Thursday, September 28, 2006


Buzzy Trent (May 13, 1929 - September 27, 2006) 

 Buzzy's son Ivan wrote me, today (9/28/2006), to say that his father left us on September 27th.

Last year, Ricky Grigg's profile of Buzzy was printed in THE SURFER'S JOURNAL and it is required reading for anyone interested in Buzzy and his contributions to our sport; Vol. 14, No. 1, Early Spring 2005.

I expect there will be more resources on Buzzy that will come forward as the days progress. For now, here are some of the best:

From Jack McCoy: Thanks very much Malcolm for your great articles on Buzzy. As a kid growing up in HI, the lat 50's I was 12 and such a stoked surfer. Sevo's first mag came out and buzzy had a few shots in it. When we heard of the high surf days, my mom would let me out of school and drive me and a couple of friends around the northeast side to the bay to watch. We were lucky to be there on a couple of the big early days, sitting there on the point and then hanging on the north side of the bay where our heros would come in and talk about their rides at sunset. It would take about an hour and a half to drive home but it seemed to go in just a few minutes because of the buz and stoke that filled the car as we replayed what we'd witnessed all the way home. Buzzy was obviously our #1 big wave hero in the early days. the "guts" Hobie ad is the one that we'd use to convince any of our doubters at school when arguing about big wave riders. We always thought that George Downing was a big wave legend. quietly surfing giant Makaha. We later learned to love Ricky, Peter, and Jose but it was Buzzy who always seemed like the crazy charger. I've yet to read all of your chapters on Buzzy so I don't know if you've got this story in there or not, but later, after high school, a story was going around about Buzzy working on one of the early high rises in Waikiki and up several floors, spotted a small Flippino guy slip and fall. As he went by, Buzzy reach out and grabbed him and saved his life. No one ever questioned the story, just knew that if anyone was going to reach out and grab a guy falling in space and bring him in it would be Buzzy. His wife is Violet and and daughter Anna, who has always loved uncle Bud (Browne). She was taking Bud on bungie trips to NZ in his late 80's and today still looks after him north of Santa Barbara in his new nursing home. Anyway thanks again for your wonderful efforts and aloha, jack mccoy

From Chris Bogust: Dear Malcolm, I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Buzzy Trent. It was announced locally on KGMB (Honolulu) on 9/29 but there were no further details regarding his funeral, etc.... I met him in 1973 while I was living at Velzyland and had the great fortune to meet his brother John, when I went to Alaska in July 1975 for the Bicentennial. I was stationed aboard the USS Monticello (LSD-35) and the people of Anchorage had a "Host a Sailor" program for the 4th of July celebration there. John Trent picked my name because my "Bio" included the fact that I was a big wave surfer who had just come from the "dream" duty station of NAVCOMSTA, Honolulu (Wahiawa). What John did not know from my "Bio" was that his brother was one of my heroes as a young gremmie. I spent a delightful day with John and his wife and I would really appreciate any information you have regarding funeral arrangements and if John, (if he's alive), will be attending. Please reply as soon as you have an opportunity. Thanks for your assistance in advance. Mahalo and Aloha, Chris Bogust Honolulu, Hawaii e-mail: 

HONOLULU ADVERTISER Obit October 3, 2006: Buzzy Trent, 77, big-wave master dies By Rod Ohira Advertiser Staff Writer Buzzy Trent was a fearless adventurer who fought bulls in Tijuana and boxed before gaining fame as one of the legendary pioneers of big-wave surfing. "Buzzy took on challenges that stimulated his adrenaline in sports that most would be hesitant to take on, primarily surfing and hang-gliding," said friend George Downing, himself a renowned waterman. "When he was asked to take on a challenge, his answer was when, not where." Goodwin Murray "Buzzy" Trent Jr. died Sept. 6 at Hale Ho Aloha nursing home in Pacific Heights. He was 77. A California native, Trent gained international note in 1953 when the late Scoop Suzuki photographed him with Woody Brown and Downing riding a 20-foot winter wave at Makaha in the first widely published photos of big-wave surfing. Peter Cole of Sunset Beach said Trent, his lifelong friend from grammar school in Santa Monica, Calif., was an exceptional athlete who could run 100 yards in 10 seconds in high school. Trent was an all-state football player whose career was cut short at the University of Southern California by a leg injury suffered in practice, Cole said. Trent, one of the top young surfers in California, sailed to Hawai'i on a catamaran in 1953 after hearing about big-wave surfing at Makaha from a friend, Walter Hoffman. "Buzzy loved to surf Point Break Makaha," Downing said. "He enjoyed sliding across these long breaking waves and considered Jan. 12, 1958, as one of the greatest surfing days of his life." Downing described the winter waves that day as perfect. "It was gigantic, 25 to 40 feet," he recalled. "At the end of the day, Buzzy said to me, 'My life is now complete.' " Trent and Downing were in a class by themselves, the first big-wave masters of Makaha, said author and former surfing champion Richard "Ricky" Grigg. "George had the ocean knowledge, he was the general, and Buzzy had the guts to lead the charge," said Grigg, a University of Hawai'i professor of oceanography. "Together, they formed a great team that conquered big waves." Grigg said Trent was known for his power and high trim and had the willpower, stamina and true grit to take wipeouts head on. Five-time tow-in surfing champion Garrett McNamara said of Trent: "He was among the pioneers who did it with no leash and giant boards. They did it for the love of it and challenge. Hats off to them." Despite his tough-guy appearance and private nature, Cole and other friends often saw another side of Trent. "He was a model physical specimen and also an entertaining individual with a lot of charisma," Cole said. "I remember once we were in lineup (waiting for waves) at Laniakea, and he starts telling stories. We're all listening and not moving. He keeps talking while moving away and this wave comes in. He gets the wave, and we all get caught inside." Grigg said Trent took up hang- gliding while it was still a relatively new activity. Wearing only shorts, Trent once hiked up the slopes in Wai'anae to hang-glide and was blown several thousand feet high. "He almost froze to death," Grigg said. Trent was a big part of his life, Grigg said. At age 11 while surfing with Trent at Santa Monica, Grigg was speared by his surfboard. "It split my spleen in half and he rushed me to the hospital," Grigg recalled. "He saved my life. "I've been his mascot for a long time, and he was like a surrogate father to me," Grigg added. "He had the most influence of anyone on my life. He always used to tell me, 'If you're out surfing, take risks, but calculate it first and then go for it.' " Goodwin Murray Trent Jr. was born in San Diego and raised in Santa Monica. His grandfather, John Parkinson, was a Los Angeles architect who designed several of the city's historical landmarks, among them the Los Angeles Coliseum, City Hall and University of Southern California campus. Trent is survived by his second wife, Gladis; daughter Anna and son Trent; and seven grandchildren. Private services have been held and his ashes scattered at sea. Reach Rod Ohira at

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Waves of Warning 08

Chapter Seven – The Sea People

[ Viewable in PDF format at: 08-TheSeaPeople.pdf ]

David Helmares guided his voyaging craft slowly through the reef
passage into the quiet lagoon. With the trade winds at his back, the return
voyage from Ka’unua had taken but two days. He could see Taveka standing
at the water’s edge, his white hair and broad smile in sharp contrast to his dark
brown skin, holding his weathered hands high above his head in greeting.
David’s eyes filled with tears, and for a moment, he could no longer see
his mentor. The tears turned to laughter, as David remembered the first time he
had sailed through the passage into this lagoon when the welcome had been
quite different.

* * *

“You do not have permission to land here. You do not have permission to
anchor in these waters.”

The spry and surprisingly strong Polynesian was standing knee-deep in
the still waters of the lagoon and holding firm to the bow of the fiberglass
sailboat to keep it from touching the shore. From the lines on his face he could
have been sixty or seventy years old. Yet his physique, half-hidden by a
traditional lavalava wrapped around his waist and up over one shoulder, was
of a man in the prime of life. He spoke in the voice of one who had
commanded others for decades.

“What do you want?”

“My name is David Helmares, and I want to learn from the sea people of
Marulea,” he replied from the cockpit near the stern of the boat, “And your
name, sir?”

“My name is Taveka. Who are you, Captain Helmares?”

The deeply tanned Helmares was wearing sunglasses and a visor to
protect his eyes from the glare of the ocean. He was bare-chested, and his
surfing trunks were as sun-bleached as his hair.

“I’ve just sailed over three thousand miles and - - -“

“Captain, that is not what I asked you.”

“Sir, uh, I mean Taveka, I have everything you need right here. This bag
contains my passport, ships’ papers, and all my documents.”

He began to walk forward from the cockpit, only to see Taveka raise a
hand in a clear signal to proceed no further.

“Please just stay where you are. I am not interested in your documents.
Now, Captain Helmares, what did I ask you?”

The question was posed in a quiet, patient voice that nonetheless
demanded a response.

“May I at least come forward and speak to you more directly?”

“Tie your helm down so your boat does not drift. Then come and sit on
the bow. And take off your sunglasses.”

The young sailor did as he was told. He sensed the man standing before
him had all the authority of a customs agent, a harbormaster, and more.

“I was born in the United States, in the state of Texas, in - -”

“Texas? Well, you are a long way from the Lone Star State, partner!”
Taveka looked straight into David’s eyes.

“Just one minute please, Captain. I think others will want to hear this.”

He turned and waded through the shallow water to the beach and
continued to walk across the sand.

“Remember,” said Taveka, calling to the unexpected visitor from the trees
fringing the beach, “Do not drop anchor under any circumstances!”

Within minutes a crowd of people gathered on the beach. They were
wearing sarongs, canvas shorts, traditional loin wraps, and muumuus in bright
yellows, reds and blues that contrasted with their rich brown skin. There were
strong young men and women, many with children of all ages and sizes. There
were older couples hand-in-hand, and the people up front made way for them
as they sat down near the water. Only when they were seated did everyone else
sit down, though some of the young children could not contain their curiosity
and went swimming around the modern sailboat. There was a lively murmur
of conversation, and David could pick out words in English, French, and a
dialect that he had not heard while sailing throughout Polynesia. A small
group of elders appeared behind the crowd and did not sit down. Taveka
emerged from that group and walked through the crowd to the water’s edge.

“Captain David Helmares, we are impressed you were able to find us, and
for that you have our respect. Now, who are you?”

David was about to begin when a voice came from the middle of the
crowd. “And be brief – we have to go fishing in a few days!”

Everybody laughed, except for the elders and Taveka.

“I’ll do my best. I was born in Texas, but my father died when I was only

“What city in Texas?”

“What day were you born?”

“Was your birth painful to your mother?”

“Do you remember him?”

There was so much curiosity in the air that Taveka did not try to tame it
for almost a minute. Then he slowly raised his hand and the questions stopped

“First he must present himself to us.”

David Helmares realized he was in a truly foreign place far, far from
California in more ways than one.

“Of course, I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions. I’m not going

“That remains to be seen. Although I am the chief navigator for our
people, the decision about you is not entirely mine.”

One precocious boy about ten years old just couldn’t wait.

“I want to know how did he get here from Texas?”

“Yes, and why did he find us?” said another youth, possibly six or seven.

“Did you build your boat?”

“Can you catch fish with it?”

“Are you married?” That question came from a blushing young girl,
barely a teenager, sitting near the water.

“Yes, are you available?” asked a large woman seated in the middle of the
crowd. A wave of laughter rolled through the crowd as David blushed. Taveka
suppressed a smile and raised his hand. This time the quiet would not be

“He does not have permission to land. We do not know who he is or if he
is welcome . First he must present himself to us.”

The chief navigator turned to the young man sitting on his fiberglass craft.

“First you must present yourself to us. Then we will council and decide if
we want to ask you any questions. If so, we will all take part in questioning,”
said Taveka, eyeing the children starting to splash and laugh in the water
again, “even the young ones if they so choose.”

He turned and looked across the crowd. All were seated and silent. Only
the elders stood their ground.

“Now, Captain Helmares, look me in the eye. Who are you?”

“Yes, thank you. May I say one thing to you all before I begin? I have
been through many countries and across many borders, and I have never been
through anything like this.”

“Of course not. That’s why you came here. Please continue and do not
interrupt yourself.”

“I was born in Texas - -”

“Yes we know that!” said a teenager.

“Let him speak! Let him speak!” said voices from around the crowd.

“I don’t remember much about living in Texas. We had a nice house. My
father died when I was only three and my sister not quite one. I don’t think of
myself as being a Texan and I don’t remember my father or his death.”

