Another short excerpt:


That cold December day, or week in Paradise, Clyde, Brian and I were walking down a deserted Kalakaua Avenue turning left on to the Ala Moana Blvd, equally deserted. As we approached the Ilikai hotel we sensed that something was amiss. There, out on the rock cut breakwater of the yacht club, just to the west of the Ilikai Lagoon stood a large number of people, all looking to seaward, oblivious it seemed to us to the strong westerly wind, which was cutting and cold. Their attention was drawn to the inshore waters that were buttressed by the rock interface between sea and shore. We ran out there to see what was happening. To our amazement a large sailboat was bobbing up and down on the broad reef and shallows that were just east of the Ala Moana Yacht Club and Ala Wai marina navigation channel. This was the same water that Clyde, Brian and I often crossed on our surfboards to reach the outer reef breakers that were about one quarter of a mile offshore.

It was an amazing site to behold. The sailboat, christened the “Drummer” lay on its port side, her decks awash with the surf that was rolling in and across her decks. The white breaking, foaming water was in stark contrast to a grey sky and the dull grey colour of the water. Gone were the tropical hues of turquoise and the shades of pastel greens and indigo blues that were indicative of a tropical sun on a shallow tropical sea. It was as if the atmosphere was attuned to the tragedy of “The Drummer” as she lay there on her sides like the forlorn lady that she was.

What on earth happened? Everyone was asking of themselves and of those around them. No one seemed to know the details. Just then I saw Skip and a few others up and away from us jump off of the breakwater into the surf and make their way out to “The Drummer,” no doubt to lend a hand and to offer assistance. Clyde and I looked at each other and without saying a word jumped into the water ourselves, which was about waist deep at that point. We were able to walk out to the boat without too much difficulty. Just as we were approaching her a large wave came in and lifted the “Drummer” up and into the vertical plane, and then bringing her down hard on her opposite, starboard side. The masts came up slowly from the horizontal on the port side, rising like some sentinel of the Hawaiian water goddess Namaka, swaying back and forth in the sky above before falling again toward the sea. As the masts came down a shudder could be felt throughout the entire vessel. This occurred frequently as the larger waves rolled in, caught the “Drummer’s” bow, lifted her high and up and away, cascading water over her decks and under her keel before surging out from under the stern’s transom and then racing to the breakwater ashore. This went on from time to time and was a warning to all of us that this was indeed a very dangerous game we were playing. The crowds seem to sense this as their numbers grew on the breakwater.

In spite of the dangers we managed to get close. Some people emerged from the cabin aboard. It was an eerie sensation to us seeing some of the “Drummers” crew coming up from below decks out of a hatch whose aspect lay on the horizontal. On seeing us they waved us off.

“Thanks man” someone yelled above a cacophony of the sea, the wind and the groaning, moaning creaking sound of the “Drummer.” Like a baby in distress, it was a sound that I would not want to ever hear again.

“We have all the help we need.” A woman said. “Any more would just complicate things. We have everything under control. Thanks.” Skip appeared, saw me, and also waved me off.

“Jim, go ashore, to the clubhouse and see how Harry is doing. He is one of the crew who was injured in this mishap. Let us know. Perhaps you and Clyde could act as messengers for the “Drummer’s” crew here.”

“Will do Skip.” Clyde and I turned back and went to the clubhouse. It took some time to get there. When we arrived we were amazed at the level of activity going on. The lower decks of the clubhouse were set up as a temporary Command Centre to address the problem of the “Drummer.” Staff from the clubhouse had set up some tables with charts and phones spread out upon them. In time I was able to locate the club’s Commodore who was the acting “On Scene Commander” until the Coast Guard showed up, expected shortly. I introduced myself and told him that Clyde and I could be used as messengers as the need arises. I also asked him of the condition of Harry, one of the “Drummer’s” crew who had been injured. He told me that Harry had been taken to the hospital with suspected broken ribs. No other injuries of a serious nature could be ascertained….for now……

……Derek Armstrong, the owner of the “Drummer” gathered his crew together on the lawn of the yacht club.

“We have to go to our assigned berth. Down on Kilo dock. Our time here at the visitors berth is up.”

“Now?” Mary asked incredulously. “It’s blowing a gale out there Derek.” A Kona wind had come up. Kona was a Hawaiian term for a very strong dangerous wind.

We should be fine under power Mary. Harry will secure “Drummer’s” topside and man the foredeck. I want you and George to take the stern. I’ll be driving.”

“I don’t know about this.” Mary continued. “Why can’t we just wait until it calms down some? Tomorrow perhaps. “After all…” she looked at her crewmates for concurrence…”Drummer’s” a big boat and will be difficult to manage in this wind. Her freeboard is extremely high. Her sail area could be a detriment to our ability to safely maneuver her.”

“I don’t see a problem.” Derek said emphatically. Harry and George said nothing. They got up and went across the lawn to Drummer’s slip and boarded her. Mary followed, reluctantly.

In time Harry had secured the “Drummer” for their short jaunt to their new berth on “Kilo” Dock. He then singled up forward and rigged the remaining line for self slipping. Mary and George did the same aft. The forward and after springs were released.

Derek started the diesel engine and the “Drummer” came to life. Without saying a word Derek motioned George to let go astern and for Harry to ease out on the bow line. Once he was confident he had sufficient way on and clear of the slip, he motioned for Harry to let go forward. “Drummer” was underway under power. Once clear of the slips Derek manouvered the “Drummer” toward the turning basin just off of the yacht club’s main channel. Mary, George and Harry remained at their assigned stations holding on, watching.

