Taking a Zodiac Super Raft out to snorkel the waters off the tiny island of Lanai wasn’t even on my radar when I left home. The word “raft,” in my previous experience, conjured up only thoughts of “emergency water landings” and floating down the Yakima River back in my college days.

But Shannon, the enthusiastic activities concierge at Aina Nalu, assured me this was no ordinary raft, with a capacity of 49 full-grown people, and I was convinced to plunk down another chunk of change for another unexpected adventure.

When we signed in at the dock, we were handed a boarding number and an insulated bag containing our “catered lunch.” This we stowed, along with our personal swim bags containing towels and sunscreen, under our raft seats, and secured our fins and snorkel gear by tucking them into the rope ringing the inflated side of the craft.

I looked at Rick, my heart rate more than a little elevated, and quietly asked, “What have we gotten ourselves into this time?”

My worst fears quickly subsided when I observed that although many of our boat mates were younger and more fit, a few of them were our age or older and definitely not candidates for the magazine cover of any swimsuit edition.

“The front of the raft is like a roller coaster ride,” explained our captain, as we headed out of Lahaina’s marina. “The middle seats ride more like a Cadillac.”

Well, I don’t know what year Cadillac he was talking about, but it must have been one without shocks or springs or anything to buffer the bludgeoning waves we bounced through as we sped across a vast expanse of open water. But what a great excuse for a bad hair day!

Once tucked in behind Lanai, the raft slowed and we observed a dependably predictable blow hole, then found the spinner dolphins right where the crew guy told us we’d see them. A note about this crew guy: He’d lived in both Washington and Oregon, actually been to Ilwaco (but unexplainably preferred Cannon Beach), and we felt an immediate rapport with him. He was friendly and helpful and fun and obviously enjoyed his “job.”

Hundreds of spinner dolphins frolicked at the mouth of Manele Bay, but didn’t venture in far enough to swim with us at our snorkeling site. Once the raft was anchored, we were encouraged to get in the water by sliding off over the side. This was not in my comfort zone, but I did it anyway, all by myself, not needing the crew guy to carry out his teasing threat to push me in.

The water here was easier to navigate, and I followed a coral reef for quite a distance before deciding to turn back toward the boat. In this protected bay, I felt totally at home, able to breathe deeply and slowly through the snorkel, thoroughly enjoying the fish and all the sights below. I loved the feelings of both weightlessness and empowerment!

Back on board, we were taken “around the corner” to see our landing site from the water. There were restrooms and picnic tables and lots of shade trees. These were all good things. What was not such a good thing was that we were docked some distance away and had to carry our lunches and gear and hike in to enjoy the park.

But we eventually made it, and Rick and I agreed that our reward of a simple turkey wrap, chips, apples and cookies really hit the spot!

Then I decided to brave the rolling surf to get out there and snorkel a little bit more. Managing to get my fins on without tumbling ass over teakettle proved impossible, but I persevered, despite a suit full of sand, and spent another fun hour frolicking with the fish. Getting out of the water was another exercise in stamina, if not grace, and that I lived to tell the tale is a true vacation miracle!

We gave ourselves ample time to hike back to the dock, and arrived in plenty of time to stretch out on the port lawn under the palm trees and relax. It was then I decided that this would be “the place.”

We left the small Lanai marina and went back out into Manele Bay. And there, in the shadow of Sweetheart Rock, among hundreds of spinner dolphins, I released a pink carnation I had carried there from the spray on Mom’s casket, and a single white rose for “my Bob.” The tears rolled off my chin and I didn’t bother to wipe them away.

Hawaii was a favorite place for both Mom and Bob. Bob would have loved to snorkel in these clear, warm waters, among the myriad of colorful fish; Mother would have loved the intimate seclusion of this small island and the tropical sunshine. I whispered, “May they both rest in peace,” and Rick silently squeezed my hand.

The crew guy broke the spell when he brought out a tray of banana bread and offered us some. Banana bread was one of my mother’s absolute specialties. I helped myself to several slices to nibble on the trip back. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Aloha! Stay tuned!