The crowd was silent. Some of the children and their parents moved
closer to each other as David talked about the early years of his life.

“After my father’s death my mother moved us to New York and we lived
with my grandparents on Long Island. The ocean was right down the street. I
do remember clearly going to the beach with my grandmother when I was
maybe four or so. Then my mother got a job in New York City. We had to
move and for a long time I never saw the ocean again.”

“That’s really sad,” said one of the children, “How did you ever grow up
without the ocean?”

“I don’t know, maybe I’m still trying to grow up!” Helmares laughed, but
he noticed Taveka was not laughing. He resumed his story with a serious tone
to his voice.

“We lived for four years in an apartment building made of bricks.” David
soon found himself recalling things he had not thought about in many, many
years: going to school for the first time, sledding down hillsides in the winter
and falling out of a tree when he was seven years old. He remembered his best
friend with whom he traded baseball cards and going to Yankee Stadium with
his grandfather and learning how to swim at the YMCA.

“My mother met a nice man who would take us places on weekends. They
were married, and next thing I knew we left New York and moved to
California. That’s when the most important thing in my life happened.”

“And what was that?” asked Taveka.

David related the story of waking up on his first sunny morning in
California and seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

“Are you sure that’s the most important thing that ever happened to you?”
asked an elder. David had been so proud of his story that he was at a loss to
answer the elder’s question for almost a minute.

“Yes, I think so. We lived in a city called Santa Monica and my new
father took us to the beach all the time. That’s when I first learned to bodysurf,
next to the Santa Monica pier. My dad - - -“

“Your dad? But he wasn’t your real father, was he?”

“No he wasn’t my real father, but to this day I can hear his voice when
I’m not doing my best. I learned a lot from him, especially when he would
take us fishing. One Saturday he took us to a pier up the coast in Malibu. The
fishing wasn’t that good and he said, ‘Why don’t you go over to the beach?
Maybe you’ll find something to do.’ I did, and that’s the first time I saw
people surfing.

“Right away I wanted to be a surfer. But my parents were not going to
make it easy for me . In fact, I had to buy my first surfboard with my own

“They were good parents to you,” said an elderly woman sitting in the
middle of the crowd.

“Yes, they were. I was the only one of my surfing friends to get a
university education because of them. Had I not listened to my parents, I don’t
know what would have become of me because, except for my education,
nothing could distract me from surfing, not even girlfriends.”

“You were crazy!” came a voice from one of the men, and laughter
rippled through the Maruleans.

“Well, not so much crazy as enthusiastic. Even when it came to my career,
I chose to study history at university because the schedule of the required
classes gave me more time to surf.”

David laughed to himself and made eye contact with Taveka.

“Don’t interrupt yourself, please,” he said, and once again David looked
into eyes that spoke of timeless youth and ancient wisdom.

“When I graduated, my parents asked me, ‘And now what?’ My hair was
bleached blond and I was working at a surfboard shop. But I had a good
answer for them.

“‘I’m going to be a history teacher!’ They were always supportive as long
as I kept my word. They even let me take time off from university to go to
Hawai’i and Australia, although my dad made a deal with me. I could go with
his blessings, but I had to pay for the trip myself and I still had to get my
teaching license on time.”

“Did you keep your word?” asked Taveka.

“Yes, I did. And the strange thing was, when I came back from that trip, I
was more stoked on education - -”

“Stoked? What is stoked?” asked a young man with a fishing net over one

“Don’t interrupt him!”

“That’s ok. Stoked? I guess it is being crazy, enthusiastic, and very
rational about staying that way.”

“Sounds like you were just short of being a fanatic,” observed Taveka.
“Let him talk!” said a teenager. Taveka covered his mouth to hide his

“My parents became resigned to my passion for surfing, although my
mother often expressed her worst fear that I would become ‘an educated
drifter, an itinerant vagabond never to have real roots in his life’, to use her
exact words.”

Helmares sighed at the memory.

“I can still see her at the kitchen table, asking my dad to please do
something about what surfing was doing to me. He just said if that was what I
wanted to do, he wasn’t going to stop me. He knew surfing gave me energy
and inspiration. He was very wise and trusted me - and that’s how I learned to
trust myself.”

People from various parts of the crowd stood up and began to leave,
apparently having to get back to something important. They waved at David as
they left. He waved back, and then looked at Taveka with questioning eyes.

“Oh don’t worry, they’ll be back.”

“Ok, where was I? Oh yeah, teaching.”

“And surfing,” added Taveka sternly.

“Uh, yes,” said David, a bit chastened, “I got my credential, and found a
job right away. I really loved my profession. Yet, within a few years I started
to think about leaving Southern California.”


“The waves were more and more crowded, and tension in the water
started to ruin surfing for me. Getting good waves required more aggression,
more cunning, and a selfishness that changed me in ways I did not like.”

“And teaching?”

“I was good at it. Surfing taught me a lot about determination, planning
and facing challenges. But after several years at an inner city junior high, I
realized I was no match for the endless stress of L.A.’s city schools . And so I
changed course.”

“You became a sailor!” said a young teenage boy sitting up close,
listening to David’s every word.

“Yes, I became a sailor. I spent three years designing and building this
boat. She has a retractable keel for sliding through shallow passages just like
this one,” he gestured back at the lagoon behind him, “and I named her the
Morning Light.”

David was lost in thought for a moment. The sailors in the crowd knew
why: it is a special thing when a builder names his ship, almost as important as
when a parent names a child.

“The day came when I said goodbye to my students and handed my letter
of resignation to the school principal. He said good luck, shook my hand, and
went right back to the papers on his desk. He was always writing me up for
violating policies and regulations, and I was just a headache to him.”
Taveka narrowed his eyes just a little. But then he winked at David, who
was not a little relieved as he continued his story.

“My parents and friends came down to see me off the day I set sail, and
now that I think of it I believe even my mom was actually happy to see me
pursuing my dream.”

A few mo thers in the crowd wiped a tear from their eyes.

“First I sailed down the coast of the Baja Peninsula, staying for weeks at a
time to surf - -”

“South of California, in Mexico?”

“Yes, Taveka. There were good waves, but there was no place to make a
living as a teacher. So I kept sailing south and ended up in El Salvador. I
landed a job teaching kindergarten at a bi-lingual school only thirty minutes
from one of the best surfing waves I’d ever seen. But El Salvador became a
dangerous place. A civil war began between the rich and the poor. When
Americans began to be targeted by both sides, I bade farewell to my students
and friends and sailed away.”

“Yes, we bid farewell to you now, David, maybe we’ll see you again
tomorrow,” said a man with a brotherly voice as his wife pulled him away
from the group along with two small children. Others also took the opportunity
to take their leave. They all waved a friendly goodbye to him. David looked
away from Taveka and waved.

“Captain Helmares, you’re off course.”

“Oh, yes, uh, Taveka, I’m sorry. My next stop was Costa Rica, south of El
Salvador. It is one of the few countries in the world without a standing army .
Their motto is, ‘Our children are the soldiers’. I spent six months anchored in
beautiful emerald coves, with monkeys chattering in the trees at night and
good waves breaking in the bays. But there was no way to make a living, and
for a while I even thought about returning to California.

“Then I got lucky. I got a chance to charter my boat to some scientists in
the Galapagos Islands. What a wonderful place! It was a priceless experience
that sharpened my intellect. The only problem was - - -”

“You weren’t surfing!” said the teenage boy who had been listening

“That’s right, I wasn’t surfing. So when I heard of excellent waves in
Northern Peru, and a theory about the origins of surfing and ancient Peruvian cultures, I set sail immediately after my last charter. In Peru my training in
history helped me research surfing’s remote past. I studied ancient festivals
celebrating the sea and from carvings on the walls of archeological sites , I
learned a lot about a culture strongly influenced by waves in their social
structure, art and architecture.”

“Cite an example, please.” Taveka’s command cut with precision.

“They had a rite of passage for young men requiring the initiate to ride a
wave. They used what is called a ‘caballito’. That is Spanish for ‘little horse’.
It is made of dried reeds bundled together. And again, when I helped excavate
a temple near one of the longest surfing waves in the world, we found a
ceramic pot with art depicting a god riding a caballito across the sky like a
crescent moon. When I talked to Thor Heyerdahl - -”

“You know Dr. Heyerdahl?” Taveka’s voice was surprisingly sharp.

“No, I can’t say I know him. I had a chance to interview him once at an
archaeological conference. He was studying a particular society that had built
fleets of reed craft he believed sailed from Peru to Polynesia.”

Taveka looked at the elders. One nodded in return.

“Maybe you will tell us more some day. For now, continue.”

David noticed a distinct change had come over both Taveka and the
elders, and that Taveka had used the words ‘some day’.

“I was inspired by Dr. Heyerdahl’s ideas and again set sail in the Morning
Light to research his theories connecting ancient Peru and Polynesia.”

Taveka and the five elders stared at David intently. The crowd sensed the
tension. Even the children who had been playing in the waters stopped and
went to sit down with their families. David proceeded cautiously.

“I made landfall at over a dozen inhabited islands, looking for artistic,
botanical, and cultural parallels between Peru and Polynesia. On Rapa Nui,”
he paused, shifted his glance for just a second, and noticed that every set of
eyes was looking directly at him, “I found ocean-going reed craft and ancient
stone carvings of seacraft that were almost identical to artifacts I had seen in
Peru. I also learned of a rite-of-passage ceremony involving a legend that - -”

Taveka held up his hand.

“Enough! Remember you are only to present yourself at this time. Please
finish, Captain.”

His tone was direct and serious, the crowd was dead silent, and the elders
all had their arms crossed.

“Yes, well, I’m almost done, actually. In the course of my research
throughout eastern Polynesia, I began to hear stories about a very old and very
remote island society. It was said they could make passages of hundreds of
miles with no charts or navigational equipment, though exactly where they
could be found no one quite knew. But I pieced together a rough idea and set a
course through this archipelago, sailing for days over shallow reefs and atolls
with my keel fully retracted. But finally, I found the sea people of Marulea. I
found you.”

Taveka and all the people sitting on the beach turned to look at the elders.
One gestured with his hand at the people sitting near the shore. They stood up and walked down the beach without turning and waving to David as others
had. Taveka walked across the empty sands to the elders. They sat down to
make a decision about the man who had found them.

For the next twenty minutes the only sound David heard was the gentle
lapping of tiny waves on the sand. He thought of everything he had said and of
things he had left out that might have been far more important than those he
had included. Then Taveka left the elders and walked across the sand to the
water’s edge. David resigned himself to having to leave immediately.

“Thank you for presenting yourself, Captain. Normally a visitor must
have a herald announce his coming and act as intermediary until certain issues
are settled. You had no herald, so we had no choice but to let you present
yourself. Now I have questions for you, as do others. Will you answer them?”

“Yes,” he said in surprise, “I will!”

Taveka turned and nodded. The elders stood there unmoving for a second.
Then they turned around and walked back into the palm trees.

“We are going to start at the beginning. Who was your father, what did he
do for a liv ing, and why did he die?”

Several children who had left with the crowd saw Taveka talking to the
visitor and ran back to sit at the navigator’s feet. They were shy at first, but
then they too began to ask him questions.

“Did you have toys?”

“Did you have to go to school?”

“What games did you play with your friends?”

Others came and joined the group. The crowd soon grew to over two
dozen, once again representing a cross section of the Maruleans, from children
to young adults to parents and grandparents . Everyone had questions for him,
and the thread of information wove through times and places David had not
considered for many years. Taveka was always in control, and when David
digressed, the chief navigator always remembered the original question and
steered David towards the next logical waypoint on the chronological voyage
through his past.

Three hours later, David was still sailing with a long way to go. The
curiosity of the Maruleans knew no bounds. Even more daunting was just how
much his interrogators knew about the world he had left behind even though
they were thousands of miles from ‘civilization’.

Another hour and the lowering sun was starting to shine directly into
David’s eyes. Yet the questions never stopped. If he seemed to leave
something out, he was politely asked to, “Remember more, please.”

And he did so, knowing his patience and honesty were being tested.

Finally the sun touched the fronds of the tallest palms as David finished
explaining why he had never owned a Beatles album.

“I think we are done for today. If you want, we can continue tomorrow,”
said Taveka.

“Yes, I will continue.”

“Fine. You may drop anchor. You do not have permission to land. You
must stay aboard the Morning Light.”

David noticed that Taveka had used the name of his boat and took that as
a positive sign.

“Understood. Until tomorrow, then.”

