“The whales are here!” texted our Maui friend as we prepared for a family vacation on that beautiful island. So, of course, we booked a whale watch tour through the concierge at our accommodation.
“Before you go, come get towels from us,” the concierge suggested, “because you’ll get wet.” Our concierge explained the catamaran would come up on the beach and we’d load there. This was quite different from how whale watches in other places had been, but we envisioned we might go up a ladder or just step up from the beach to the boat. And we counted on being splashed. Hence the towels.
At our meeting point just off the beach, towels in hand, we met the buff and tanned boat captain. He could’ve been 30 or even 40; his skin was so weathered it was hard to say. But definitely buff.. “Plan on getting wet,” he told us. “You’ll have to go through surf at least waist deep to get on the boat.”
Wait a minute. WAIST-deep? AT LEAST waist high? Our concierge failed to cover that part of it and (unlike me) I hadn’t taken time to research and read reviews.
I was in capris, a long sleeved sunblock shirt, tennis shoes and white socks. Not a swimsuit.
“I’m not prepared for that,” I told him. He didn’t blink: “So what do you want to do?”
I considered. I could go back and whale watch another time, wearing a swimsuit. Or….I had thrown a sarong into my bag before I left. I could strip off the capris and wear the sarong into the water, I thought. It wasn’t modest enough for me to remove my underwear. I considered again and here’s why:
First confession. I have a fondness for men’s boxer briefs. They’re super-comfy and I wear them if I work out or do anything athletic. I was wearing them. I imagined getting into the water and onto the boat wearing a sarong and men’s boxer briefs. With fly front.
You can see my dilemma.
I dreamed I was swimming in my men’s boxer briefs
(apologies to Maidenform. If you’re my age, you get the reference to the ad campaign. But back to the story)
I’ll never see these people again, I thought. I tied the sarong around my waist, slipped off my capris and figured, che sera sera (whatever will be, will be). Or che sarong, sarong. And down to the water we went.
Ah, the water. I’ve never met a boat I didn’t like. A ship, a canoe, a motorboat, a rowboat, a fishing boat, a catamaran. I love being on boats. I do not get seasick.
However, another confession: I do not swim. (Pretty soon you’ll know all my secrets.)
I know, right? At my age it’s hard to confess. I fell in Saranac Lake, NY when I was young and couldn’t touch bottom. It freaked me out so badly I developed a fear of water. But I still like boats.
Once down at the ocean, I could see the surf was, well, “gnarly.” The catamaran was trying to make it up onto the beach but swells kept pushing it back out.The waves were at least chest deep and some were crashing way over the heads of the women crew members who were preparing to load us up.
Uncertainty washed over me before I even got in the water. But I was past the point of no return.
Storming the beach
“OK!,” the mate (female) yelled. “Form two lines. You’ll go two at a time. When we tell you to go, plow through the water to the ladder, grab the handle and pull yourself up quickly. If we tell you to stop or go back, do that immediately!”
“Yes, run for your lives!” the captain laughed.
Right. Thanks, Cap’n. Ha. Ha.
I was about 10th in my line. People ahead of me struggled to get through the powerful surf, which at times crashed over their heads. Every two people, the crew would yell “STOP!!!“, everyone in the water would struggle to backtrack, the boat would float off then back up–I’m telling you, the landing at Normandy had nothing on this. I watched, apprehensively.
Two young women crew in bathing suits were helping people get across. Seeing the look of sheer terror on my face they each took a hand and we started across. The water wasn’t waist deep, it was CHEST deep. NECK deep.
We were about six feet from the boat when…
“Stop!” they yelled, “here comes a big one! Turn sideways!” A huge swell crashed into us, nearly knocking me over. Those waves slammed HARD. Turning sideways helped us stay on our feet. Barely. We struggled back to shore; the boat floated back out to sea.
Shit! I thought. Almost there — and now I had to do it again.
The captain manuevered the boat back as far as he could toward shore. My handmaidens took hold. I had a death grip on their hands as we fought the crashing waves to get me aboard.
I am not exaggerating when I say they were powerful and if my helpers hadn’t been holding on to me I would’ve been knocked down. And if I went down, they were going down. As each big wave slammed into us the crew yelled “Turn sideways!” That gave us some stability to absorb the force –which was considerable.
It took at least a couple minutes to go about 20 feet. But we made it.
As I climbed aboard victoriously, I could hear the theme from “Rocky” playing in my head. I was soaked. A little battered. But I was aboard ship. Alive.
Out on the water for two hours we saw numerous whales. They jumped, they tail slapped. We saw mama whales teaching their babies to arc out of the water. The crew dropped a microphone underwater and we heard whales sing through the speaker. Two males were nearby, the crew told us, so their song was so loud and clear. All whales sing the same song, no matter where in the world they are, and it changes every year. In the same way. For them all. Nature is mysterious.
I made sure to keep my sarong wrapped carefully around my boxer briefs. The catamaran bobbed up and down in the swells. I loved every minute so much I almost forgot I was wearing men’s underwear.
All too soon, we were heading back. What got on the boat — me, for example– would have to get off it. The same way.
I decided to get off in the first wave (so to speak) and queued immediately so I could get it done.
I knew my handmaidens would remember me, even if they hadn’t noticed my boxer briefs. The bruise on their hands from my death grip would certainly be a reminder.
Peering down, I saw that the surf was pretty calm. A piece of cake, I thought.
Three little kids were carried ashore first, atop the handmaidens shoulders, then four adults ahead of me on the ladder down. The kids went, two adults went and then the crew yelled, “Stop! Back up! Back up!” and as heavier swells came back in, we all backpedaled up the ladder to the boat as fast as we could.
Seriously? Ever tried to back up a ladder on a boat rocking in choppy surf? Me either. That calm surf we had seen just 60 seconds before was gone. Now, the waves were super-gnarly, crashing over people’s heads. I wondered if I should’ve just knocked those little kids out of the way and gone first, while the going was easy.
The boat finally re-positioned and they hustled us off with great urgency. Just as I got in the water and grabbed the hand of a crew member, she yelled “Here comes a big one!” I turned sideways and it crashed over me. TOTALLY over me. The boat went back out to sea but I was off. “Come on,” she urged me forward quickly, with sand trying to suck my feet in as wave after wave crashed over us.
Safely ashore and again, feeling victorious, I watched this happen again and again as the rest of the whale watchers tried to get to shore. No sooner would a couple people get down the ladder then the swells would carry the boat back out to see. It took quite a bit of time to offload. I watched waves that were higher than people almost knock them down. The boat floated back out to sea numerous times before we were all safely on terra firma.
Remember when moms used to tell us to wear nice underwear in case we had to go to the hospital? Maybe you aren’t old enough to remember that, but I do, and it always crosses my mind when I slide on a comfy pair of boxer briefs: what would paramedics think? I’ve laid that concern to rest.
Always do the research.
I‘ve gotten lazy in my old age. In the past I’d have researched the company and the experience and known exactly what to expect. This time, I didn’t. If I had, we would have all been in swimsuits. Lesson definitely learned.
Face fears head on.
It’s rarely as bad as we think it’ll be. I’m glad I had a chance to confront my fear.
Until next time…and you know there will be one.
Let me know what you think…and if you’ve ever had to confront fear head on!