Image from http://blogs.britannica.com/2011/08/wake-humpback-tracking-whale-migration-science-front/
It was December the 31st 1999.
Midnight was to bring disaster upon the world as frail computers struggled to deal with the odometer of time. It was called the Y2K problem since it was the number 2,000 that would do us all in.
I had very cleverly moved my family to the remote island of Hawaii, not really in hopes of surviving as we watched the world burn. But rather because the USAF had assigned me there for 4 years.
We had only moved there the previous Spring, but such is the itinerant life of the military that lifetime friendships are made as fast as possible. And a wonderful person had invited my wife and I to join him in his small sailboat just off the coast of Waikiki to watch the fireworks.
The actual fireworks, not Y2K.
Two points to mention before we get much further. Fireworks on Hawaii are beyond spectacular. And my wife is deathly afraid of open water.
It is the Eastern influence that causes many residents to string together 10,000 or even 100,000 firecrackers and set them off to scare off the bad luck and herald in the good luck of the new year. Even more so since the magic number was up. More than one enterprising fellow spent ridiculous amounts of money stringing together 10 100,000 firecracker arrays. This, combined with sky rockets and any number of completely illegal munitions was what we wanted to get a good view of.
Did I say beyond spectacular? Yes. Beyond, because it was noisy, scary, and a bit dangerous. Luckily the amazing amounts of black powder smoke generated would blow off the island by morning. But that still left hours of breathing it in until then. So that’s another good reason to watch the fireworks from off shore — hopefully with the wind at our backs.
My wife’s phobia of open water notwithstanding, she was eager to join us for the spectacle. This is the woman who, a couple of years later, would bungee-jump from New Zealand’s Kawarau Bridge over 40 meters to the river below. Because she was afraid to do it.
As captain of my high school swim team and a certified life guard instructor, I was simply enjoying the open water as the sun set and people readied their ordnance. My wife, on the other hand, was working pretty hard at enjoying it.
Here’s the part you may have trouble believing.
As the fireworks started and we were enjoying the show, we realized others had joined us. No, not the other sail boats. They were there from the beginning. It was an entire pod of whales gathered in between the sailboats, their eyes breaking the surface and, like us, gazing in awe at the lights, smoke, and unique noises.
It was my wife who noticed the plaintive cry of a baby whale on one side of our boat and the reassuring response from momma whale on the other side of our boat. Since the baby could easily upset our craft, my wife’s anxieties were enhanced by the almost surety of our capsizing and hitting the water soon.
But momma and baby and the rest of the pod were content to simply watch the show with us.
As expected, the island quickly became covered with dense smoke. However, the smoke reached out and enveloped our boat. When it was time to find our way back, the usual night-time lighted buoys helped. But what also helped was the state of the art Garmin GPS I had with me that night.
In those days there were no maps on GPS receivers, they could only trace a line. But I could show my wife that we were re-tracing the line back to our slip.