Posts tagged ‘drowning’

February 2, 2016

Post 82 — The Pow-pow-powerful Winds of Change

pao pao

The actual pao pao being expertly steered by Mark Hastings, who was a much better sailor than Carolyn was. (Photo by George Hastings, actual pao pao owner)

Carolyn sat in the canoe and surveyed the awesomeness that was all around her. Pago Pago Bay was a mirror that gorgeous afternoon, and the reflection of the mountains that enfolded the harbor made it feel like she was skiing across the tops of the peaks. As a teenager, most of her waking thoughts were of herself, but at this moment even she could appreciate the beauty of the scenery.

The boat ride was an impromptu thrill, prompted by a party at her house and a neighbor’s conveniently located canoe. Her parents and their guests had started singing show tunes, and there was no way anyone was looking for her until they had finished with the entire Richard Rodgers songbook. She was safe until they hit “Younger Than Springtime”.

Her neighbor was fine with her borrowing the canoe, or so she assumed. He had loaned it to the family before so she didn’t see why it would be a problem if she took it out now. The boat was a traditional Samoan outrigger, carved from the trunk of a breadfruit tree. The weight of the passengers was balanced by the extended arm that stretched out over the water. The body was narrow and just barely accommodated two people but the sleekness of the craft made it extremely aerodynamic. The Samoan word for the boat was paopao (pronounced pow pow) and Carolyn delighted in the way the boat shot forward through the water. She liked it when things sounded like their names.

Her friend Marilyn had joined her for the adventure and it took a few minutes to get their paddling in sync. Carolyn considered herself the captain since she was in the front (which was either the bow or the stern – she could never remember which was which), and she set the course straight out into the bay, as the ancient Polynesians must have done as they headed into the sunset without a clue as to where they were going. They skimmed past the docks and waved at the people walking along the decks of the ocean liner that was anchored there. High above their heads, the cable car began its slow ascent across the bay toward the peak of Mt. Alava, swaying gently as the wind picked up. The breeze also brought a pungent reminder that the tuna canneries on the other side of the island were operating at peak capacity.

Carolyn was lost in her thoughts as they glided across the aquamarine water. She realized that this could be the last time she would see the harbor from this perspective. School was almost over and they would be leaving the island for good in July. She blamed her older sister for this decision; her parents were worried that Kathy’s island education wouldn’t be academic enough to get her into college. If the girls had known that was going to be a problem, Carolyn thought, Kathy should have just flunked out and they could have stayed longer.

As the wind picked up, the water got choppier and the progress slowed. They were no longer gliding but paddling harder and harder to stay within swimming distance of the shore. Rounding the point of the island where the Intercontinental Hotel jutted out into the bay, the girls could see some boys splashing around on the beach who seemed a lot farther away than they should be. The little swells of sea water suddenly became swollen and the waves started breaking over the bow and/or stern. Both girls were soaked and Carolyn tasted salt on her lips.

She glanced back at Marilyn and realized that her usually unflappable friend suddenly looked flappable. The plan had been to paddle around the harbor close to the shore, not fight the wind as it carried them out to sea. Carolyn hadn’t given much thought to how deep the water might be but had assumed that the reef was right below them so if they capsized, they could still stand up. Now she realized that the color of the water was changing to a darker indigo color, and that meant the end of the reef was approaching. A rogue wave suddenly crashed over the boat and both girls were tipped sideways into the ocean.

The first thought in Carolyn’s head was to save the outrigger canoe. It had filled with water and was listing to one side. Drowning was preferable to sinking the boat and having to tell the story of this seemingly harmless adventure to her parents, who had certainly finished with Rodgers and Hammerstein by now. Maybe they had moved on to Lerner and Loewe.

She felt something sharp under her foot and realized with relief that that they were still on the reef. Balancing on her toes, she could just keep her head above water and hang onto the listing paopao. The poisonous coral was the least of her problems right now. Marilyn was hanging on to the other side but the two girls could not tip the outrigger over to bail out the water.

The ocean had always seemed like a benevolent friend, warm and welcoming in the shallows and filled with colorful sea life and shells. Carolyn had never been afraid of it before, but now she started remembering the two surfers who had drowned just a few weeks ago, and the couple who had disappeared one sunny afternoon after heading out in a canoe for some sightseeing. Hanging onto the paopao was exhausting and she didn’t know how much longer her arms would hold out.

She heard shouting behind her and turned to look back at the shore. The boys who had been splashing at the beach were now swimming toward them and yelling to hold on. They were able to dump enough water out of the canoe that it floated on the surface again and could be pushed toward the beach. The two girls swam slowly to the shore and staggered up on the rocky sand. The boys were teasing them about their boating skills but the girls were shaking too much to go along with the joking.

Later, after a dramatic period of resting on the beach, the girls gratefully accepted the boys’ offer to return the paopao. They walked back to Carolyn’s house and found the party was still going on. No one had noticed they were gone. Carolyn really wanted to share the fact that she had just narrowly cheated death, but it seemed like a better idea to keep her mouth shut. Besides, they were only halfway through the score of Funny Girl.

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