Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sailing Into a Volcano

Yea, I know I did sort of use that title, but this time it is much more true.

The Islands of Hawaii, were formed and are still being formed by the action of volcanoes, and they are actually the peeks of the tallest mountain range on the earth (Or so our “Location Manage KK says). Of course most of the serious mountain building took place thousands of years ago, but Hilo, the largest island still has one active volcano, Kilauea which continues to build the island by flowing lava into Pacific Ocean.

Although you can take a tour to Volcanoes National Park, they do not take visitors near enough to the active volcano to actually see much. The only way to see the molten lava is to take a helicopter tour, which flies over the lava flow.

Once those passengers who had paid to fly over the volcano were back on the ship and we were preparing to leave Hawaii, the captain announced that he was going to make a slight detour and take us ALL to see the lava flow as it entered the ocean. Wisely, he did not tell anyone which side of the ship would provide the best viewing spot, because the ship would have probably tipped with the stampede to secure prime spots. As it was, once we figured which side would be facing the shore, the railings and decks were packed with people waiting over an hour for the spectacle.

Fortunately, one advantage of frequent use of the gym facility on the ship, I knew that there was a nice little-used deck out there right over the bridge, and accessible only through the gym. Others knew of this as well, but we managed to get a good spot to wait for the ship to reach the volcano. I was not the only one up there who noted the similarity to the Italian Costa Cruise disaster; “Oh, no one will mind if I just go a little bit off course so I can wave to my girlfriend on shore . . .”

It was nighttime by now, and was pitch black out and everyone stared into the distance for a glimpse of the volcano. Although the ship is moving at about 15 kts, it seemed painfully slow when you are waiting for something. Finally, in the distance a faint pick glow appeared, and gradually got bigger and brighter. As we got close enough to actually see the steam, smoke and molten lava, the captain announced that he would get as close as possible, stop the ship and turn it so the bow faced the flow. He allowed the crew to open the normally inaccessible bow area to let passengers to go out there to view the volcano.

Sailing Into a Volcano
I do not know exactly how close he was able to get, but many people standing around us were actually worried he was too close. We had a clear view of the brilliant red molten lava flowing into the Pacific, sending up clouds of steam and smoke. It really was a spectacular view. Then to make it even better, he turned the ship completely, giving everyone a clear view from every balcony or deck space.

This was not on our itinerary, was never advertised, but was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. It certainly showed the skill of the navigation crew to safely bring a vessel of this size that close to a volcanic lava flow to provide a memorable experience for everyone.  I’m just glad I did not pay $439.00 for that helicopter ride . . . .

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