Zodiac Killer


Snorkeling was a big part of our initial plans for our trip. So I was excited that we included Molokini in the first of our plans. If you aren’t familiar with Molokini, it’s a horseshoe-shaped volcanic atoll off the shore of Maui, and is famous for amazing clear water and fish all around, especially in the crater center. It’s also an easy boat ride from the shore, so you can get there and back easily.

Our tour out was booked to start at 6 am, which wasn’t a big deal as we were still on Seattle time, and waking up at 4 am. This would be a lot harder once our jet lag was gone, so it made sense to get it in early. We got everything packed the night before, so we could just grab and go in the morning. Right before bed, I checked my phone. My Weather alert was beeping with a Red Triangle Alert – HIGH WIND ADVISORY.

I’m sure that will pass.

We got to the dock at 6. The waters were calm in Lahaina. There was some wind, but it was coming from the other side of the island, so we were shielded. The boat was a Zodiac–type RIB, at least 20 feet with twin Evinrude outboards. Our Captain noted that she’s the fastest in Lahaina.  We should be able to zip all the way from Lahaina to Molokini in about 30 minutes or so with good weather. Most other boats left from further south on the island, so this saved us a lot of driving.

Once underway, the boat made great time. We were up on plane and cruising out fast. There was a little chop, but none of the wind I expected. I could see the atoll in the distance, and we were closing in pretty quick. Maui has two peaks on the island, with a valley in the middle. We were approaching the center of the island shoreline, and Captain Ron called out in the VHF for a weather report from boats already at the crater. So he got the wind alert too. Good. After the call, he told us, “There’s going to be some wind as we making the crossing…” and immediately things got rougher. Not too bad, but there were swells that we were riding on top of. Occasionally we were catching a little spray over the side. It didn’t slow us down much, and despite the wind we made great time out to Molokini.

The crater was catching the wind, so we dove the opposite side of the atoll, which has a sheer wall down, and it was amazing. Huge schools of fish we floating up and down the cliff face. A couple of fish were hunting the smaller schools, and they would all dart around us. The last time we went snorkeling was in Mexico, and it was a fun boat trip, but miserable for fish. This was amazing. Little needlefish were hovering around my mask, and Yulia and Sasha found a few pufferfish along the cliff. After an hour or so, we got back in the zodiac to check out the crater. The sides of the atoll are a bird sanctuary, with nests and burrows all over, and streaks of guano trailing down the cliffs. The waters were still rough inside the crater so we couldn’t stop there for more snorkeling, but I brought out my phone to get a few pictures. Having a waterproof phone helps.

Normally, the entire crater would be filled with big boats and divers by this time. It was empty. Captain Ron told us we were going to head to another snorkeling anchorage closer towards Lahaina, and he pointed the Zodiac back towards the main island. I checked my phone as I put it away. The HIGH WIND WARNING was gone. That was good. It was replaced with a SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY.

That was not good.

The water was much rougher than the trip out. The wind was gusting at about 17 MPH or so, and Captain Ron had to continually adjust the throttle to keep our boat on the crest of the waves. He was doing a great job with only occasional crashes over the wave crests, with some spray coming over the side. After 10 minutes of this, we passed into the valley of the island shore with no protection again. Winds kicked closer to 25 MPH, and Captain Ron couldn’t navigate the wave crests as much as skip across the tops. We were crashing across the wave tops, with water cresting across the bow and soaking everyone. Every third wave or so would be a bone-jarring hit down as we slammed into the next wave crest. My ass felt like First Place in the Miss Alcatraz beauty contest.

It took over 40 minutes to make the crossing, with the wind calming down a bit behind the shadow of the mountain again. We had a softer ride into the anchorage, and finally things mellowed out enough for the first mate to dive in and grab the rope on the mooring buoy. There were a few other boats in this area, and we jumped back into the water after a few directions on where to find the reef. This area was a shallow choral reef, very typical snorkeling, and full of fish. Ron pointed us in the direction of a big rock that was apparently a common hangout for turtles. And once I swam out, he was right!

We found four sea turtles floating around the area, their shells being cleaned by local fish, and it looked like the audition tapes for Finding Nemo. t was amazing. I waved Yulia and Sasha over, and we spent at least an hour and a half with the turtles and other fish at this reef. This was probably the best snorkeling I have seen. the fish were big, bright, and colorful. It was shallow and an easy swim, but we were getting tired. Sasha had been using our GoPro and was filming everything she could. She didn’t want to get out but exhaustion got to her too. They had a small lunch on the boat, and we stayed at anchor to eat and rest for a bit longer.

I could see that  Captain Ron was a bit nervous after the crossing, and joked with us about it. He said that you see weather like that during the winter, and he had been in water like that before. But I could tell it wasn’t common for that to whip up so fast in the summer.  Normally, I’d flip him some shit for going out in those conditions, but we saw turtles, so all was forgiven.

We headed back to the harbor, it was an easy ride, and we were exhausted. At the dock Captain Ron gave us final words with his Sailor’s Prayer: “Though the Wind and Sea may tip your boat – only you can tip your crew.”

Nice one. He got a tip just for the prayer at the end.

We rested back at the condo, then went to Whaler’s Village in Ka’anapalli for a late lunch. Whaler’s Village is another place I’ve known forever, and most of it hasn’t changed. A big section of it is getting remodeled, but for the most part it’s the same little shopping center that has been there since the 80’s. We checked the menus, and got a table at the Hula Grill. It’s right on the beach, and had some live music going. We waited for a big group to clear out, and were lucky enough to get a table right in front of the stage. We were also just in time for a local Hula group starting their show. The cocktails we order are getting progressively better. We had a Dark and Stormy and a Mojito. I followed mine with a few Kona brewing beers, and we listened to Hula and had some great food. We took our time and just enjoyed the show.

We finished the day walking around our neighborhood until sunset. As the sun went down, I brought out the conch shell from our condo, and as the sun set, blew the horn four times.

This is an ancient Hawaiian tradition meaning “I am a Tourist. Come and take my money.