The iron sailing ship Edna, a worn but still useful old lady" for all its 72 years, nodded gently on its mooring.
Approaching in a small boat, the master eyed her old trader with affection.Isn't she beautiful? Real low-tech," laughed bronzed skipper Nancy Griffith. It's the oldest working iron ship we know of. We go in the South Pacific where nobody else goes - completely independent. We don't have any subsidies."
Over Capt. Griffith's shoulder, on the edge of Kealakekua Bay, on the west coast of Hawaii Island, sits a slim white monument. It memorializes British Capt. James Cook, killed by natives in 1779 when they discovered he wasn't a god.
The ship is a tramp vessel whose place of business" includes the waters of Christmas, Washington, Gilbert and Fanning islands, the Line Islands, the international date line and the Marquesas - virtually anyplace in the Pacific.
The Edna, which sails under the British flag, hauls freight and perhaps a passenger or two. The ship has a huge main hold that can stow 130 tons.
The Edna, built in the Netherlands in 1916, is 130 feet long overall, a gaff-headed topsail ketch that can do 12 mph under 6,000 square feet of sail, six mph less when powered by its huge diesel engine.
The passenger fare to go from one island to another is a 'lauhala' mat made out of coconut fronds," said Capt. Griffith, a Coast Guard-certified master mariner who has been sailing for 35 years. If we stop at two islands, that's two lauhala mats. The people have no money."
Capt. Griffith commands a crew of eight, seven of them men. To see them work - chipping, greasing turnbuckles, repairing sails, working on wood - it's clear they respect their boss.
She knows her stuff," said 33-year-old Ken Powell of San Diego. She's a master mariner. I'm looking forward to this next trip."
The chief mate is David Jamieson of Liverpool, England, who has been with the Edna for three years. He enthusiastically seconded Mr. Powell.
She's great," he said. She's a very good skipper and knows exactly what she's doing; she's a very good ship handler."
I'm here on the basis of merit, rather than a piece of paper," Capt. Griffith said. That's why I have the respect of the crew, and their cooperation. I know how to sail as well as they do. . . . Oh, we all do everything."
Capt. Griffith treats them all with easygoing respect, if not with large paychecks.
No, they don't get paid very much," she admitted, a touch of resignation in her voice. They're doing this for the adventure, the satisfaction and the romance of it all - and they get a share of the cargo (proceeds)."
Capt. Griffith, who allows only that I'll never see 50 again," still doesn't know if she can make it economically. Her trade, in the eight months she's owned the Edna, has included foodstuffs, bicycles, trucks, machinery and an enormous freezing plant for Christmas islanders to preserve their fish.