Solving The Mystery Of Mambo V

By Katherine Muzik

During a storm early last August, a small boat arrived at Kapaa upside down, broken and covered with barnacles. Its name, still legible on its battered side, was Mambo V, written in Japanese katakana script. I was intrigued. Having lived in Japan, studying the sea, I knew that mambo is the Japanese word for “ocean sunfish,” or mola mola, known in Hawaiian as makua.

But Mambo V is a famous dance! It’s even on YouTube! Had this boat danced all the way across the Pacific, ending up here on Kauai? Perhaps its Japanese owner loved a good pun?

My colleague Akiko Sadasue (a director at Japan Underwater Films in Tokyo, my former employer), helped me find the owner. After nearly three weeks of diligent sleuthing, she was able to locate Hideitsu Ono and finally communicate directly with him.

Owner of a small boatyard near Matsushima Bay in Miyagi since 1964, Mr. Ono buys, sell, rents and repairs boats. The Great East Japan Earthquake March 11, 2011, magnitude 9.0, was centered about 100 miles offshore Miyagi. It created a towering tsunami that rushed ashore at about 49 feet tall, inundating vast areas of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. It resulted in a human death toll of more 19,000; the collapse of more than 1 million buildings; loss of storm walls, ports and boats; and the flooding and failure of the pumping systems at Fukushima nuclear power plants, 40 miles south of Matsushima, leading to their meltdown.

When I contacted Mr. Ono, he described the agony and terror he felt as the tsunami swept away 90 percent of the boats in the port (10 percent were miraculously swept onto land) and there was wreckage everywhere, death and extreme hunger. He personally lost six of his eight boats, and struggled alongside his community for a long time to recover from the damage.

Thus, he was overjoyed to learn of the location of his boat Mambo V here on Kauai. He said he was amazed, his heart burst with warm memories and tears welled up and spilled down his cheeks.

The original owner had a boat named Mambo, and then a succession of Mambos, until finally this one, Mambo V. The second owner and Ono both decided to keep the name upon buying it. (He says that it was not related to the dance Mambo V!) It was newly refitted and moored at a pier in the port. The pier and boat disappeared in a second.

That pier now has been rebuilt, and Mr.Ono himself has since built a new boat exactly like the Mambo V (the YS23), again for rental, rescue and fishing, and enjoys fishing once again with his family and friends.

I had to disappoint Mr. Ono to let him know that, unfortunately, his wrecked boat was hauled away to our dump before I could find him. When he heard the news, he was excited to bring it home, even in its wrecked condition, but he was grateful to know, at least, its final resting place. Many fishermen wonder where their lost boats are, perhaps still bobbing around somewhere in the vast sea.

I report this Mambo V story in MidWeek Kauai March 11, 2015, the fourth anniversary of the Grand Tsunami, for two reasons: One is to use this anniversary to remind everyone that we are all interconnected by air and water. The initial Fukushima crisis four years ago created air contaminated with iodine-131 and cesium-137, which circled the globe in a matter of days. Objects carried by sea currents (such as this boat, various floats and strange pressurized cylinders) continue to arrive here on Kauai four years later. (Nothing yet has proven radioactive because debris departed before the Fukushima nuclear plant failure.)

We are all downstream. The water, our water, goes around and around, carrying poisons, waste, plastics and troubles everywhere. We must do better to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors around our watery planet, and especially, the marine life that is being imperiled by human activities.

The second reason is to offer a message from the actions of stalwart Mr. Ono. He lost nearly everything, suffering mightily. But with courage, fortitude and the help of his community, he managed to survive and recover. Now he again is out enjoying the sea he loves. He even promised me a boat ride one day in the Mambo VI!

Let’s learn from that message, and always keep on trying in the face of adversity to achieve renewal and success.

Editor’s note: Katherine Muzik, Ph.D., a marine biologist based on Kauai and former Harvard professor, is currently designing “Mala Moana,” an educational reef restoration project in Kapaa.