The Lost Mariners and Almost Missing Maui

I heard the most amazing story.

There was a cruise ship – and a Greek captain – and two mariners.

And some passengers.

But I think the star of this story is a thing that is not on any map.

More on that later.

There is a cruise ship – and it is sailing North towards Hawaii.

One morning one passenger gets up early, as he loves to do on these trips. He gets up at five – and consults the map.   He finds that the ship is not headed North at all. It has done an about-face… is heading South.

Now there are two mariners – on an adventure.   It is night. They are taking turns sleeping.   One is thinking about the night. He is listening to the water. He is listening to the wind.   He thinks to himself that something is not quite right.

He wakes his fellow:

“I smell land”, he says.

And then they are aground.

They are stuck on an atoll – a coral atoll.    A coral atoll of an island.

An island that is not on any map.

The man calls his wife in Hawaii by satellite phone.    They need help.    It is midnight.

She calls the Coast Guard.   The Coast Guard determines that the closest ship in that whole ocean is that cruise ship – the one with the Greek captain – one hundred and eighty-miles away.

The Coast Guard calls the ship.   They tell the captain: “Go”.

So at one o’clock in the morning the Greek captain turns his vessel, replete with tourists, one hundred and eighty degrees and heads towards a place which is not on any map, one hundred and eighty miles in the wrong direction: towards two mariners, stuck in a place of which no one has heard.

The cruise ship on a hero’s mission.

A man wakes at five o’clock in the morning to find his cruise ship headed in the wrong direction.   The thing is – it takes nine hours for a cruise ship to travel one hundred and eighty miles.

Three hours later, at eight o’clock, two hours before his regularly scheduled daily announcement to the passengers, the Greek captain announces that they are on the way to find two lost mariners.   They are off to a rescue.

The passengers flock to the deck.   Finally a new kind of cruising excitement:

Humanity on the high seas.

But wait, they think….a cruise ship goes nine hours out of its way to save some guys – and at least nine hours back….wait, wait, they think….we will miss Maui.

There will not be time for Paradise.

Still, on the coral atoll, two men wait for a rescue.   One, so happy for the ship which is on its way and the other, the more-seasoned, thinking of the shame and guilt of going aground.

Among mariners – the loss of dignity in getting stuck.

And what of his boat?  Who will pay for what has to be left behind?

Now it is ten o’clock — the ship has reached the island.   But, of course, the passage through the coral is too narrow for the ship to reach the men.

They are still miles from reaching the lost.

The captain calls the men by phone.

He says to them “I will point my bow in the direction you should walk”.

And indeed, he turns his boat — a watery arrow.

The men begin to walk across the coral.   They walk seven miles across the atoll, tip-toe-ing across the unsure coral to reach their rescue: the ship’s zodiac.

They are rescued.

They are fed and watered and greeted by scores of tourists in Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, some with black socks and others with New York accents.

One, so happy for the rescue and the other, awash in shame.

But to get stuck in the night on an island that is not on any map – is it shameful?

And there is, of course, the matter of Maui.

This Greek captain, at the helm, wanting to ensure that his passengers reached their piece of paradise, took his ship full steam ahead and sailed, albeit a bit rockedly, straight to Maui.

And unbelievably, they made it.   Losing only two hours.

But two hours is an easy thing to lose when you lose it in finding two who are lost.

(read that again for me and see if it makes sense.)

But two hours is an easy thing to lose when you lose it in finding two who are lost.

As I mentioned, the main character in this story is not the Greek captain, although he does play a valiant role, and it is not the passengers, colorful as they are.     The main character is not even the man who wakes early on cruises, just to look at the map.

I would venture to say that the stars of this story are not even our mariners, finding at midnight that they are lost and aground.

The star of the story – the amazing center is of course the island.   The atoll.   The mass of coral atoll which was uncharted…not expected, not on any map.

For to me this piece of land which can be sensed at midnight – “I smell land”….represents all that happens in our lives that we don’t see coming.

It represents that which hits us broadside, knocks us out, runs us aground and shames us….causing us to call out for help – sometimes in the middle of the night.

Sometimes there is a call – and sometimes we are too ashamed to call. We have run aground, we should know better.

But sometimes, but most times, the atoll is not on the map.   It is night and we couldn’t have predicted the illness, the loss, the thing which shocks us.

Life that shocks us.

The best we can hope for is a man with a ship – one hundred and eighty miles away who turns his vessel one hundred and eighty degrees in the wrong direction to come and give us rescue.

It is more than we can hope for, actually.

And yet it actually happens.

There are those who would willingly and joyfully inconvenience themselves to help us – even if it means that they will miss Maui – the paradise to which they were headed.

Those who would help us – they offer us humanity on the high seas –when we are stuck or drowning and when it is nobody’s fault in particular and we are in need of aid.

Valiant as a Greek captain who cannot quite get to us – we have to do part of the walking…the way is too narrow.

Someone like the captain will call us and announce “I will point my bow in the direction you are to walk”.

And we will walk.   Seven miles if we have to – or more – in the hot sun and across the unstable coral…to meet a vessel which will carry us home.

To be saved though, we may have to leave part of ourselves behind – the boat which went aground.   There may be loss and shame – but we are saved.

We are always, always like the lost mariners.   Hardly anything in our lives is actually on the map and although we are seasoned, we run aground.

We are always, all of us – all the characters in this story. We are the passengers on the deck, watching the rescue, we are the captain directing the effort, we are the man, waking early to look at the map –

And sometimes, as well, we are the unexpected mass of coral.

We are lucky, though, because through all the drama – there is still a chance, if we go full steam ahead – to make it to Paradise.

And again, two hours is not too much to lose if you lose it – saving two who are lost.

I smell land.




(photo by Russell Coff)



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