“Yes, until tomorrow.”

Taveka turned and walked across the sand to the tree line. Most of the
crowd dispersed up and down the beach. Some went swimming, some walked
back to the palm grove, and David could see lights starting to flicker here and
there between the trees . But some of the children stayed close to the boat, and
they continued to ask questions until darkness began to close in. One brought
him a coconut and cracked it open so David could drink its refreshing liquid.
The stars came out and lights could be seen all throughout the forest of the
island. David could no longer see the faces of the Maruleans on the beach.

Finally a voice said, “You must be tired.”

It was the young woman who had been particularly interested in David’s
experiences with dance and ballet.

“Oh no, I’m fine thanks! How are you?” he said, suddenly refreshed. But
his question was not answered. The Maruleans all said goodbye to him at once
and next thing he knew, he was alone.

David got up stiffly from his perch on the bow. He smiled at the thought
of going to sleep as quickly as possible, knowing that the sooner he slept, the
sooner tomorrow would come.

* * *

The questioning took another two days. The Maruleans would come and
go as if the uninvited visitor was little more than an aberration in their daily
routines warranting but a small fraction of their attention. Sometimes only
Taveka and a few children would be questioning him. An hour later they
would be joined by the very oldest members of the community. Towards late
afternoon, several families appeared with lots of food and turned his
“inquisition” into their picnic.

Sometimes he saw nubile young women with their families and it was not
easy for the sailor, after months at sea, to stay focused on his answers. But
when a dozen men showed up after a day of fishing, an aura of challenge filled
the air that could not be taken lightly. They asked him many specific questions
about building the Morning Light and his sailing experiences.

By late afternoon of the second day, the crowd had grown to its original
size and Helmares was peppered with many questions from all sides. But
finally the questions tailed off, and Taveka let almost another hour pass
without anyone asking David Helmares any further questions. Nobody seemed
to mind the silence, and there was nothing expectant or impatient about the
crowd. Then Taveka joined the five elders for a few minutes before walking
back to the water’s edge.

“If no one wishes to know anything more,” he said in a loud voice and
pausing, “then I will ask the last questions.”

He turned and looked deep into David’s eyes.

"Why did you come here?"

“I want to learn everything that you can teach me.”

“About what?”

“About your history, your culture, how you survive, and how you
navigate throughout the Nebula Archipelago.”

“What about yourself?”

“I’ll be doing that the rest of my life, Taveka.”

“Good answer, David. I believe you.”

Taveka turned to the crowd.

Many nodded. Most importantly, so did the elders.

Taveka took a step forward and extended his hand.

“You have permission to stay and learn from me and our people.”

* * *

The sea people of Marulea were descendants of ancient mariners whose
exact origins were known only to the elders. There was some interface
between the Maruleans and French Polynesian officials when necessary, but
the great distances made governing the sea people almost impossible. Their
home islands were close to the center of the Nebula Archipelago, a maritime
region which, though having no specific boundaries, was recognized as a
cultural preserve by the French government. They left the Maruleans alone,
and for good reason.

The Maruleans were descendants of an island society that had once
numbered over six thousand. In the early 1800s, a Frenchman named Gambier
had tried to establish his own fiefdom over the isolated people. It was a
disaster, and before French authorities finally came and removed the madman
to exile, less than four hundred Maruleans were still alive.

Due to the distances involved, the French authorities in Tahiti were
unable to help the survivors and left them to their own devices. The Maruleans
left their home islands and its horrific memories and retreated to another
group protected by an almost impenetrable zone of reefs and shoals. There
they were able to stabilize their community and their contact with the sea by
maintaining the integrity of their seafaring traditions.

At the onset of World War Two they re-established contact with French
officials to help fight the Japanese and rescue downed airmen by transporting
them secretly out of harm’s way. When the war ended, their self-imposed
isolation resumed. They wanted no part of a modern world capable of
destroying itself.

The story of their service in World War Two brought their history to the
attention of a group of influential Frenchmen. A trust fund was established to
repay the Maruleans for Gambier’s genocidal policies. This gave them access
to as much of the real world and its wealth as they wanted.

As it turned out, they did not want much. They were well aware of global
politics, economics, and technology, and from their perspective, there was not
a lot to be gained by boarding those runaway trains. They knowingly strengthened their cultural identity with their dependence on the resources of
the Archipelago for their survival. They used some modern tools or materials
on a limited basis when it suited a specific need, but they would let nothing
erode the values of family and community developed over the past thousand
years. The Maruleans had almost been wiped out once, and they were never
going to risk it happening again.

* * *

The fact that David was endlessly inquisitive about the Marulean culture
earned the respect of the sea people. Tavek a possessed a keen intellect and
saw in David a child-like curiosity combined with mature responsibility.
Taveka enjoyed being David's mentor, and that joy brought a new hope to his

Taveka was the last in the line of Marulean navigators. The deepest
secrets of wayfinding knowledge were passed from father to son, but that vital
tradition was endangered when Taveka had lost his wife at the birth of his
daughter, Luan. The line of navigators was threatened, but Taveka’s love for
his lost wife did not permit him to consider ever re-marrying.

Taveka raised his daughter with the help of their community, and she had
grown into a warm and lighthearted young woman. Luan began to attract
eligible young men from throughout the nearby islands. As she came ever
closer to taking a lover who might then become her husband, her father kept
his counsel to himself and offered no advice unless asked. Even though she
was his only child, he honored her integrity and would play no part in her
relationships with suitors. Although this was not easy for either father or
daughter, it was even harder for her suitors. Luan was wise beyond her years,
and none were able to adjust to her combination of innocence, intelligence,
and beauty.

As Taveka grew older, the Marulean elders considered how to name the
next chief navigator for the sea people. Many solutions were proposed and
then discarded. He could not take on a Marulean as his apprentice without
issues surrounding Luan being raised. It was an almost tragic quandary until
David Helmares found the sea people. When the elders gave permission for
him to remain with them, they were invoking a wisdom allowing them to
gracefully respect an important Marulean tradition while possibly finding a
way around it. Since David was not of Marulean blood, the blood-tie tradition
did not technically apply to him.

When he accepted Taveka’s offer, David committed himself to never being
anything less than an attentive and responsive student of Taveka. His
apprenticeship involved every aspect of sailcraft from making ropes and sails
from natural fibers to finding trees on distant islands for hulls. When Taveka
began to teach him wayfinding skills around the Nebula Archipelago, it took
Helmares several months to grasp the fundamentals of concepts that would
eventually take years to master.

Another aspect to challenge him was his status in the general community.

Self-sufficiency is hard work . Hunting fish in the wild, growing fish in ‘farms’,
and actually farming the land on various islands throughout the archipelago
were never-ending tasks. The Maruleans were not shy about telling him when
they could use an extra hand no matter what the task . He was always a
cheerful volunteer, and soon there was a running joke between him and the
community: when anyone would need some help, they would come and say,
“David, I am going to volunteer you to help me today.”

Helmares’ assimilation into the Marulean daily life was not quite a year
old when he was asked by the elders to help with the schooling of the young
Maruleans. He started with geography, history and biology as the core
curriculae, branching out into the arts and math, using music to teach
fractions and other mathematical concepts.

Throughout all this, David Helmares never gave Taveka’s daughter even
the most innocent of thoughts. He had made enough mistakes with women in
California, and he depended on a strong sense of self-discipline to preclude
any chance of a fatal faux pas with the beloved daughter of Taveka.

In the same way, Luan saw David as her father's student and nothing
more. This was a point of honor given her respect for the traditions of her
people and the Marulean navigators. Yet there was one thing about her
father’s apprentice that intrigued her.

David rarely had time for surfing thanks to Taveka’s mentoring and the
school. However, there were fun waves practically all the time on the reefs
surrounding the central island of the Maruleans. From March to October,
there were days when the waves never stopped. On each side of the passage
into the main lagoon, perfect waves peeled across smooth reefs. He could ride
the waves only rarely, and then for only an hour at most, sometimes at midday,
sometimes at dawn, and even once or twice under a full moon at night. He
always laughed when he thought of the irony: having chosen teaching as a
profession so that he could surf, he was now also a student and not surfing
much at all.

But no matter when he paddled out on one of the boards he always stowed
on the Morning Light, Luan tried to be on the beach to watch him. The beauty
of surfing was something she could appreciate with special immediacy given
her mastery of traditional Polynesian dance. There was a wonderful grace to
David's style while racing through blue tunnels or dancing along the white
spray of the peeling crests. But there was a limit to his art: the length of the
ride. Luan got to thinking that she would like to see him surf a wave for
minutes instead of just seconds. One day she talked to her father about it.

“Yes, his surfing is quite special, isn’t it?”

“It is, father. It is a dance with the sea, and I want to study it. Maybe he
can teach it to us, but first I want to see what he does when he has to be
creative on a much bigger stage.”

“I know of a reef much longer than ours. It points in the same direction,
and the waves are bigger. It would be a good test of his skills to voyage there and back,” he thought for a second, “No, it is not that hard to get there. He’ll
make it, and if he gets lost, you’ll make it back.”

Luan looked at her father carefully.

“You want me to go alone with him?” she asked.

“Why not? He would never jeopardize his research and apprenticeship by
dishonoring my daughter, or our traditions, in any way. And if he does, throw
him to the sharks!” They both laughed.

“And now that I think of it, there are several ancient ceremonial sites that
might interest him on an island near there,” said Taveka, “just to keep his
mind off other things.”


“Of course, who knows, maybe he doesn’t want to be alone with you!”

Taveka was laughing loudly.

“Now you stop that! This is about dance, not romance.”

Taveka stopped laughing and looked into his daughter’s eyes. “Yes, I can
see that. Forgive an old man, will you?”

She hugged her father and said, “One thing at a time, father.”

A week later the daughter of the chief navigator of the sea people, and the
surfer-teacher-sailor went on a short voyage lasting just a day, leaving before
dawn with Luan sitting in the bow and David astern. It was every surfer’s
dream to be heading out to ride perfect waves because a beautiful young
woman wants to watch him. But as the student of Taveka, Helmares was
entirely focused. He was a navigator first and foremost, and in the time
honored tradition of the wayfinders, Luan did not speak to him while they were
under way lest his concentration be affected.

When they arrived in late morning at the atoll Taveka had suggested,
David’s self-discipline was rewarded by long waves six to eight feet high
breaking continuously along the barrier reef. He spent the afternoon riding
flawless symmetrical waves along the reef like it was a racetrack . He was
executing maneuvers only possible at very high speeds with a graceful, erect,
arms-open style seldom seen anywhere in the surfing world. He was an
inspired danseur lighting up a stage. Luan studied his pas de deux with the
sea, noting his instinct for grace and flow with the eye of one who saw dance
as almost a sacred act.

When Luan and David came back under a late rising moon, they could
both look Taveka in the eye without hesitation. The old man was more pleased
than he would ever admit. His student had passed more than one important
test on the trip.

With dance as common ground, David and Luan established a genuine
friendship based on mutual respect. It was the kind of friendship that, without
either person doing anything about it, sometimes becomes the rich soil for the
first flowers of true love. That is what happened to them, though the flower
bloomed very slowly. At first Luan was not going change the natural course of
her life as a young lady with many male friends and David could not let
himself be distracted from his apprenticeship by falling for his teacher’s daughter.

His becoming a navigator was far more difficult than anything he
had ever done. Almost a year passed, after their first voyage, before David and
Luan began to spend more and more time together with the blessings of
Taveka. A year after that, they declared their intent to be married after
consummating their relationship, and soon they were able to tell Taveka that
he was to become a grandfather.

During this time, David gained a new level of oceanic awareness. With all
his sailing experience as a foundation, his wayfinding skills eventually
surpassed that of other Marulean men his age. They were gracious in
accepting him as Taveka’s student, and one became a very good friend to him.
Under other circumstances Manasa might have succeeded Taveka as chief
navigator for the Maruleans. However he had recognized, as did other
Marulean men, that David was worthy of great respect for choosing to leave
his world and serve an apprenticeship of hard work and self-discipline to
become one of them. There was no resentment or jealousy, and when Luan
gave birth to twins, the surfer, teacher and sailor from California became a
full member of the Marulean society.

