LEISURE LETTER 63: KONA: A FISING STORY - PART 1
I’ve heard it more than once . . . Vividly conveyed along the wharf at Dana Point, among the looming Hatteras Yachts of Rudee Inlet in VB, even whispered on the docks of Palm Beach and Key West, that Kona, on the big island of Hawaii, is the best place to go sport fishing . . . The best place in the world.
So when old Vinny called me from Kona one morning, I treated his notoriously slow, spaced out and painfully irresolute means of communicating over the phone as patiently as I could. I would sit tight through all of this aimless drivel and wait for the delivery . . . the punchline. Which came, to be sure, when he asked if I would like to skip over to Big Island for a few days to go fishing on his new boat – a tiny twin-hull smoker with a classic maroon shade structure. The fishing has been off the hook these last few days, he told me, and continued – I’ve got an extra bedroom with a queen size mattress . . . a new house perched up on the hill, with a killer lanai overlooking the ocean . . . the fiance's away at the moment, shopping for wedding dresses over on the mainland . . . yes, Yucca and Lou would absolutely love to see you . . . let’s go fish! Etcetera, Etcetera.
Just then I was busy kicking a rotten coconut shell round and round in circles on an empty stretch of beach, driven mad by the sun and the wind at Backyards, North Shore, Oahu. With the approach of summer there were no more waves to be had in these parts, and my face was then healing from a gash I acquired getting steamrolled over the reef. The mana, you see, a force both of creation and destruction, was starting to get the best of me. Vague sensations of discomfort. An itchiness I couldn’t quite scratch. Ecstatic flights of emotion, and precipitous falls, altogether unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
So it’s no surprise that I got off the phone and ran straight home, tossed some rags in the trusty Vuitton Keepall, slid on the sad looking penny loafers and sped off across the island, to Honolulu International.
The airport was ultra relaxed. I was the only soul in the building, with the exception of the front desk people, TSA, and the two mean looking shepherds sniffing for drugs and other paraphernalia. It only took thirty seconds to get the ticket, and another thirty minutes to get to Kona. It was like taking a bus. That happened to be flying. Over the ocean.
BAM! – we hit the runway, which was built into an expansive flow of black volcanic melt running straight into the sea, cool turquoise, shimmering and splashing prettily against the sinister lava edge. I felt right at home in this mix.
And I felt right at home when, after picking me up and driving me to the house, Vinny showed me to my room, offered me a cigar on the lanai, and told me to get some rest: we’ve got a big day tomorrow.
That night it rained nonstop, and the wind swirled down and around the slopes of sleeping Mauna Loa. Even the coqui frogs kept quiet through the storm. In my dream I was at the beach again, kicking a rotten coconut round and round in circles.
I woke to the alarm at 4:45 am – breakfast of coffee and a poached egg, a bit of fruit. And we were off to the races. At this point I learned that we would not be driving Vinny’s twin-hull smoker, but rather another boat, an 18 foot Alii Kai fishing craft, built in the Hawaii style, with twin 40’s strapped to the stern (that’s 40 horsepower outboard engines), rigged up and ready to troll the legendary waters of the mid pacific. The Alii Kai belonged to Grant, a kindred, half-mad southern boy from Alabama.
Grant is well trained in the art of catching big fish. Since owning the 18’ Alii Kai, he’s already bagged a score of pelagic monsters, including a two hundred pound Yellowfin Tuna he and Vinny wrangled six miles off the coast of Kona during an all night blitz. To lend some perspective: the collar on this thing was about the size of two 40 oz flatiron steaks. I’m talking about the kind of fish peddled for close to 10 g’s at Tsukiji Market . . . Only to end up at Nobu on Lenny DiCaprio’s chopsticks. Ahi nigiri please . . . And keep them coming. It’s serious stuff.
* * *
With the sun then rising over the volcano, we went gurgling past the Kona Gold and other ships at anchor, out through the immaculate Keauhou Bay, and on to the open sea. There the trolling lines were set, and at a depth of 40 fathoms we cruised an average speed of 8 knots, cruised like that for hours on end, riggers on the fly, and the bow aimed straight through Tahiti, toward the bottom of the Earth.
In all of the distance covered on our way to South Point there were no bites. Not one. Nothing was caught. In fact, the ocean was like some vast, lifeless Arabian desert, not a ship in sight, no birds, not a splash. It was as if the previous night’s storm had scared the fish off to the depths.
As it turns out there were other things to see . . .
Early on we came to a cleft in the coastline. A bay, shouldered to the North by a jagged section of doomy black cliffs, and to the south, a sun drowned grove of palm trees playing lightly in the wind, steam rising from the beach of black sand . . . At this moment I slipped into the softest reverie. Still there, but not quite, I noticed the sunlight’s leisurely cascade down the smooth grade of the volcano, of subtle linear descent . . . A beautifully arranged visual calculus, the horizon skewed at the meeting of the island and the sky – the light ran down and through a vaporous oceanic screen, finally falling heavily to the black volcanic beach.
Not far from this beach, in the year 1779, Captain James Cook made his final, and most fatal landing. Having left in haste a week before, the HMS Resolution returned to Kealakekua Bay in a state of disrepair, after a nasty ride on the monsoonal sea, foremast broken, the sailors in a frenzy. This was the last place they wanted to be. Only a few weeks prior they had been living there, well integrated and thriving, still beheld as Gods amongst the isles of paradise. That is, until one of the men had the misfortune to perish of disease – a tragic miscommunication. The natives became suspicious, a bit skittish, the gig was up and the British, noticing this, set sail at once. Into a monsoon . . . And were forced to go back to Kealakekua, where they were greeted by a flotilla of tribesmen shouting and hurling stones. Here and now, having lost the luster of Gods, they suffered the reality of merely being men, and not just men, but men in dire need. Surely the mana had gotten the best of them – Imagine that!
From here the journey goes onward. Of the best sport fishing in the world and of Captain Cook I will have more to say . . . In Part Two!