Out in the main channel the wind was very strong. Derek was having difficulty altering course. As Mary suggested the “Drummer’s” high freeboard sail area was causing problems.

Derek yelled up above the howling wind.

“HARRY, WE HAVE TO GO OUT AND INTO THE NAVIGATION CHANNEL TO COME ABOUT AND RUN BACK INTO “K” DOCK BEFORE THE WIND.” He then paused and looked at Mary and George. Mary said nothing. She just looked about at the situation as it was unfolding. She was noncommittal in her judgement of Derek.


“Drummer” headed out the navigation channel. The wind was howling and whistling through the shrouds and the rigging of not only the Drummer but in the rigging of the other vessels at the marina. As the strength of the Kona wind increased in varying degrees of gusts the whistling sounds of the rigging increased into a very high pitched squeal. It was scary. At the same time the height of the seas in the exposed channel increased dramatically. Harry was caught off-guard and found himself holding on to the standing rigging for his very life. The “Drummer” responded in kind. Like some maritime thrill ride her bow rose and fell chaotically, coming down hard into the oncoming seas and swells then rising again in a steep ascent as the next wave rolled in.  Occasionally Harry was completely immersed into the water, almost invisible with every onslaught of the crashing waves. Derek realized that he had made a grave error in judgement. But it was too late. He had committed Drummer and her crew. He had to continue.

They all saw it. A rogue wave of about eight to ten feet in height was coming down the channel, hard and fast onto them.

“HOLD ON.” Derek yelled. Harry didn’t hear him. The “Drummer’s” bow came up fast. Higher and higher and higher it rose. Then, in a moment, the bow seemed to stop in its tracks and in its relentless rise into the sky. For a few seconds respite…a great pause…as if in a calm. And then, like a roller coaster transversing the summit of the “killer” hill, “Drummer’s” bow turn downward and then crashed with its full force of potential energy in a descending motion into the oncoming wave. For a brief second Harry was completely weightless. His stomach turned over. His life was not in his hands.

Caught off guard by the sheer force of the waves and the wind, Harry’s footing gave way. His balance was compromised. He couldn’t hold on much longer. To make matters worse a second rogue wave rolled down the channel. This one was higher than the first, about twelve feet in height. The same terrifying motion occurred.  Harry was gone in an instant over the port side of the boat. Luckily for Harry Derek saw what had happened.  He immediately came hard over to port so as to clear Harry from a pounding hull and a menacingly dangerous rudder and screw. Seeing what had occurred Mary and George instinctively threw a few lifelines over the port side hoping that Harry would see them and grab one. He did. They were able to pull him over to the Jacob’s ladder and get him back onboard. He was in major pain.

Derek’s hard over to port saved Harry’s life but it stood the “Drummer” into danger. The alteration to port to avoid Harry put the “Drummer’s” aspect at a right angle to the direction of the wind and sea. The high freeboard acted like a sail area taking the “Drummer” on an uncontrolled ride. There was nothing that Derek could do to manage her. The high sea and the swell added to her distress taking her high up and over the rocks and reef that skirted the channel’s port side and onto the shallow area beyond. Drummer’s full keel lodged it self into the sand in about four feet of water. She then fell over onto her port side while the engine coughed and then quit.

Except for Harry’s injuries they were all safe but in shock. Derek called for emergency aid on VHF Ch 11 suspecting Harry suffered some broken ribs. When the situation had settled somewhat George helped Harry ashore by pulling him in a the Drummer’s punt via the breakwater and then to the medical first aid resources at the clubhouse. From there he was taken by an awaiting ambulance to the medical clinic on King Street….

….The coast guard arrived. They quickly assessed the situation and took charge. I made myself known to them and told them I had just been out to the boat. The remaining crew seemed safe and were securing what they could of the Drummer. The coast guard had a surf boat available and before long had set up direct communications with Derek and Mary, Skip and a few others that had offered to help. Other than a diesel fuel tank that had been breached all was well. The hull seemed intact. They spent the night and the next morning clearing the diesel out of the bilges. The Coast Guard provided Derek with some fuel bladders to ensure that no fuel leaked out onto the surf and sand of the immediate area around the “Drummer.”

It would take the next day’s afternoon before the tide was high enough to take “Drummer” out of the shallows. This they did and then towed her to a repair facility at Sand Island in the port of Honolulu. That was it for us. To show their gratitude Derek treated us all to a dinner at one on the local restaurants that evening. The adventure may have been over but I felt good about it…that I had had a small hand in helping out this boat in distress.

Update: It was 1981. I was standing the middle watch (midnight to 0400) in HMCS Saskatchewan, one of the training warships of the Royal Canadian Navy. We were enroute to Hawaii from Esquimalt BC, our home port. We were about half way there. Suddenly the VHF radio, Channel 16, came to life: “Securite, Securite, Securite…be on the lookout for sailing vessel “The Drummer” out of Anchorage, missing, while in transit from Honolulu to Alaska. Be on the lookout….”

I wondered if Derek, Mary, George and Harry were still with her. Had Derek made another fateful decision? I made the sign of the cross, said a short prayer of remembrance, and hope for their safety.

Presumed lost at sea. She was never heard from or seen again.


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