Another year passed, and the day came when David was ready to take his
final test as Taveka’s apprentice by voyaging to Ka’unua, performing three
ceremonial rites of passage, and then returning safely with the necklace
symbolizing the line of succession of the chief navigators of the Marulean sea

* * *

It was late afternoon when David brought his voyaging craft right up to
the sand. He jumped out and pushed hard to bring it as far up the beach as
possible. Taveka helped him, as did Manasa and several other Marulean men
who had seen David coming through the reef passage. They saw the jade
necklace around David’s neck, and dared not speak a word. Neither did

David was too overcome with emotion to know quite what to say, but the
Marulean men clearly understood what was going on. They just gave him a
short wave and a smile and went back to their work. David was about to say
something in greeting, but Taveka put a hand to his mouth. The mentor
motioned to the apprentice, and they began to walk north along the water’s
edge around the curving shore of the lagoon. When they were out of sight of
the village, David and Taveka were joined by the five elders dressed in deep
blue garments David had never seen before, with feathers, shells, necklaces,
and bracelets of coral adorning them.

The group of seven now headed for the far end of the island, walking
abreast across the wide, sandy beach, the elders separating Taveka and David.
For the better part of an hour they walked in silence, towards a low, black cliff
he had seen from the sea while sailing to other islands. When he had first
asked Taveka about it during the first year of his apprenticeship, he was told it
was off limits to all Maruleans.

“Except for certain people under certain circumstances. Don’t ask any
more questions. Maybe someday you’ll learn more, and maybe not. Just don’t
ever go there.”

It was an ancient place. The black rock outcropping, eroded by eons of
time, was the tip of the volcano that had formed the island millions of years
ago. The half-dome face of the rock was twenty feet high, sheer and smooth.
At its base was a waist-high circular platform of flat, black stones. The group
stopped and faced the rock formation. Though the sun was low in the west,
David could feel heat from the rocks. He could also feel the cooling trade wind
at his back blowing stronger here than at any other place on the island. From
the center of the group an elder sprang up on to the platform in one motion.
She turned around and spoke though her eyes were on the horizon.

“We will now hear of a voyage,” said Kalala.

The other four elders stepped up and turned in unison to face Taveka and
David below them.

“And leave nothing out,” whispered Taveka. He winked at his apprentice,
sharing a moment from long ago. The elders smiled in recognition of the bond
between the navigator and the young man who they hoped could succeed him.

David gave a detailed account of his six days of voyaging to Ka’unua. He
told them of the storm he had survived and his first sighting of the reef. They
questioned him carefully as to his exact actions and the sequence of events
leading up to the moment when he saw the circular rainbow.

“Come up, David, and show us how big it was,” said Mara, the senior
female of the elders.

David stepped up on the platform and walked to the black wall. He wiped
the moisture from his forehead with both hands and drew a large circle on the
face of the stone, starting at the upper apex of his reach. The hot, black rock
burned his fingers, but he did not stop until he was finished. As he stepped
back, he heard Kalala speak.

“Don’t turn around, David. Just watch.”

The circle began to disappear from the point above his head and then
down and around the entire circumference of the circle. As with the rainbow
he had seen at Ka’unua, the circle was soon gone.

“Now, turn around,” said Otava, the senior male of the group.

David did so. When he looked down at Taveka, a flood of emotion went
through his heart.

“David, tell us of your visits to Taveka’s ancestors,” said Matua, another
female elder.

He described the dives into the lagoon and the gifts he had made for each
in the lineage that stretched for generations into the past. He told the tale in
reverse order, starting with the stone boat for the ancient voyager from the
coast of South America. When he got to Taveka’s father, Kaho, his voice
began to falter as he realized who would be next to join the ancestral spirits in
the lagoon at Ka’unua.

The fifth elder, Sukuna, motioned to Taveka, who stepped up on the
platform to join them. David looked at his mentor and was surprised to see
him smiling with a look of reassurance.

“David, you are wearing the necklace of the navigators. Tell us of your
finding it,” said Otava.

When he finis hed describing the third task, all were silent. They did not
ask any more questions, and David did not break the silence, aware only of the
low sound of the trade wind blowing through the rocks as the sun disappeared
below the horizon.

The elders formed a circle around the chief navigator of the Marlueans
and the young man who was about to take his place.

“David, Taveka will now wear the necklace,” said Kalala.

David carefully placed it on Taveka’s shoulders, their eyes never
wavering. Taveka took the feather of the albatross from behind his waist and
held it up between them.

“David, you are now who I once was. When the albatross flies above this
very place, I will prepare for my voyage to Ka’unua.”

They touched foreheads and David took the feather in his hands. He
touched his heart with it, and then placed it behind him in his waistband.
Taveka moved to one end of the line of elders, David to the other. They
all turned to the west, joined hands, and raised their arms to the first sliver of
the crescent moon low in the western sky.

* * *

The line of navigators was not to be broken, and true love was, as
tradition prescribed, the key link in the chain. For the first time ever, the
wayfinder’s lineage would pass through the heart of a daughter to a man who
would become the chief navigator for the Maruleans.

Two weeks passed and the ‘official’ marriage of Luan and David took
place. Maruleans came from all the islands of the Nebula Archipelago for the
ceremonies marking the succession and the marriage. Three years ago, David
had been accepted in the community without hesitation, because no one
questioned the judgment of Taveka. Now the old man was able to enjoy the
final step that linked the sea people to their past and their future.

All was quiet, though the is land was full of visitors. Honeymoons were
not a part of the Marulean tradition, and when the sun went down, the
celebration slowed and then stopped. This was how the Maruleans
demonstrated their sincere respect for the union of husband and wife.

The full moon was almost overhead, shining so brightly that even the tiny
waves touching the reef could be seen clearly across the lagoon. The wind
moved through the palms, fronds rising and falling in the breeze.

Alone with his thoughts, Taveka walked down to the beach and launched
his voyaging craft. He slowly paddled through the waters crowded with
visiting outriggers and voyaging craft from across the Archipelago. Finally, he
was out near the barrier reef where small breakers punctuated the silence in a regular rhythm. He turned to gaze at the island where almost two thousand
Maruleans now slept. He thought about the heritage of his people, their trials
and extraordinary history, and the lineage of navigators now to remain
unbroken. He looked at his tri-hulled craft and thought of the voyage it would
soon make, the last voyage for both of them. He set a sea anchor to steady the
craft against the current and the swell. He laid down on the bamboo thatched
deck. His eyes closed slowly as he drifted to sleep soothed by the sound of the

He dreamed of his youth, of a time when the moon was bright and he was
in a canoe near a reef far away. He was not alone. Three injured American
pilots were with him. They were waiting for a PBY to take the flyers to safety.
The roar of engines grew loud. A large shadow dropped out of the sky. A
white wake sliced across the black sea. The sailors waved goodbye to him,
gratitude clearly visible on their faces fading into the stars.

The faint sound of engines echoed in the mind of the dreamer. The dream
ended, but the sound did not. Taveka’s eyes opened to the moon directly
overhead. Across the white light flew a silhouette, just as it had so long ago.



We continue Glenn Hening's WAVES OF WARNING in Chapter 9 ...

David Helmares completed the rites of passage making him the next chief navigator of
the Sea People, a society of Polynesians who have lived off the sea, and off the map, for two hundred years. After leaving California for good, Helmares had sailed solo to find them, and in a way, to find himself...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Warren Bolster, RIP

MASTER OF SKATEBOARD PHOTOGRAPHY Warren Bolster: 1947 – 2006 First Take By Ben Marcus On Wednesday, September 6, word began to flow sadly out of Hawaii that legendary surf and skate photographer Warren Bolster had committed suicide. There was shock and sadness but not a lot of surprise as Bolster had been struggling with health and financial problems for many year. He suffered from arthritis and the Oxycontin he took to ease that pain, “made him crazy,” according to a friend who had known Bolster from his heydays. Warren’s heydays were the 70s, when he was one of the most influential action photographers during the rebirth of skateboarding. Born in Virginia in 1950, Bolster traveled with the world with his father who was in the foreign service. Bolster learned to surf and skateboard in Sydney in 1965 and he took a job as Associate Editor at Surfer Magazine in 1972. In 1973, Bolster was tasked with starting up Skateboarder Magazine as skateboarding was taking off again, fueled by the urethane revolution: “Warren gave everything he had to what he loved,” said Daniel Gesmer, who edited the book The Legacy of Warren Bolster, Master of Skateboard Photography. “ Warren was so devoted on principal to what he cared about is it kind of cost him his job at Skateboarder. Ultimately he wasn’t a business man. He didn’t know how to temper his passion and his purism.” In recent years, Bolster had been living in Hawaii, raising two sons and struggling to make a living in an industry that he had helped to establish and where he had thrived. A friend of Bolster’s who was active in skateboarding in the 70s and 80s said that the photographer had been struggling: “Warren had been taking Oxycontin for years because he had debilitating arthritis. He would go on it and come off and he had called me many times, threatening suicide, because he was in pain, and he was broke. A few years ago he went to a very expensive rehab in Laguna Beach, and I picked him up when he came out and took him to ASR. This is so sad. I think about him every day and I was going to call him.” Warren Bolster is survived by his sons, Edward and Warren Junior. His father, Edward, passed away in 2004. Bolster’s sister was the personal secretary to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist for many years.

MASTER OF SKATEBOARD PHOTOGRAPHY Warren Bolster: 1947 – 2006 2nd Take by Ben Marcus On Wednesday, September 6, word began to flow sadly out of Hawaii that legendary surf and skate photographer Warren Bolster had taken his own life, with a gunshot to the head. There was shock and sadness but not a lot of surprise, as Bolster had been struggling with health and financial problems for many year. He suffered from arthritis and the OxyContin he took to ease that pain, “made him crazy,” according to a friend who had known Bolster from his heydays in the 70s and 80s, when he was an editor and photo editor at Surfer and Skateboarder Magazines. In The Encyclopedia of Surfing, Matt Warshaw described Bolster as “protean,” which means “Readily assuming different forms or character; extremely variable, changeable in shape or form, versatile, able to play many kinds of roles.” And that one word described Bolster well. Born in Arlington, Virginia in 1947, Bolster traveled with the world with his father who was in the Foreign Service. Bolster learned to surf and skateboard in Sydney in 1965 then established himself as one of the top competitive surfers in the Cocoa Beach area in 1967. In his early 20s Bolster moved to San Diego to surf and in 1975 he began taking surf photos. He produced a cover of Surfing Magazine on his first try and by 1975 he was working for SURFER as a staff photographer. Ron Dahlquist has “lots of Warren memories. I don’t think he missed an opportunity to shoot the Waimea Shorebreak. Every time I’d fly over to Oahu to shoot the epic shorebreak scene, there would be Warren sitting on his Pentax Telephoto case already at work while I set up my tripod. I consider Warren a peer from ‘my generation’ of shooters and his passing leaves a huge void in the surf community at large. Rest in peace Warren. Hopefully your pain and suffering has come to an end. Bolster was the Associate Editor at SURFER in 1976 and 1977 and he also served double duty as the editor of Skateboarder Magazine during the Urethane Revolution. According to the Encylopedia of Surfing: “Bolster was constantly on the lookout for new angles, shooting from helicopters and often using a deck-mounted camera to get spectacular in-the-tube photos from behind the surfer, or noseriding photos from in front of the surfer.” “Warren gave everything he had to what he loved,” said Daniel Gesmer, who edited the book The Legacy of Warren Bolster: Master of Skateboard Photography. “He was a flawed human being, as we all are, but the soul he brought to SkateBoarder Magazine changed countless lives, mine included. His passion and his purism seemed entirely untempered by pragmatism. That was his beautiful strength as well as his Achilles’ heel.” Grant Ellis now fills the Photo Editor position that Warren did in the 70s and 80s. Ellis understands how the pressures of his position – and the emotional and financial roller coaster of professional surf photography – can drive a man to distraction: “I never got to meet Warren in person but I spoke to him often on the phone and he was always excited about his next project. We just ran one of his camera board shots in the Photo Annual and he was pretty stoked. I think he was a very innovative photographer and always trying to push surf photography to new levels with camera boards and Gyro Camera stabilizers. His shot of the guy skating the Big Pipe out in the desert that is on the cover of his skate photo book is one of my all time favorite shots.” Bolster moved to Hawaii permanently in 1972, and he was on the SURFER masthead as a Staff Photographer until 1992. In recent years, Bolster had been living in Hawaii, raising two sons and struggling to make a living in an industry that he had helped to establish and where he had thrived. A friend of Bolster’s who was active in skateboarding in the 70s and 80s said that the photographer had been struggling: “Warren had been taking Oxycontin for years because he had debilitating arthritis. He would go on it and come off and he had called me many times, threatening suicide, because he was in pain, and he was broke. A few years ago he went to a very expensive rehab in Laguna Beach, and I picked him up when he came out and took him to ASR. This is so sad. I think about him every day and I was going to call him.” Warren Bolster is survived by his sons, Edward and Warren Junior. His father, Edward, passed away in 2004. Bolster’s sister was the personal secretary to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist for many years.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Waves of Warning 07

Chapter Seven – The Skyhook

[ Viewable in PDF Format: 07-TheSkyhook.pdf ]

“Where the hell have you been?” said an impatient Roberto Mercante,
sweating in the mid-morning sun across the street from the harbor in Papeete,
“First you tell me to meet you here at nine, and now it’s ten! And why here? I
thought we were going to go see the reef!”

