“On land or at sea, her feet were rarely burdened with
footwear of any kind, yet they were always strikingly clean.”
Lua's arrival broke the collective trance we had drawn ourselves into — a not uncommon altered state among conversing nautical artisans induced by discussion of the finer points of boat-building craftsmanship. We helped Lua climb aboard from the zippy, light-duty service skiff that had shuttled her over from the nearby marina and ship’s store. After the three of us hauled up the provisions for the week-long trip, the boat sped off back to the marina.
Over the next two days, our merry trio spent time getting familiar with Kalea and making several dinghy trips back to the island to gather additional materials, supplies, tools and to grab a bite to eat or an evening drink at the local tiki bar. During those many pleasant, pre-passenger hours, I got to know our soft-spoken chef from the remote Cook Islands a little better.
Lua possessed a powerful but relaxed confidence in her small, slender frame and innocuous manner. Somewhat introverted, she listened more than talked, but would get quite animated when discussing new recipes with fellow cooks, or ‘culinary artists,’ as she liked to say. She was particularly fond of Asian cuisine.
Lua’s clothing consisted of a collection of simple but versatile sarongs that were always bursting with bright, tropical colors. She took great delight in matching her daily outfits with the colors of the seasonal flowers of the islands. On land or at sea, her feet were rarely burdened with footwear of any kind, yet they were always strikingly clean.
Lua was also an accomplished ukulele player and loved to make up her own songs, as did I on my guitar. I had learned a few things about these small wannabe guitars from my Saturday Community Music Circle group at the local green market. The ukulele players who would join in on occasion were very fond of their light, portable little instruments and loved to share their knowledge of, and passion for, these colorfully decorated diminutive music makers. They were certainly seductive little strummable curiosities.
Cartoonish as they may seem, ukuleles, or ‘ukes,’ are legitimate members of the lute family instruments, mind you. They have four nylon strings, or four ‘courses’ of strings, and originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, mainly from Madeira and the Azores. Ukuleles gained great popularity on the U.S. mainland during the early 20th century and from there spread internationally.
The name ‘ukulele’ roughly translates as ‘jumping flea,’ perhaps because of the movement of the player’s fingers. But according to Queen Liliuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, the name means ‘the gift that came here,’ from the Hawaiian words ‘uku’ (gift or reward) and ‘lele’ (to come).
Considerably easier to learn to play than a six-string guitar, basic ukulele skills can be learned fairly easily. But make no mistake, a ukulele is still capable of producing an impressively wide range of notes, chords, and lively rhythms — as Lua demonstrated on many occasions.
In the U.S., the ukulele became an icon of the Jazz Age. The relatively inexpensive instrument proved popular with amateur players throughout the 1920s — evidenced by the introduction of ukulele chord tablature into the published sheet music for popular songs of the time.
Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes with the smallest being the soprano, or ‘standard’ in Hawaii. Next is the concert, then tenor, and then baritone. The open-string tuning for all but the large baritone ukulele is G-C-E-A, though reentrant tuning means the ‘G’ string is tuned an octave higher than might be expected. The baritone ukulele is usually tuned to D-G-B-E, which is the same as the highest four strings of a standard six-string guitar. Lua’s small ukulele was a soprano, which made it very easy for her to carry around with her all the time. And she most certainly did.
On one of those early pre-passenger days, Captain Bob, Lua, and I were having lunch together sitting on beach chairs on Kalea’s expansive bamboo deck after spending the morning painting, provisioning, and planning for the week-long island-hopping adventure ahead — everything had to checked and re-checked as it would be Kalea’s maiden blue-water voyage. We were sitting around discussing a sad but rather humorous local news story about a lavish outdoor Tahitian wedding ceremony that had to be aborted prematurely.
Apparently, a slick state-of-the-art semi-(or so it was believed)-autonomous drone deployed to film the ostentatious event from a seagull’s-eye view went rogue — and with blissful newfound autonomy and a malicious mean streak — launched a most sinister kamikaze attack directly on the lovely doe-eyed bride.
Our talk of the wedding blitz—a most unfortunate, but nonetheless rather entertaining robot-gone-rogue story resulting in a mournful marriage miscarriage — reminded Captain Bob of the painful ending of his own wedded bliss.
His divorce was part of the widespread collateral damage from the manmade financial catastrophe of 2008. He was still bitter about the ordeal, all these years later, and at times would have trouble managing his emotions and sleeping at night. He had just had another restless night again and was pre-apologizing for any shortness of temper we may experience from him over the next few days. He said he would sometimes snap at people without provocation and would feel bad about the outburst later.
We both listened sympathetically to his story. After he finished, he looked over at Lua and asked for her opinion on the matter, wanting to hear a woman’s point-of-view on this mysterious emotional affliction. Bob had already informed me earlier that Lua had been just a casual acquaintance during his years in Tahiti. The few times she would stop by unannounced to quietly watch him build Kalea in his outdoor workshop, he was usually absorbed in his work and did not bother to get to know much about her over that time before bringing her on as chef and fellow crewmate on SlimC’s reality-show project charter.
Bob had never really asked for her opinion before on anything of significance, thinking she would not have much to offer in the way of advice or interesting conversation for a well-traveled, college-educated, middle-aged mainlander like himself, but figured it might be amusing to hear what this quaint, quiet islander from the Cook Islands thought about his emotional issues. Surely, she would be clueless about the stresses and challenges of mainlanders.
Lua hesitated for a moment and then uttered with surprising conviction,
“Mister Bob, perhaps you should spend some time learning to breathe.”