Red Sky in the Morning on Big Island

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Red Sky in the Morning on Big Island

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Hawaii Island
Nov 22, 2009

There are a few irrefutable facts about Hawai'i and me that you should know.

One, the town of Hilo on Big Island is known as one of the rainiest cities in the U.S.  Various sources put the precipitation tally at anywhere from 130 to 200 inches per year.

Two, records show that the heaviest month for precipitation in Hilo is November.

Three, last week, the city (and island chain) received heavier than normal rain when a weather pattern settled over the state, hunkered down and, in places, unleashed record amounts of rain.  Unusual for Hawai'i, the rain brought with it booming thunderstorms and lightening.

Four, November marks the beginning of surf season.  Translation:  big waves.

Five, Hilo sits on the island's east side and takes the brunt of the wave action coming from as far away as California, some 2,500 miles, depending on what source you consult.

Six, last week the east-facing shore of Hawai'i Island was under a surf advisory.  It was lifted at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday evening.

Seven, on Friday, November 20, the waxing crescent moon set the night before at 5:40 p.m. and wasn't due to rise until 6:32 a.m.

Eight, I like a big adventure.  But not too big.

Nine, I am not a morning person.

And, yet, when my alarm rang at 3:00 a.m. on Friday, November 20, and I drove the deserted streets of Hilo with my windshield wipers flapping for a small harbor south of Hilo in Pahoa, I wore a strange grin on my face.  Exhaustion, I thought to myself.

And at 5:00 a.m. when Captain Shane gunned our boat out of the small harbor and through one of the island's best surf breaks--and the surf was definitely breaking even though I could not see a darn thing due to the cloud cover, moonless night and all--I continued to grin.  I could not seem to press my lips together.  It was almost as if my lips had glued to my gums in a permanent smile.  This is not like me. As the boat hurtled forward into the pitch black, buffeted up and down and left and right by waves, I thought of astronauts rocketing into outer space.  Is this what it's like for them? Are they blinded to the world rushing by?  When Captain Shane rode a wave into its trough and plumes of water rose on all sides of us, I saw stars.  No, no, that was bioluminescence, according to our captain.

I admit, as I thought about the nine irrefutable facts outlined above, I wondered if you'd be reading about me in the newspaper and not reading my words about my adventure here.  I wondered if the elements were aligning for T-H-E  P-E-R-F-E-C-T....  No, I would not complete that statement. 

Perhaps the grin that was plastered on my face was really a grimace--fear.

Off on the horizon, a red glow emanated.

There are three ways to see lava in Hawai'i.  One is by air.  I've done that.  Two is by foot.  I've done that.  Neither afforded much of a view of oozing, dripping lava for me.  Neither got me very close to a surface flow.  I couldn't make out the difference between pahoehoe lava and the other, 'a'a, that emanates from Kilauea Volcano, and I certainly couldn't feel its heat.

The best way to view lava up close and personal would be to see where it entered the sea.  Yet I'd always heard the ride by boat was too long from the Kona side, so no enterprising sailors ever offered an official tour. 

Then, I heard about Lava Ocean Adventures.  With them, this past Friday, I experienced lava in a way I had always desired.  According to the captain, it was a good day.  For all the dark skies, rain and raging water, the goddess Pele blessed us with an amazing show.  We saw floating rocks.  We felt roiling water pelt the underside of the boat.  We were so close to the lava that I shed my rain jacket, then my fleece sweatshirt, and I had to continually wipe steam off my camera's lens and my own face.

The dark and the rocking boat make picture-taking a challenge.  I only wanted one good one, I said to the captain.  Wait for the sunrise, he said.  With the curtain of clouds, we didn't actually see the sun rise, but, suddenly, there was light.  And I managed to snap this one image (above) that I really like.

As we took our leave, we all called out in unison, "Mahalo Pele."

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