“Roberto, did you re-set your watch to Polynesian time? And as for our
recon of the reef, that’s exactly what we are going to do,” said Ian Clark,
emerging from the taxi in aviator sunglasses and a khaki outfit. He paid the
driver and took a look up and down the street. Traffic was heavy, but he saw a
gap and that was all he needed.

“Let’s go!”

He grabbed Mercante’s arm and they hustled across two lanes, paused on
the center divider, and then ran across two more. Mercante slowed down when
they hit the sidewalk, but Clark didn’t stop.

“Clark! What the fuck is this?”

“I’ll explain in a minute, Roberto. Let’s keep going.”

They jogged down a long wharf, dodging trucks and forklifts going in and
out of large warehouses . At the end of the wharf they went down a gangplank to
where, in complete contrast to everything behind them, a true Polynesian
outrigger canoe was tied up.

“Clark, you’ve got to be kidding! We aren’t going to paddle this thing to the
reef, are we? I don’t need to be put through a bunch of bullshit!”

“Just get in and sit down. Up front, please.”

Clark released the line from the cleat on the dock and hopped in. There
were two paddles in the bottom of the hull. He grabbed one and pushed them
away from the dock. He offered the other to Mercante.

“Here’s your paddle, Roberto. It will be easier if you help.”

“What kind of crap is this, Clark? I don’t want to go on some harbor tour!”

“Just paddle!”

The noise from the city and the docks receded as a fresh wind blew into
their faces across the clear, blue water. Mercante’s shirt began to dry out. Had
he been a tourist, it would have been fun paddling a canoe in the heart of
Polynesia. But Roberto Mercante was not having fun.

“Listen, Clark, we don’t have time for this nonsense. My wife expects a
phone call from me today, and I’d better have good news for her.”

“Will you stop whining and just paddle? Here, together. Stroke, stroke,

“All right, Clark, this isn’t a roman galley.”

The canoe started to pick up speed, and within minutes they were both
putting their backs into it.

“Where the hell are we going?”

“To meet our ride. See that buoy?”


“You will once we get outside the harbor. Keep paddling. Ramming speed!”

Clark picked up the pace and used his paddle to change their course. The
wind was stronger in the channel, and Mercante was getting wet all over again.

“Now do you see the buoy?”

“No I don’t. Clark, this is getting me edgy.”

“Just keep going. We’re almost there.”

They didn’t stop paddling for almost ten minutes, and when Mercante
finally saw the buoy he thought they would stop and simply glide up to it. But
Clark kept going, and Mercante kept up with him.

Finally Clark slowed down and then stopped. Although it had looked only a
few feet high from a distance, the red and white stripped pole now towered
almost eight feet over their heads, bobbing up and down in the low swells
rolling through the light chop.

“Roberto, tie up the bow to that steel ring on the buoy. Use a bowline knot.
You remember, the rabbit came out of the hole, around the tree –“

“Yeah, yeah, Clark, I remember. So now what?”

“We wait for our ride. They’ll be here any minute now. Nice day, isn’t it?”

“Who’ll be here? Why aren’t they waiting for us? Clark, if this is all
bullshit, my wife, will, I mean I will make sure you never do business in the surf
industry again.”

“Yeah, I know Roberto, and you’ll be running Geosurf as per the contract.
But patience, my man. In fact, I think I see them coming right now.”

“I don’t see anything, Clark.”

“Try looking straight out to sea and up around ten o’clock.”

Mercante turned to where Clark was pointing. Then he heard the engines, a
strange sound to him in a world of jets and helicopters. He could make out a
long wide wing, and then a fuselage hanging down from it, and then two circles
of props as she leveled out at an altitude of no more than a hundred feet.

“Clark, you can’t be serious!” he shouted over the roar as the pilot went into
a tight 180-degree turn and came back over the buoy. Mercante saw a face
framed by a baseball cap and a headset looking down at him from a side window
of the cockpit. The seaplane headed out to sea, banked another hard turn, and
lined up with the buoy. It slowly lost altitude and the tips of the wings swung
down on struts and turned into pontoons. Then the bow touched the water and a
perfect V of spray shot up from the keel of the fuselage going seventy miles an
hour. The pilot kept the power on and was closing fast.

“Ian! They’re gonna hit us!”

With fifty yards to go the pilot throttled all the way back and the seaplane
settled down dead in the water. A touch on the throttles and she began to drift
slowly towards the buoy. She was all white trimmed with international orange.
Her name was in flowing blue script beneath the cockpit window: The Skyhook.

The cargo bay door opened up behind the wing. A barrel-chested crewman
wearing a flight suit appeared.

“Y’all got the cash, Ian?”

“As instructed. Permission aboard?”

“Lemme see.”

The plane was now floating close to the buoy with the outrigger in the
shadow of the huge wing. Clark took a clear plastic bag out of his pack and held
it high.

“All right, Clark. Permission granted.”

“Ok, Roberto, this is it. You go first.”

Mercante stood up unsteadily in the canoe and hesitated.

“C’mon, pal. In we go!”

A strong arm grabbed his hand and practically lifted him bodily into the
cargo bay. Then Ian Clark gripped a handhold on the seaplane and stepped up
quickly into the cargo bay opening. He wasn’t going to get any help from the
Skyhook ’s flight engineer, and he knew why.

“How cum L.J. ain’t with you?”

“What do you care? Isn’t this what you need to see?”

Clark handed him a plastic bag with a wad of hundred dollar bills clearly
visible inside.

“It all better be here, Clark. Took us twenny hours to get here, an’ the
Captain wasn’t happy ‘bout it t’all.”

“Well I figured you guys wouldn’t pass up a quick charter. Mac, this is my
client Roberto Mercante.”

The flight engineer extended his hand.

“Mac Owens. Welcome aboard the Skyhook .”

“Uh, yeah, nice to meet you too,” said Mercante, but his eyes were on the
bag in Owens’ hand.

“Uh, Ian, I think we have to have a little talk.”

Clark cut him off.

“Not now, Roberto. Mac, where do you want us?”

“Back in the sunroom.”

Ian Clark led the way towards the rear of the seaplane into a compartment
with two large Plexiglas blisters built into each side of the fuselage.

“Sit over on the port side, Roberto.”

“Ian, we’ve got to - -”

“No, on the port side, the left side. Don’t forget port and left have the same
number of letters. And you’ll get a better view when we take off,” said Clark as
he sat down opposite Mercante and strapped in.

Mercante did as he was told until – and then went back to losing his cool
over the bag of money.

“Clark, how much is this costing me?”

“Don’t worry, Roberto. You’ll get an invoice.”

Owens came through the hatch and glanced at the seat belts of the two
passengers before touching a button on a small box riveted to the bulkhead.

“Passengers aboard, Captain.”

“Do you have their boarding passes?” said a gruff voice on the intercom.

“Don’t worry, Captain Sanchez, its all there,” said Clark, raising his voice
so he could be heard over the intercom, “Ten grand for eight hours, as agreed.”

“Clark you SOB, where the hell are we going?”

“To check out the best surfing reef on the planet, Captain Sanchez. And
madam co-pilot! Set your course to one-eleven east. How’s it going, Tina?”

“Just fine, Ian. But one-eleven? There’s nothing out there that I know of.
You’re sure about that course?”

“I know exactly where we’re going, so don’t worry, Tina.”

“We won’t as long as you’re paying cash. Mac, passengers ready for
liftoff?” interjected her husband.

“We’re go, Captain.”

“Copy that, Mac. Tina, systems?”

“All go.”

“Ok, talk to you guys later.”

Mac Owens strapped himself into a folddown seat bolted to the bulkhead at
the rear of the ‘sunroom’ . Sanchez revved the starboard engine to turn the
Skyhook into the wind. As she came around, Roberto Mercante became even
more disoriented: the outrigger, the Skyhook , the cash, Clark’s vague directions,
and now he was in the tail of a seaplane about to take off.

“Hey Roberto,” yelled Clark.

Mercante stopped looking out the canopy and turned to Clark.

“Let’s go check the reef!”

“Uh, yeah, Clark, but - - -”

His voice was drowned out by the engines throttled wide open and the noise
of the hull slicing through the sea like a racing powerboat. The sound changed
as the Skyhook came “up on step” and began clipping through the tops of the
swells . Suddenly there was only the roar of the engines as the Catalina PBY-6A,
first flown on its maiden flight in 1943, broke free and climbed into the sky.
The Skyhook was flying about eighty feet above the sea surface. Clark and
Mercante were all eyes looking out the domes as submerged reefs went by in
every gorgeous shade imaginable of blue, aqua marine, and turquoise. Mac
Owens just sat there watching the two passengers, remembering what it was like
to simply enjoy the ride from a first-timer’s point of view.

But within minutes the spell was broken. Roberto Mercante couldn’t help
himself when he remembered what Clark had said about time and money.

“Eight hours? Ten thousand bucks for eight hours?” he said, turning to look
across the compartment.

“Yup. Thousand bucks an hour plus charter costs.”

“But eight hours? I’ve got to be back before then!”

“Not a chance, Roberto,” said Clark, not bothering to look back, “The plan
is to get to the reef, set down and taxi around to check it out. Then we take off
and fly back. Now, if we run into storms, or the winds are bad, or something
mechanical happens - -”

“What do you mean something mechanical? Is this plane going to get us
there and back or not?”

“Roberto, if there’s one thing about a PBY, it’s that they always brought
their crews home safely.”

“Yeah, pal,” interjected Mac Owens, “an’ tain’t polite ta run down a plane
while yer flyin’ in ‘er. Kinda bad luck, in fact.”

“Well, I’ve got a call to make this afternoon. Will my cell work where
we’re going?”

“Prob’ly not.”

“Well then is there a radio I can use?”

“Tell ya what, Mr. Mercante, lemme give ya a tour, an’ then we’ll go up to
the flight deck an’ see what we kin do ta keep y’all in touch with yer busy life.
C’mon, bud, this way.”

The flight engineer unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up near the rear of the

“Besides, if we go down ya’ need ta know how ta exit the aircraft.”

“If we go down?” he said, darting a dirty look at Ian Clark who was
completely absorbed in the view of the South Seas streaming by.

Owens led the way through the hatch in the rear bulkhead separating the
“sunroom” from the last compartment of the PBY.

“This used ta be a machine gunner’s station. Now we kinda use it fer cargo
an’ such.”

Mercante stepped in to the aft compartment. Fins, masks, snorkels, and
several spear guns were mounted on the curved walls of the final tail section.
“Dependin’ on conditions, we usually exit back ‘ere. Keeps tha rest the
aircraft dry when we’re goin’ divin’, an’ if we hafta ditch, this section stays
afloat longest. ‘course, that ain’t never happened in tha seventy-one years of this
aircraft’s operation, but ya never know. Now Roberto, ya need ta unnerstand
how ta work tha hatch. She opens up an’ secures with this latch, so if yer the
first guy out, be sure she stays open fer the rest of us. Jes’ like on a regular jet.”

Mercante looked down and saw the ocean blurring by seemingly only a few
feet away through a clear Plexiglas window centered in the emergency hatch on
the floor.

“Uh, why are we flying so low?”

“Takin’ ‘vantage of a trick they used durin’ the war. We pick up a little
extra lift from tha push o’f tha wing ‘gainst tha air squeezed between us an’ tha
water. End up usin’ a little less fuel.”

He started to open the hatch but a nervous Mercante held up his hand to
stop him.

“That’s ok, I get the picture.”

“Oh c’mon, yer having fun, ain’t cha? Now let’s go forward an’ I’ll show
y’all everythin’ alla way forward.”

Back in the ‘sunroom’ Ian Clark was studying the display of a small GPS
unit. “Mac, can you get a position check for me? I’ve got 148 degrees 34
minutes west, 18 degrees 10 minutes south.”

