Freight Train at Red Hill

by John Krome

Late July, early August 1996. My wife June and I are with Roger and Paul Beattie on the [dive boat] Mana Kai. After diving Reef's End (a school... or was it a cloud of Japanese Barracuda was hypnotically fascinating), we headed back toward Makena. My boys and my sister's family were spending the morning on Big Beach. I asked Roger if we could run by and see where they were on the beach. "See them .... John, we'll go visit them!!", Roger proclaimed. Sure enough, we found the group of teenage kids swimming toward us when we were a hundred yards or so off the beach. "Hi ........ ", oops, not ours. Well, we did find our tribe further down the sand and said our hellos ...... Then off to Red Hill for our second dive.

We have dived Red Hill before, and the "Critter" type dive,,, under fifty feet but lasting as long as the air holds - is rewarding to the patient diver. Both June and I have good air consumption rates (excellent, I think, for desk jockeys) and we were the last down with divemaster Paul. We were over the one hour mark and each coral head Paul showed us was increasingly more colorful and more active. With only the three of us, Paul brought us "into" the coral heads, pointing out many colorful shrimp, lobsters, eels and fish ....often holding his thumb and index finger this far apart, indicating "small". Divers' heaven (editorial opinion).

But that is not what this story is about.

Pilot WhaleAt seventy minutes, June waves good bye and leaves for the boat. Paul and I have abandoned the coral heads and are pretty much hanging.... watching three other divers 10 - 15 feet below us. Then the "freight train" came through. I was sixty feet or so away ... Paul was thirty feet or less from the .... I abeam it ..... 20 feet long maybe... more? .... less? Hell, it was a freight train!! Horizontal tail.... it had a horizontal tail. As quickly as it was here it was gone. A freight train? That was an express. I made a mental note: "must have been a pilot whale." I looked down to my divemaster Paul who was spinning in circles to see if there were any witnesses to his close encounter. Before he saw me, his body English said he was scared no one had been there to verify what he had seen. When he saw me the screaming and arm-pumping began. It was time to celebrate!!!

Ok, ok ..... but after nearly eighty minutes I only had about fourteen bubbles left in my tank. I went to ten feet to hang, somewhat surprised that I was not overly buoyant with empty tanks. The next alarm was Paul banging his knife against his tank and pointing over me to the twin-propped boat heading straight for me. As soon as the boat's bow was directly overhead, it shut down its engines.

Upon surfacing, Paul went to read the riot act to the captain of Mike Severn's boat, but he let us know that he was shielding us from a stray pleasure boat intent on running through us. Thanks.

False Killer Whale

As dives go, this was a first class adventure. Period. Oh, with the other group of divers below was Mike Severn's wife [Pauline], a marine biologist. Her read on our largest critter of the day was a False Killer Whale. And no, no one on the Mana Kai, not Roger, not June, ... no one believed us. No matter how loudly we screamed about it heading back to Kihei.

... by John Krome