick and it was time for a return to Maui. Before we left, the tour took us to the famous Sweetheart Rock for a short dip and photo ops. Chelsea and Nate bobbed in front of the black lava outcropping while Terri took a photo. I noticed that Chelsea was a strong swimmer, a skill that would prove valuable later in the trip.

Our crew told us of the sad tale of the imprisoned maiden separated from her Lahaina people by a jealous warrior prince from Lanai. He held her captive in a cave. One day a storm surge drowned her. In despair, the despondent lover leapt from atop the rocks to his death. Her spirit inhabits a white shark that sometimes circles the rock.

We skipped on the whitecaps back the ten miles to the Maui coast. Our captain slipped up and over the wakes, going sideways to reduce the impact of the boat hitting the troughs.

We had one final stop to swim with the turtles near Shark Beach. After a day of snorkeling and a wild ride skimming the ocean waves, we returned drenched and drained to the sandy shore of Whaler's Village. Our pod had survived!

~ Mark Heckey




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