“Nice gadget ya got there, Clark. Since when didja care ‘bout such minor
details as latitude and longitude? Thought that was L.J.’s department.”

“Since I started paying cash, Mac.”

The flight engineer didn’t miss the intent of the tone in Clark’s voice.

“Mr. Mercante, would you kindly wait fer me in tha cargo bay? ‘nd here,”
he said, taking a thin plastic binder out of a built-in rack on the bulkhead, “This
will answer a lotta yer questions ‘bout the Skyhook . I’ll be right with ya.”

The flight engineer held the hatch open and Mercante stepped into the cargo
bay. The hatch closed abruptly, and once again he wasn’t quite sure what was
going on. He looked around, and other than several metal boxes bolted to the
forward bulkhead, it was completely empty. There was nowhere to sit, so he
crouched with his back against the bulkhead and opened the binder.

Welcome aboard the Skyhook, owned and operated by the
Skyrider Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to
increasing educational opportunities for the youth of Polynesia.
You are flying in a Catalina PBY6A amphibious airplane, one of
2,943 such planes built during the Second World War. Their acronym,
PBY, signified their purpose as patrol bombers, with the Y
designating their manufacturer, Consolidated of San Diego, founded
by the colorful Reuben H. Fleet.

The PBY flew in every naval theater of war around the world. It
was a PBY that first saw the Japanese fleet steaming towards
Midway, and a PBY that dropped the first bombs on Japanese soil. It
was a PBY that spotted the German battleship Bismarck in the North
Atlantic and PBY’s that were the first line of defense against the Uboat
wolfpacks. But for many veterans, the real legend of the Catalina
stems from the countless missions flown to rescue them after their
planes crashed or ships sank.

After the war, hundreds were converted to serve a wide variety
of purposes . For several decades Catalinas were flown for adventure
tour companies, oil exploration outfits, fire-fighting crews, and even
private owners who had them re-fitted as global air -yachts. To this
day they can be seen flying in air shows around the globe.
The lineage of the Skyhook can be traced back to her squadron
known as the Snafu Snatchers. She followed B-29s on bombing runs
and P-40s into battle and picked up any pilots who were shot down or
had to bail out. In fact, some fighter pilots knew they would run out of
gas on the way home but they also knew the Snafu Snatchers would be
right there to fis h them out of the drink.

In 1944 the Skyhook was painted black for midnight missions to
retrieve downed flyers hidden by native Polynesians from the
Japanese. A roar coming in from the horizon, a white wake appearing
on the sea – and many a young pilot waiting nervously in an outrigger
knew he would soon be out of harm’s way.

After the war a special squadron of Catalinas, led by the
Skyhook, spent two years searching for the remains of pilots in the
wreckage of downed aircraft on reefs, atolls, and islands across the
Pacific. Flight crews pushed themselves and the planes to their limits
to recover dogtags - or anything - that would serve to identify the
fallen and bring closure to their kin.

The Skyhook was then flown by the Navy in support of nuclear
testing operations conducted during the fifties and sixties . In the
seventies she was sold to the newly independent government of Fiji
and used to transport medical services, patients and government
officials to the far-flung islands of the new nation.

Into the eighties and nineties she saw service in the States and
Europe flying a succession of wealthy owners to their yachts in the
Caribbean, secluded islands around the Bahamas or private lakes in
Switzerland. She was owned and operated by a tourist adventure
company in Africa for several years before being bought by the
government of India during the conflicts with Ceylon.

Finally, she was acquired by Australian businessmen to fly
surfers to remote islands throughout Indonesia. But after a few
months in service, she was replaced by high-speed power yachts in
response to the demands of the fast-paced surf travel industry. She
was mothballed to a hangar in Brisbane and gathered dust for several
years until she was tracked down by Victor Sanchez.

Captain Sanchez’ father had flown her in World War Two and
his stories of recovery missions during and after the war left a strong
impression on Victor, who vowed one day to find the Skyhook and get
her in the air again. After flying jets for the Navy in the Gulf War,
Captain Sanchez decided to muster out of the military and start a new
life in the South Seas. He had a vision of providing passenger service,
ferrying medical services and patients, and even taking divers and
surfers to remote sites inaccessible by boat. Captain Sanchez met his
wife Tina on a flight to a remote island in French Polynesia, and
thanks to her concern for her people, they formed the Skyrider
Foundation. Supported by charter income, grants, and retainer fees
from Polynesian governments, the Foundation operates a school for
promising youth from throughout Polynesia to prepare them for
university studies in medicine and other careers in service to their
home islands.

We hope you enjoy your flight aboard the Skyhook . Please read
on for more information about her exact specifications, a list of
missions flown during the war, a timeline of ownership, and other
fascinating facts about our beloved Catalina flying boat.

Mercante reflected for a moment on what he had just read until his mind
darted quickly to wondering what was taking so long with Owens and Clark.
When Owens saw the hatch close, he pushed a small dead bolt on his side to
secure it completely. Then he turned to Ian Clark, looking out across the ocean
as if he did not have a care in the world.

“What tha hell is this about Clark, an’ don’ gimme any crap. Tha plane
commander don’t like yer style one bit, an’ I’m inclined to ‘gree with him.
Where we goin’ an’ what’s tha deal with L.J.?”

Clark turned slowly, letting Owens see his annoyance at being distracted.
“Listen, Mac, I don’t have to tell you a thing about Merrill. You have ten
grand in your hands, and exactly where we are going is classified information
for now. Which reminds me, I need you, Victor and Tina to sign these.”

He pulled three forms out of his backpack and handed them to Owens.
Without breaking eye contact, the flight engineer tore the papers in half and
handed them back.

“Clark, I’m not goin’ fer yer bullshit. Besides, if we signed yer pissant nondisclosures and then violated the terms, whatcha gonna do, sue us? So try bein’
straight with me or y’all never gonna fly on this aircraft agin.”

Clark knew Owens was a man not given to idle threats, and with his entire
plan depending on the capabilities of a Catalina, he knew he had better come
clean, and fast.

“Ok, Mac, here’s the deal. I found a reef with the best big waves on the
planet. I sold the rights to Wavelife International. Their surfers are going to ride
the place and I’ll need you and the Skyhook to make it happen.”

Mac Owens looked at Clark with a sharp eye for more than a few seconds.

“Nuff said.”

The flight engineer turned and slid open the dead bolt, but before he opened
the hatch, he looked back at Ian Clark.

“Oh, jes one thing, Ian. I don’ know where we’re goin’, but I do know y’all
didn’t find the place. So I’d ‘preciate it if ya don’ ever lie to me again, pal.”

The hatch closed and Ian Clark was very much alone. Owens’ comment
made him wonder what L.J. Merrill was doing at that very moment. He didn’t
have a clue, but one thing he did know: not only did he owe the reef to his
former scout, but also the Skyhook .

Before they had met that fateful day in Australia, Merrill had twice hitched
rides on the seaplane to remote islands throughout Polynesia on his search for
surf. Once Geosurf got going, they chartered the Skyhook on numerous
occasions, and though Clark didn’t like the bills, the investment had paid off
with several major finds. And for years afterwards, the Skyhook flew Geosurf
customers to remote resorts . Clark smiled at the thought of the prices he used to
charge, but the smile faded when he remembered how things changed overnight.
Two years ago he bounced a check to Tina Sanchez drawn on a bank in
Samoa when one of his Third World commodities schemes did not work out. He
quickly made good on it, but Victor Sanchez took it personally given that the
whole idea of flying the Skyhook was to support the Skyrider Foundation and its
work with young Polynesians across the Pacific. He let Clark know that
although the Skyhook would continue to be available for charter, the terms
would strictly cash in U.S. dollars from then on.

That condition precluded any further business since Ian Clark was always
skimming the cash and thus never had any for operations. And at the time, it
didn’t matter anyway. He found he could save money using light planes and
chartered yachts instead of the Skyhook while charging his clients the same topdollar
rates. Although the PBY continued to be pictured on Geosurf’s brochures
and website, she had never flown again for Clark since the bounced check.
But now here he was, paying top dollar and yet having to put up with
Owens’ attitude, because he knew had no choice: his entire plan depended on
the Skyhook . She had the range, the cargo capacity, and the ability to set down in the middle of the ocean. Merrill’s video gave no indication of what it would be
like to anchor a large yacht anywhere near the reef. The PBY Catalina, unlike a
Grumman Albatross or other smaller seaplanes, could carry a dozen people plus
a lot of equipment, including jet skis . Of course, that meant burning aviation fuel
no matter what the cost, and at eighty gallons an hour, the Catalina was not
cheap. But then again, he smirked, it wasn’t his money.

He looked down through the bottom pane of the Plexiglas dome. The ocean
speeding by seemed so close he could almost touch it. It reminded him of the
blur of data across the bottom of his computer screen. The stark contrast of the
two images had a powerful effect on him. He turned away and saw the empty
compartment, but he found no relief from his discomfort.

His smirk was replaced by a downcast stare when his first thought was of
the machine guns that once protruded from the Plexiglas blisters, of the Japanese
fighter planes zooming past, some on fire, others firing back, bullets ripping
through the thin aluminum cutting into young flyers, blood spurting everywhere.
He could almost hear their screams over the roar of the engines. He saw his
reflection in the opposite dome, his shades and his khakis and his GPS, and he
felt very out of place and then embarrassed. This was a place of honor - and not
for posers from Newport Beach who made fast money, thanks to golf and
gossip, along with promises that were never kept.

His mind went blank for a second. He looked at the hatch and gave a
thought to joining Owens and Mercante and how wonderful it would be to trust
some real friends for once in his life.

But he didn’t make a move – until he turned his downcast eyes back to
watching the South Pacific blur past him.

Mercante looked up as Owens came into the cargo compartment.

“I see yer doin’ yer homework, Mr. Mercante. Any questions?”

“Yeah, just one. How safe are we flying in a plane built in 1943?”

“Well, sir, we jes’ came back from the States to renew our FAA certificate
allowin’ us to carry passengers . She’s actually a better plane now than when she
was first built.”

“You know, I’ve only seen them in movies. I think there was one in a surf
movie, as I recall.”

“Yeah, ‘In God’s Hands’, when those guys escaped from jail an’ were
rescued by Shaun Tomson.”

“You know him?”

“Sure, flew ‘im out to one of Merrill’s special reefs cupla years ago. Nice
guy. Anyways, that was a PBY, but she was a 5A. The Skyhook is a 6A. The
Navy came up with a re-design called the Nomad PBN-1 back in ’43, but she
weighed too much an’ had less range, so they sold ‘em to the Ruskies an’ came
up with tha 6A. Her top speed was one eighty five, but that was only in a steep
dive. She had a ceiling ‘round - - -”

Owens could see that Mercante was glazing over.

“Say, how’d ya like something to eat? I’m gettin’ hungry. Follow me.”

Owens led him forward to the mechanic’s compartment between the
landing gear wheel wells . The noise of the engines was deafening in the
cramped space crowded with tools and smelling of lubricants. Mercante looked
up into a hollow superstructure ringed with cables, tubing and wires connecting
the controls and systems between the fuselage and the wing. Halfway up the
“tower” were windows on each side and a seat mo unted between them.
“Yeah, that used ta be the flight engineer’s station. Ya needed three people
to fly a PBY durin’ the war, but FAA regs changed in the early sixties and
required everythin’ to be controlled by no more than two people from the flight
deck. So I don’ go up there much anymore.”

“You mean this plane has been flying since the sixties?”

“She bin flyin’ since World War Two, remember?” said Owens impatiently,
“You know, Pearl Harbor, the Nazis, John Wayne fighting the Japs!” A thought
of “What-the-hell, the guy is a rich surfer, what does he know?” helped him
change his tone back to the friendly voice of a tour guide. “Mr. Mercante, the
Skyhook wuddn’t be in the air if I didn’t make shure she complied with every
safety reg known to man. Cum on in, please. Y’all be more comfortable.”

Owens stepped through the hatch into the galley. In contrast to the
‘sunroom’, the cargo bay and the mechanic’s station, the galley of the Skyhook
had wall-to-wall carpeting. Thick insulation cut the engine noise to a minimum.
Four cushioned captains’ chairs swiveled around a clean formica table. He
closed the door behind them and Mercante was surprised at how quiet it was.

“I guess yer used to flying first class, so have a seat, Mr. Mercante.”

“Well, actually I - -”

The intercom buzzed on.

