There was no warning. None at all.
We had just boarded the small Hawaiian cruise ship. The plan was to leave Honolulu, sail around some of the Hawaiian islands, maybe see the sunset, and then return later that evening for dinner. It was a small excursion – myself and four others – and as we left port, everything seemed fine.
I talked to the captain before we set sail – Grumby, his name was – Jonas Grumby, I’d remember that name anywhere – and he said to me that he traversed these waters for many years without any problems or issues. And his assistant – who acted as our porter and tour guide, Willie I think was his name – was pleased that we were on the tour today, and that we would enjoy the cruise.
But the dark clouds … they came up so suddenly. Suddenly, right off the port bow. And although we were more interested in the beautiful sunset, I couldn’t help but notice Willie and Captain Grumby discussing – in rather hushed but concerned words – what to do.
Ultimately, they decided to continue the excursion. We were only on the boat for an hour, and there were still two hours left to sail. Although for the short journey, it seemed strange that some of my fellow passengers had packed steamer trunks full of clothing.
I tried to take my mind off the distant clouds, and tried to strike up a conversation with some of the other excursioners. One of the women on the ship fancied herself as a major Hollywood actress, although if you count her appearance in a couple of late-night drive-in films, she was as far away from Hollywood as I was – but she was more interested in name-dropping the stars she claimed were on the movie screen with her.
Another passenger, a man named Roy Hinkley, was very interested in the upcoming weather pattern. But as he described it to me, I could tell that he was extremely knowledgeable about meteorology and other weather related issues – as if he had spent his life as a college teacher or educator. And although he tried to explain what was going on – and that he was also concerned that Captain Grumby was sailing into danger – Mr. Hinkley used such deep, analytical language that completely went over my head. It confused me, and although Mr. Hinkley tried to explain it as best he could – the more he spoke, the more confused he made everyone.
Two people on the ship – a married couple in their senior years – were completely unfazed by the oncoming dark clouds and rising waves. They boasted of having tremendous wealth and prestige – I think the man described trading in his old Bentley for a new Bentley. They were talking with a young lady from Kansas, a naive farm girl who was on her first trip to Hawaii. For her, the oncoming storm seemed as normal as the grass-skirted dancers at the Honolulu hotel.
But the storms grew worse. I could see Captain Grumby as he tried to radio the Coast Guard. His first mate Willie’s tone changed from jovial to nervous, and then to abject concern. Willie handed out life jackets to the passengers and told them that this was not a drill. We put the jackets on.
A few moments later … the boat crashed on a stone jetty. We were beached on a small tropical atoll.
I had hoped that Captain Grumby’s message had reached the Coast Guard, and that we would be rescued. But that never happened. Not for a long, long time.
The passengers all did the best we could – we lived on the tropical foods that grew on the island – coconuts and breadfruits and whatnot. We hunted some wild boars and had pork when we could.
But one by one, our numbers dwindled. Captain Grumby was the first to pass away, followed by Mr. Hinkley. The rich couple lived for as long as they could, still believing that someone in their multi-billion-dollar company would notice their absence and rescue them. To the end, though, they died peacefully, never giving up their love for each other.
The movie star was the next to vanish – one day she was gathering wood for our fire, the next day she was gone. All that was left of her was a diamond-studded 3-inch high-heeled pump – she had lost the other one years ago, but would refuse to give up her faith that someone in Hollywood would notice her absence and find her.
The farm girl eventually passed as well. She had promised me that if we returned to the mainland, she would take me to her hometown of Horners Korners, Kansas. I asked her if it was near Wichita or Topeka or Lawrence, and she told me that it was near none of those … it was a small town in small town America. Those were her last words.
As for the first mate, Willie? Terrible tragedy. For the first time in decades, he ventured to the other side of the island, where he was attacked by what appeared to be a group of feral children – castaways from another maritime disaster. From what I understand,d they had survived a plane crash, and over the years they went from being proper, upstanding private school kids, to turn into savage hunters. And they mistook Willie for prey, one of them blew a conch shell, and the next thing I knew, Willie had five arrows in his chest. His last words were “Skipper….”
Eventually, though … rescue came. For the savages and for me. It turned out that we could have been rescued years before – had Captain Grumby not given inaccurate coordinates of his boat’s position to the Coast Guard, we might have been back in Honolulu within days.
After I returned home, I tried to sell my story of shipwreck and tragedy to Hollywood. And although they did use many of my remembrances and anecdotes of our journey … what they showed was barely recognizable from what I experienced.
But if you want the truth about that tragic day and its aftermath …
Then just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.