Launching a sea career Ben Lyons...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

June 18, 2000

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Launching a sea career

Ben Lyons, Special to the Sun

For our 9:15 p.m. sailing, we warmed up the radar at 8 and tested the engine room telegraphs at 8:45. We ran through the rest of the pre-departure checklist: The radios were set properly, the ship's whistle was tested, and charts were laid out.

At 9:12 p.m. the band on the pier started playing, and three minutes later, the propellers were slowly reversing as a helicopter hovered overhead, sprinkling flowers on the passengers.

Talking into the radio, Capt. Dana Wirkala coordinated the undocking with a man on the pier in case we backed out too quickly, making the bow pass the band before the song was done.

We were given a countdown so that just as the music on the pier stopped, we could blow our booming steam whistle. The haunting tone reverberated across the dark harbor and into the city lights in farewell. By 9:25 p.m., we had made the turn in the channel and Honolulu would again fade quietly astern as another weeklong cruise had begun.

I was aboard the Independence, the only U.S.-flag passenger ship in Honolulu, as a 20-year-old cadet from the Merchant Marine Academy.

For two months, I would be a nautical apprentice, helping stand watches on the bridge, navigating with satellites, radar and visual bearings, trying my hand at anchoring the ship and performing safety inspections.

Having sailed before only on undermanned freighters to Bangla-desh or tankers to Alaska, I would come to relish and also be uncomfortable sailing with more than 1,000 passengers each week. I soon learned that interacting with passengers, whether being a host at dinner or attending singles get-together lunches, was just as important a skill as docking the ship.

The experience was joyous and educational. I thought I would become bored seeing the same ports week after week, but I found that Hawaii's emphasis on its culture and history kept me interested in the islands.

Whether it was sailing a mile off the Na Pali coast or gliding by an active volcano pouring fiery lava into the darkened sea, I appreciated Hawaii more and more.

At least one passenger understood my feelings.

I had been on the bridge since 4 a.m. as the ship approached the coast of Kauai, bathed in the soft light that immediately follows sunrise. I was looking at the ship's profile while feeling the ship's gentle roll beneath me. A light breeze was blowing as I delighted in ship, sea and surroundings. The passenger came up and asked, "You enjoy your job, don't you?"

I did indeed, and I look forward to returning to Hawaii soon, watching for the Kauai coast to pop up over the horizon again just after sunrise.

Ben Lyons graduates this month from the Merchant Marine Academy.

MY BEST SHOT

She stood her ground

Steve Luckman, Baltimore

Each December, all the museums in Frederick hold an open house. This is a photo of the Barbara Fritchie House on a clear twilight evening. According to legend, it was in 1862 at the second-story window where the U.S. flag flies that Barbara Fritchie defied the Confederate Army by waving her flag and declaring, "Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country's flag."

READERS RESPOND

If you could have a second home, where would it be, and why?

Provence, France

Laurie J. Weitz, Lutherville

"The perfect second home would be in Provence. The culture, the food, the wine, the glamorous 'beautiful people' mixed with regular folk, the lavender and sunflowers, the Saturday farmers' markets and the proximity to the Riviera make this the ultimate getaway for lovers."

New York, N.Y.

Cheryl A. Herman, Pikesville

"My choice for a second home is not far from Baltimore. Nor is it unfamiliar. I previously lived and worked in New York City. The transit system is good -- and one can walk almost anywhere. And there is much to see: shows, movies, galleries, stores and parks."

Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Bette King, Baltimore

"Think of magnificent sunrises as the ocean rolls in and gorgeous sunsets over the bay in the back. Imagine sitting or walking on the beach and being at peace with the world. Then you're at my perfect second home -- Cape Hatteras, N.C."

Sitka, Alaska

Satya Onorato, Baltimore

"My second home would be in Sitka, Alaska, where I served for a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer. The active, generous community, terrific public radio station and gorgeous landscape make Sitka ideal. A second home on this Southeast Alaska island could easily become a first home for me."

Our Next Question

What is your favorite beach, and why?

Please answer in 50 words or less. Send via fax to 410-783-2519, or write to: Travel Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Photos are welcome.

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