“Everybody hold on for a sec, we’re going to hop an island coming up.”

“Better sit down an’ strap in,” said Mac Owens, pointing to the chair nearest
his passenger.

Not ten seconds after the seat belt clicked Mercante was pushed down in his
seat as the Skyhook suddenly went from eighty feet off the deck to two hundred
and fifty feet. She leveled off, and then dove back down, only to repeat the
process a second time almost immediately.

“Ok, that should do it for now. Hey Clark, you sure about that course?” said
Victor Sanchez, laughing. The intercom clicked off.

“Yeah, Mr. Mercante, do you know where we’re going?”

Mac Owens didn’t get an answer, but he did get a plastic bag out of a
drawer as fast as he could.

“Here ya go, pal, use this . Next time lemme know ‘fore we take off. We got
some fast-actin’ scopolamine, ‘though it won’t do y’all much good right now.”
He pushed the button on the intercom.

“Flight, we’ve got a passenger who don’t like roller coasters all that much.”

“Roger that, Mac, but orders were one-eleven at cruising speed, and oneeleven
it’s going to be until I’m told differently.”

“Of course, we can fly a bit higher, but that’s more fuel, with an appropriate
surcharge, of course,” said Tina Sanchez.

Mercante’s stomach emptied itself a second time into the bag. He looked at
Mac Owens with a green face and nodded.

“That’s a go, Flight, but I think a gradual climb would be in order,” laughed

“Climbing to one thousand. Say, when we level off why don’t you come up
to the cockpit? We’d like to say hello, Mr. Mercante.”

“I’m not feeling too, uh,” he dry heaved into the bag, “social right now,
thanks,” the words barely getting out of his mouth amidst a stream of breakfast
and bile.

“Well, let’s hope y’all gonna enjoy the rest of yer flight,” said Owens,
almost feeling sorry for the vomiting millionaire sitting in front of him.
“Mac, could you go up in the tower and give me a visual on number two?
I’ve got a low oil pressure indicator up here.”

He handed Mercante a plastic sports bottle from the refrigerator and reached
into a metal cabinet with a red cross on it to remove a small bottle of pills.
“Roger that, Flight. Here, drink this an’ take three of these. It’ll settle yer
stomach. An’ stow that bag in the trash when yer done. An’ don’ fergit to close
it first. That smell really gits ta me.”

Mercante nodded, one hand holding the medicine and the bottles, the other
holding the bag. Owens headed aft to the mechanic’s compartment and opened
the hatch. The noise and smell of engines flooded the galley.

Mercante opened the container and washed down two pills with a long swig
from the sports bottle. He started to feel better almost instantly. The hatch to the
mechanic’s compartment was open, and he could see the flight engineer up
inside the superstructure, looking out through a small window, and then coming
back into the galley, closing the door and buzzing the intercom box.
“Flight, no apparent oil leaks on number two. Must be the gauge. I’ll run a
test on ‘er when we get back to Tahiti.”

“Roger that, Mac. How’s our passenger doing?”

Owens turned to Mercante.

“Feelin’ better?”

“Uh, kinda, I think.”

“He’s ok, Flight. Ready fer some introductions?”

“Sure, come on up. And grab some juice bottles, will you please?”

“Will do.”

“Say Mac, what is this stuff? Seems to work pretty fast.”

“Soda water and kava, plus summa those scopolamine pills . Settles yer
stomach an’ gets yer mind off yer nausea. Y’all might be getting’ a bit drowsy
pretty soon, so let’s go visit the cockpit.”

Mac Owens stood up and walked forward and opened the bulkhead hatch.
The doorway was filled with light.

“Go on in,” he gestured to Mercante.

Roberto stood up and suddenly didn’t feel all that well. But he knew he
couldn’t wuss out now, so he ducked through the hatch and found himself
standing between two seats mounted on platforms three feet high on either side
of him. The man on his left didn’t look at him, seemingly quite busy with flying the plane. But the person on his right was another story entirely. The first thing
he saw was her long black hair in a ponytail coming out the back of her baseball
cap. Then she turned and extended her hand to him, her nails done perfectly.

“Welcome aboard, Mr. Mercante. I am Tina Sanchez. Sorry about getting
you sick. Are you feeling better?” she smiled.

“Yes, thank you,” nodded Roberto, somewhat mesmerized by the smooth
feeling of her hand and her classic Polynesian beauty. He was barely able to
remember his manners and cover his mouth as he yawned. Then he fully
snapped out of it when she introduced the pilot now looking at him from not
more than two feet away.

“This is my husband Victor,” she said. The pilot had his hands on the
controls and nodded at Mercante, his firm jaw not allowing anything more than
a thin smile.

“Gangway there, mate!”

Mercante was startled by Mac Owens behind him. He walked forward a few
steps and found himself almost ducking under the instrument panel into a
forward compartment.

Owens handed two plastic bottles to Tina Sanchez. She held one up so that
her husband could see it and he nodded. She gave him a bottle and he took a
long swig from it before giving it back to his wife . He took his headset off and
ran a large hand through his dark wavy hair. He looked down at Mercante from
his pilot’s perch.

“So you’re paying the bills at Ian Clark’s direction. You sure you know
what you are doing?” Sanchez wanted direct eye contact and took off his
sunglasses to get it. His bluntness caught Mercante off guard.

“Uh, yeah, hi, I’m Roberto Mercante. I own Wavelife International. Nice to
meet you.”

“Oh, I thought Wavelife was owned by the shareholders. We tried to raise
some money once from you guys and got the run-around.”

“Now, Victor, be nice. He’s not feeling that well.”

“Right dear,” Sanchez turned back and looked at Mercante.

“So, are we on company time, or is this just a junket for the hell of it?”


“Oh all right, but any friend of Ian Clark, is, uh, ah forget it. Where’s L.J.?”

“I don’t know. But I trust Ian Clark, as does my wife and she’s the CEO. He
pitched us an idea and we’re going to take him up on it.”

Mercante yawned and his eyelids drooped.

“He knows where there’s an unknown reef with the best waves I’ve ever
seen, and we want Wavelife surfers to be the first to ride the place.”

“Yeah, there was a lot of surf two weeks ago, but it is pretty flat right now.”

“Well, I just want to see the place with my own eyes,” said Mercante,
fighting to stay awake.

“Knowing Clark, that’s probably a good idea,” remarked Sanchez,
prompting a withering stare from his wife. He quickly put on his sunglasses and
headset and went back to giving the PBY his undivided attention.

“Yeah, that reminds me, Clark wanted ta double check our position against
his GPS gadget.” Mac Owens touched the button on an intercom box. “Hey
bigshot, ya wanna check yer GPS? Cum’on up here.”

There was no answer.

“Clark, y’all back there sleepin’ in the sun or sumthin’?”

Still no answer.

“Hey Ian, we’re almost there!”

“No, we’re not. We’re only at one four seven five two west, two one one
zero south,” said a very alert Ian Clark with a sharp tone to his voice.
Tina Sanchez looked at a display in front of her.

“That’s right Ian,” she said into her headset patched into the intercom.

“I’ll be up there in a minute. Thanks for remembering me, Mac.”

The box clicked off, and Owens shrugged.

Tina Sanchez knew that Owens’ attitude was entirely due to how her
husband felt about the owner of Geosurf Resorts. And she knew she had to do
something about it.

“Say, Roberto, why don’t you go forward there and lie down for a while.
We’ll wake you up when we get there.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll do that. Nice meeting you both,” said Mercante. He
yawned again, and ducked under the instrument panel into the forward
compartment where he curled up on some loose cushions and coiled ropes.
He was out like a light, but Tina Sanchez was taking no chances. She
motioned for Owens to put on an intercom headset hanging from the bulkhead.
Then she spoke in a low voice that could be not be heard over the engines.

“Ok, Mac, why the attitude?”

“He said he knows exactly where we’re going. Says he found it, but of
course that’s crap an’ I called him on it.”

“Well, I bet L.J. is out of the picture because Clark screwed him, one way
or another,” said the Captain.

“Now listen, and that means both of you. L.J. was a nice guy, but times
change, and we’ve got paying customers aboard, and don’t forget it.”

“Yeah, had sum fun with him, didn’t we? You’d think Clark would
remember all tha places - - - “Owens stopped in mid sentence when he saw the
look of a woman who didn’t want to hear another word about L.J. Merrill, “Oh,
right, the money. Here you go, Tina.”

Owens handed her the zip-lock plastic bag. She opened it and started to
count the bills.

“And there’s more where that came from, believe me.”

Ian Clark poked his head through the hatchway into the cockpit. Mac
Owens shouldered past him back into the galley so that Clark could step
forwards into the cramped cockpit.

He extended his hand to Victor Sanchez.

“Hi Victor, good to see you.”

Sanchez turned and barely nodded to him. Clark felt the vibe and tried again
with the Captain’s wife.

“Hello Tina, how are you? Sorry again about that problem we had.”

That was all her husband needed to hear, and he made no effort to rein in
his dislike for a man trying to sweet talk his wife after bouncing a check for over
twenty thousand dollars.

“We didn’t have a problem, Clark. You did, and that’s why you’re paying
cash now and forevermore. Is it all there, Tina? Better count it.”

“Yes, Victor, its ten thousand, as agreed, although you may have to cover
some extra charges, Ian. Our fuel consumption has gone up.”

“No problem. As long as we’re on course, I’m stoked.”

“One eleven dead on and steady as she goes. Where are we headed, Ian?”

Clark looked back into the galley at Owens.

“I wasn’t going to tell you until I had signed non-disclosures, but Mac tells
me they won’t be needed.”

“Actually I just tore them up when you tried to hand them to me,” said
Owens in a loud voice, standing back in the galley.

“Yeah, Clark, what makes you think I’d sign anything for you anyway?
First you bounce a check, then you show up with some story about a magic reef,
and by the way, where’s L.J.?”

Victor Sanchez’ tone was ominous. His wife could sense the tension, but
with ten thousand dollars in her hand, she was not going to lose an account just
because male egos were turning the men into growling dogs.

“Ian, why don’t you and I go sit down in the galley and discuss this? And
Victor, I think you should come with us. Mac, could you come up here and keep
an eye on things?”

“Uh, yeah, sure Tina,” he said with some hesitation. But Ian Clark was
ready to clear the air. He turned and ducked back through the hatch, bumping
into Mac Owens. Tina Sanchez got out of her seat and followed Clark through
the hatch.

“Let’s go, Victor!”

“All right, I’m coming. Mac, one eleven due east. And bring her up to top
speed. Let’s get this over with.”

“Aye-aye skipper, one eleven east. Full throttles.”

Victor Sanchez sat next to his wife and glared across the table at Ian Clark.

“You didn’t answer my question about L.J. And I want to know where
we’re going, Clark.”

“Ok, Sanchez. But first forget about L.J. Merrill. And as for where we are
going, I’ll show you in a minute.”

“You said we’re going to the best surfing reef on the planet, but there’s no
place to surf on this course for thousands of miles!”

“Keep your shirt on, skipper. We’re not going thousands of miles.”
Clark pulled a portable DVD player out of his pack, opened it up, touched
the “play” button, and pushed it across the table.

“Here’s the place we’re looking for.”

The husband-and-wife team watched the forty-five seconds of shaky video
shot from ten thousand feet.

“I know those waters like my own hand, but I’ve never seen this place.
Where is it on the chart?”

“Don’t bother, Victor. It’s not on any chart.”

Sanchez narrowed his eyes.

“Clark, I’ve just about had it with your - - - ”

His wife pinched him painfully on the knee and he stopped short of saying
another word.

“Maybe you’ve never seen this place before, but seeing is believing, and
you’ll see it in person soon enough.”

“Ian, are you sure about this?”

“I’d bet my life on it, Tina.”

“Seems like you already have,” she replied.

“I’ve bet Geosurf on it, that’s for sure. I’ve got a good deal with Wavelife
and all things being equal, you will, too. I - - -”

“What kind of deal, Clark? And what kind of deal did you give L.J.?”
Clark’s focus snapped into survival mode.

“Victor, just shut up about him and listen. I’m offering you a retainer of
fifty thousand dollars in cash for sixty days starting June nineteenth. Plus a
matching cash contribution to the Foundation. Plus all expenses, fuel, and two
fifty per diem each. Mac, too.”

“And where does L.J. fit into all this?”

“He doesn’t. You know as well as I do that he would never work with a
corporation like Wavelife. So I had to make some changes and - - -”

“That’s ok, Clark, I can imagine what happened with Wavelife in the
picture. He never trusted you all that much anyway.”

