February 03, 2012
Extraordinary as it may have seemed, we had been in Hawai‘i for nine months and despite numerous snorkeling expeditions we had not played in the surf at all. So having bought a boogie-board for Matt and Shev to use in Waikiki, it did not take much persuasion to get us to go to a beautiful beach north of Kailua Kona to frolic in the waves. That we were invited to do so by Judith and Harry, friends from Canada that we met on their boat Vahana as we were all heading to Costa Rica, made the day particularly special. They were renting a condo in Waikoloa (about 20 miles or 32 km north of us), spending three weeks playing golf, enjoying the Kona Coast beaches, and basking in the non-Vancouver weather.
So on a gloriously sunny Tuesday morning (January 24th) they picked us up and we drove to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, 5 miles (8 km) north of their condo. Conditions on the beautiful sand beach were perfect for us to relive the hours of our youths spent riding belly boards (they were made of thin ply-wood with a rounded, curved-up nose in my childhood) on our new, foam, wrist-strapped, boogie-boards. It was a popular place for boogie-boarding with a long ride into the shallows and waves that were big enough to offer the occasional washing-machine-like tumble and nasal-douche when caught on a miscued take-off.
Intrigued by an underwater rock that was somewhat beyond the breaking waves and which seemed to attract quite a few other swimmers, Judith and I donned our masks and snorkels and swam out to see if there were any interesting fish. Remarkably, since the “rock” had appeared very stable from the shore, the dark patch turned out to be a very tightly packed, swirling school of thousands of bigeye scad (small, plankton-eating jacks). When we first arrived, Judith saw some larger fish on the edge of the school, probably some of the larger, predatory jacks but they did not linger in our presence. Even once we knew what it was, it was still hard to believe when viewed from the beach that there was not a large rock out there. Not long after we returned to shore, a man swam out who was perhaps a bit freaked out by the writhing mass of fish. His friend had to hail the life guards, one of whom trotted out with his rescue board and he assisted the dazed man to shallow water.
After a delicious lunch at Café Pesto in Kawaihae, we returned to Judith and Harry’s condo where we recounted numerous cruising stories, helped them download a free chart-plotting program, and looked at photos of their house and mooring on Parker Island. If all goes according to plan, we hope to visit them there in the fall when we reach the Canadian Channel Islands (on the east side of Vancouver Island) as we head south from Alaska. On Friday, just before they returned to the Canadian winter, Judith and Harry stopped by Tregoning again and we were excited to take them snorkeling at “our” beach. It was a bit choppy but we saw most of our usual reef-fish friends and several good-sized squid (probably bigfin squid which are often seen on night-dives in the area).
Much of the rest of our first week back on the Big Island was spent working on boat projects. For Randall this included re-wiring our compass and running lights (hours of contortion in the engine room and groping in the back of cabin cabinets) and for me it was sanding the grubby, flaking old varnish off all the woodwork around the companionway (with the awkward, inside curves on the hand-holds being my least favorite part). After several days of this we were thrilled to have a change of pace when we caught the bus to Hilo early on Tuesday morning.
To catch the 6:45 am bus, we had to bicycle a couple of miles to the K-Mart in Kailua Kona and then we could relax for the ride north through Waimea, stopping for a bathroom break in Honoka‘a, and arriving in Hilo three hours later. The amazingly good news was that this trip cost me $1 and was free for Randall (it was free to all until this year). The bad news was that (perhaps to dissuade riders from regarding the bus as low-cost housing) the vehicle was air-conditioned to within a few degrees of absolute zero. The locals obviously expected this as most people boarded wearing long pants and hooded sweatshirts or carrying thick blankets. Luckily we had anticipated a cold waiting room at our destination so we were partly prepared but a full-length, down, body-suit would not have been excessively warm.
In Hilo, once we had warmed-up enough in the sun (yes, it was sunny again in Hilo) to walk without shaking, we visited the Dept. of Homeland Security’s TWIC office where Randall had to be interviewed as part of renewing his US Coast Guard Captain’s License. Despite not having an appointment, he was able to complete this process very quickly and efficiently (quite frankly, this was a bit of a surprise) and we went to my appointment with Dr. Gutteling who was going to fix my recalcitrant thumb. My initial date for surgery had been set for Monday February 6th, just a couple of days after two of our friends arrived from Florida for a week’s stay, but I was pleased to be able to bring the date forward to Thursday.
Although this change meant that we would not complete our varnishing project before Jere and Nancy arrived, I was very relieved not to have to hi-jack them at the beginning of their visit with a trip to Hilo. Before catching the mobile cold-locker back to Kailua Kona, we had a delicious Thai lunch with Bill and he kindly invited us to stay at their house the next evening, prior to my morning surgery. So once we got back to Tregoning (having nicely rewarmed on our bike ride back to the harbor) I scurried around getting the boat ready for our visitors while Randall arranged for us to pick up a rental car. Cheryl kindly gave us a ride to the airport to pick up the car early on Wednesday afternoon and we had a beautiful drive to Hilo over Saddle Road. We had never used this road before (not allowed on previous car rentals) but under these clear, sunny conditions it was a spectacular drive across the island between the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The pass is at 6,758 ft (2,060 m) so most of the 80 mile journey (130 km) is a long, steady ascent and descent.
We had a lovely evening at Bill and Mary’s house including a very tasty dinner and it was most convenient to only be a couple of miles from the surgery center. Although the procedure to “release” my trigger (but now unbendable) thumb only required local anesthetic in my right forearm, Dr. Gutteling preferred to use the sterile and well-equipped environment of an operating room and that was fine with me. For some reason, it took the nurse four attempts to get the drip line inserted into the back of my right hand (the one in the left hand only took one try) so by the time it was all over my hands looked as though I had been in a gloves-off prize-fight.
Although there was no pain in my deadened forearm, the tight tourniquet used to confine the anesthetic there was quite uncomfortable. So the anesthesiologist decided to give me an extra shot of pain-killer which send the room slowing spinning while I endeavored to keep up with his stream of chatter that was supposed to distract me from the activities on the other side of the curtain. Actually I would have been quite curious to see what was going on but by the time I was wheeled into the only-slightly-spinning-recovery room my hand was so well bandaged there was nothing to see.
I was very lucky that the wound at the base of my thumb did not really hurt but despite ingesting nothing since 9 pm, it was a few hours before my appetite was sufficiently restored to appreciate the slice of chocolate torte that we bought as my post-surgical treat. Although this was probably a questionable food choice under the circumstances, once Randall had encouraged me to tackle a Subway sandwich for lunch the torte became much more appealing.
Randall drove us back over Saddle Road in perfect condition and I spent most of that evening (when we enjoyed our annual viewing of his favorite movie, Groundhog Day) and the next day resting with my right hand elevated and with periodic applications of an ice pack. The only disadvantage of having got this procedure out of the way was that for the whole of Jere and Nancy’s visit I would not be able to join them in any aquatic activities as I was banned from getting my two stitches wet. Still the promise of being able to grip again and write without pain was attractive even if it might take two or three months for all function to return to normal.
As wrapped-up as I had become with the novelty of my surgery, when I next greeted our friend Rosemary, the ever-cheerful, one-legged woman who collects recyclable items from the harbor dumpsters, I was humbled by the reminder of what physical limitations so many people have to endure. It made me truly grateful for how lucky I was to have had a minor problem for which there was a fairly simple and relatively painless solution. It was good to be reminded to appreciate having all my limbs and digits and to look forward all the more to the next time I could jump in the sea and use them all.