“Victor, enough is enough. He brought cash, and Ian, if you put fifty grand
in our hands and another fifty to the Foundation, we’ll be able to work with you.
And you did say all expenses, plus fuel and per diem?”

“Correct. There will be at least two flights in and out of the place, possibly
more . The Skyhook will be doing air-ferry with a lot of equipment and

“I think we can do the job, Ian. What do you think, Victor?”

“As long as its cash, we’ll be ready.”

“There will be two hundred and fifty thousand US dollars deposited in your
Fijian account as soon as I finalize the details with Wavelife. Fifty thousand will
be yours to keep no matter what. Satisfied, Captain Sanchez?”

“That will be just fine, Ian,” said Tina Sanchez before her husband had a
chance to respond to the obvious challenge in Clark’s tone of voice.

“Good. That’s what I was hoping you’d say. Only one more thing: I will
give you the coordinates, but they stay aboard the Skyhook . I’ve got to keep this
place under wraps or - - -”

“Or somebody might steal it from you the way you stole it from L.J? Well,
Clark, collecting on your karma is not my job. So exactly where do we set

“Come and get me when you’re within a ten mile radius of one three seven
west and twenty-one south. And I have your word?”

Victor Sanchez hesitated, but his wife did not.

“You do.”

She extended her hand to Clark and shook it firmly. Then she looked at her
husband, who was looking at the DVD display and watching the images play
again. She closed the lid of the player firmly and handed it to Clark.


“Uh, yeah, okay Clark.”

He extended his hand, but kept his eyes averted.

Clark left the galley and made his way back to the ‘sunroom’. Tina Sanchez
leaned back, looked at her husband, and sighed.

“Ok, dear, let me give it to you straight. Our job is to keep the Skyhook in
the air and the Skyrider Foundation solvent. We’re making good money on this
flight, so I want both Clark and Mercante to enjoy themselves and feel

“Yeah, but - - - ”

“No yeah-but, Victor. That’s the way it’s going to be, for one simple
reason: Wavelife grossed over a billion dollars last year. I will NOT have you
guys jeopardizing a relationship that could really help us. Are we understood?”
Victor Sanchez looked liked a cowed boy glad he wasn’t going to be
spanked. Tina Sanchez took that as an answer.

“Now I’m going up to relieve Mac. When he comes back here, I want you
to tell him exactly what I just told you. No tone. No sarcasm. Be nice. We’ve got
commitments that are way too important for you to screw things up because of
L.J. I feel for him too, Victor. Now is not the time to deal with it . Period.”
She got up out of her chair and opened the hatch to the cockpit.
Mac Owens was concentrating on the temperature gauges to make sure she
wasn’t overheating.

“Mac! Victor has some things to discuss with you.”

Roberto Mercante slowly opened his eyes, and he didn’t know where he
was. He sat up, looked around the small compartment and saw two anchors atop
piles of thick, neatly coiled rope. Slowly he remembered exactly where he was:
on a World War Two seaplane flying out over the South Pacific on its way to the
most perfect big wave reef he had ever seen. In his excitement, he stood up and
hit his head on the skylight. He turned and bent over to go through the hatch
leading aft. Ducking through it, he came up into the cockpit and was startled to
find Tina Sanchez alone in the co-pilot’s seat.

“Well, glad to see you’re up and around, Roberto,” she said with a smile as
she looked at her nails.

Mercante just stood there soaking in the image of a beautiful woman sitting
at the controls of a seaplane. Then he saw the control yokes moving slightly and
it took him a few seconds to figure it out. Autopilot.

“Uh, can I sit up there in the other seat, Tina? May I call you Tina?”

“Sure. Just don’t touch anything.”

He climbed up into the seat on the port side of the plane. He looked out the
window and saw an ocean of rich blue to the horizon with coral reefs
surrounding lagoons of turquoise.

“I’ve got to get me one of these!” he said in a voice audible over the full
sound of the twin engines.

He barely touched the steering controls and his imagination ran wild. There
he was, flying his own plane to undiscovered waves that only he would surf,
with a Polynesian beauty at his side.

“Roberto, I told you not to touch anything,” said Tina Sanchez, pretending
to scold him.

He quickly took his hands away from the controls, abashed at the reprimand.

“Well, go ahead, get a feel for her,” she said, relenting coyly, “Just don’t
grip her too tightly, ok? You need to feel how she moves on her own before you
try to control her.”

She got out of her seat and stood right next to Mercante.

“Here, let me explain what all these dials and displays are for. Oh, excuse
me for a second before we get started.”

She smiled at the speechless Mercante and hit the button on the intercom.

“Victor, why don’t you make us some lunch? And Mac, could you do a run
through of all the maintenance we’ve been deferring this year? We will be
giving the Skyhook a re-furb when we get back, thanks to Roberto.”

She looked at him, her smile bright against her dash of lipstick and rich
Polynesian skin.

“Now, where were we? Oh, you want to learn how to fly her, do you? Well,
there are some important things you’ve got to learn.”

“Boy, I like this!”

“You like it now. You’ll learn to love it later.”

For almost half an hour the millionaire surfer was living a dream come true,
flying to the best waves in the world in a Catalina with a knockout dame
standing next to him in the cockpit. Though they were both married, the
Brazilian millionaire and the Polynesian beauty were not above some serious
flirting while winging above an idyllic ocean paradise.

But Tina Sanchez knew what she was doing, and when to do it at exactly
the right moment.

“You know, I think we’re getting a bit too hot, don’t you Roberto?”

“Uh, er - - -“

“The temperature gauges, remember? Gotta keep an eye on ‘em all time!”
she purred as she withdrew to the co-pilot’s seat.

She eased off the throttles slightly.

“There, that’s better. Mac! Come on up and fly for us, ok?” she said into the
intercom, “Roberto, let’s go get something to eat. I hope my husband has lunch
ready for us by now. After you!”

Tina Sanchez never took her eyes off him as she gestured to Mercante. He
followed her hand and almost fell out of the captain’s seat. His face reddened as
Sanchez laughed.

“Oh, don’t worry. It’s always a little awkward the first time.”

Mercante stumbled a step and caught his balance by holding on to the
bulkhead. The hatch opened and he stepped through it like a drunken sailor,
bumping into Mac Owens in the process.

“Oh, sorry, Mr. Mercante! Did you have a nice sleep? Everything ok?”

“Sure, Mac. Just great!”

Owens lifted up into the captain’s chair.

“Everything’s steady, Mac. Did you and Victor have your little chat?” The
tone in her voice was strictly no-nonsense.

“Yes, ma’am. Captain’s orders understood loud and clear.”

She swung gracefully out of her seat and went through the hatch all in one
motion, ready to share an excellent lunch and conversation at the captain’s table
with her husband and their new-found patron.

An hour later, Roberto Mercante was in excellent spirits. Tina Sanchez saw
her chance and excused herself.

“Victor, can I have a word with you? We’ll be right back, Roberto,” she
said, motioning her husband to follow her to the engineer’s compartment.
She closed the hatch behind her.

She gave her husband a long, luscious kiss, and then did it again.

“Are you okay, Victor? I know this is hard for you.”

“Yeah, I just can’t get L.J. out of my thoughts . I KNOW Clark ripped him
off for this place and then sold it to this guy. And now I’ve got to keep them
both happy? C’mon, Tina!”

Tina gave him another kiss and put her arms around his waist and pulled
him tightly to her.

“Victor, if we can land Wavelife as a donor, we’ll put that many more kids
on full scholarships. Do it for them, Victor. Wavelife can really help us.”

“Ok, now that you put it that way, I’ll be the nicest guy you’ve ever seen,”
said Victor, putting his arms around his wife and looking into her deep eyes.
She kissed him once more. “You already are the nicest guy I’ve ever seen.
Now, you go hang out with the boys up front and I’ll go get Ian.”

Tina Sanchez went aft until she reached the ‘sunroom’. She opened the
hatch, and found Ian Clark fast asleep. She looked at him and thought about just
what drove human beings to end up so far from heart and home. She knew
Clark’s story from endless hours of flying with L.J. Merrill, and all she could do
was hope that some good would come of Ian Clark’s plans. She stepped back
into the cargo bay, and slowly closed the hatch. Then she made some noise with
the winch before pretending to struggle with the hatch. Then she said in a loud
voice, “Hey, Ian, I think we’re almost there!”

She waited a few seconds before stepping into the ‘sunroom’. And just as
she’d anticipated, Ian Clark was waking up.

“We’re getting close, Ian. C’mon, let’s go up front and see what’s cookin’,”
she said with a smile almost angelic in its charm.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I fell asleep,” he said, looking up at the first friendly face
he’d seen in a long time. Then he looked at his GPS and his heart skipped a beat.
The air in the cockpit was charged with excitement. Mercante was in the
captain’s seat and loving it as Mac Owens was showing him all the dials and
going on and on about the mechanical aspects of flying a Catalina PBY. Victor
Sanchez was giving pointers to Mercante about how the Skyhook handled. Ian
Clark crouched in the forward compartment watching the numbers displayed on
his GPS and glancing from time to time through the observation porthole.
Finally he saw what he was waiting for on the GPS display.

“We’re here,” he said, almost to himself.

Nobody heard him, and that was just as well, because as he looked out the
window, he saw a dozen reefs scattered across the sea. Every one of them was
fringed with white on their east-facing shores from wind chop coming from the
trades. None of them showed any signs of swell from the south, but then he
realized that the swell was the least of his problems.

“Oh shit.”

He looked at the coordinates from the airline and at his GPS. They were
almost identical, but the airlines had only given him degrees and minutes, but
not seconds. And with a second equal to about six nautical miles, the numbers
from the airline could be off by as much as three hundred and sixty miles. They
didn’t pinpoint the reef, and now there was no way to tell which of the reefs far
below, if any of them, was the one Merrill had discovered. He took a deep
breath to suppress a panic not unlike that of a drug dealer about to display
product to a cash customer when he discovers he’s been burned up the line and
his stuff is no good. But he caught himself as the instincts of a salesman kicked
in. The first thing he had to do was stall for time.

“Ok, steady as she goes,” he looked down at the GPS, “Victor, maybe you
better take the controls . We’ll be setting down soon. Roberto, why don’t we go
back into the sunroom? I’m sure the view will be great from there.”

“Yeah, good idea you guys,” said Mac Owens.

Mercante got out of the seat and Sanchez swung up and took the controls
after carefully turning off the autopilot. He followed Clark aft, passing Tina
Sanchez in the galley.

“We’re almost there, Roberto! You must be really exc ited!” she said.

Mercante smiled at her, tongue-tied at seeing such a gorgeous woman
tidying up the place. Clark didn’t even notice her. He was sweating bullets as he
led Mercante back to the ‘sunroom’, but he knew he was lucky they were flying
at a thousand feet. If the Skyhook had been close to the sea surface, he wouldn’t
have seen all the reefs arrayed across the ocean, nor would he have seen that
none had the perfect elliptical shape in the images captured by Merrill.
Mercante looked out the port dome like a kid staring through a window at a
toy store. Clark pretended to look out to starboard, but his mind was far away.
The intercom box came on.

“Ok, Ian, I’m going to take her down. Where do you want me to go?”

Clark looked up at the sky in resignation and closed his eyes . He wanted to
pray, but he knew God was not going to help a liar and a thief.

“Yeah, Ian, where is it? Can you see it?” said an excited Roberto Mercante.
Clark opened his eyes, and looked into the deep ocean. Then he saw the
handle at the bottom of the Plexiglas dome. Anxiety attacked from all sides.
Merrill, Geosurf, Wavelife, Victor and Tina Sanchez, Mac Owens, the lawyers,
the cops, the IRS, the surf stars, the Newport crowd: they were all flashing
across his mind and looking straight at him. He looked down at the handle. Then
his gaze went right through the window.

Off in the distance he saw a faint ring of white set against the blue of God’s
ocean. And then he thought he saw yet another ring of white just on the horizon.
He felt something powerful turn his heart around. He steadied himself. Now he
had to think fast. He waited for a few seconds, and yet a third ring appeared.
They were about eight to ten miles apart. The surf was flat, and there was no
way of telling which one was the reef in Merrill’s video. But any one of them
would do for now, and that was all that mattered.

“Right there, Roberto! There it is ! That’s the reef!”

He pushed the intercom button.

“Hey Victor, set her down next to the first reef just ahead of us. We’re right
where we want to be!”