Friday, April 19, 2013

Whale Appears at Gas Station on Molokai!

Happy Earth Day!
My friend David asked: “What is this whale tail you are building? Just something you needed to do?”
     Pretty much, it was one of those ideas that stuck like caramel on a molar. After I told a friend I was giving up on the idea I plunged into melancholy. Deciding to go ahead cheered me up as if I’d won the lottery. That is probably the mechanics of compulsion, only this time it was over building a sculpture instead of buying cigarettes. I quit smoking so keeping my hands busy is also important.
     The six paintings of native Hawaiian animals on display at Ho’olehua Airport are life sized and I wanted to include a whale, but the airport is small. Painting a pod of Humpbacks on the runway or turning an airplane into a whale would involve gaining permission akin to taking the space shuttle up for a spin. Molokai Fish and Dive, a company that provides whale watches, snorkel trips and much more recently bought the old gas station in town and moved in. The corner has charm and character, which is an odd thing to say about a gas station, but I stand by it. The owners didn’t hesitate to say yes when I suggested a life-sized whale tail coming out of the pavement in front of their building.
      Whales are visible daily in the channel between Molokai and Lanai while they visit the islands from Alaska to give birth and frolic in the warm water. The view from the shop where I built the tail included whales jumping, slapping their tails and playing with their babies along the edge of the reef, which was seriously grand. Each year their numbers have increased. Between Alaska and Hawaii whales are no longer routinely hunted and I hope that will be true in every ocean. A world without whales would be sadly diminished. It is difficult to grasp a whale’s immensity.  The tail sculpture will allow people to experience the magnitude of whales the way we know best, by directly comparing them to ourselves.
view from the shop, no kidding!
     Circumstances to build the tail lined up as if gnomes lived under my bed. When I needed help people showed up, materials were donated and I had the luxury of time, which is rare.  I met the Sea Shepherd crew from the Steve Irwin when they were heading to Antarctica to save whales and I really wanted to join them, but it wasn’t possible. Their dedication inspired me to do this project. I hope people will take pictures with the whale tail at Molokai Fish and Dive and share their images. Consider it a vote in support of these truly exceptional creatures.   

the same whale in a never ending tail slapping fest while I was walking the dogs
The following pictures are the process of building the tail. Many thanks to Paddy Evans for his unfailing patronage, for donating the plywood, nails, Bondo and paint and for endless cheerful encouragement. Susan, how did I not get a picture of you? Thank you for giving the whale a home! 

Mele, mean concentration for a 5 year old (painting barnacles made of Bondo)

in the beginning...

Paddy and son wondering what the heck is happening in the driveway

internal skeleton taking shape
nic nac shelf or whale?

starting the skin with boat building techniques

trimming the fat

second skin

Bondo layer

good sport, I asked her to lay down for a scale check
Heidi and Paddy inspecting the primer

Woody mentioned that it looked like a fillet so I painted a spine on the back

Expert barnacle carver Sherry Tancayo

Supervisor cracking the whip

Noel and Mele helping with the paint job

Mele doesn't get paint on her clothes

me and Noel

Noel finishing up the barnacles
Thanks Mickey, for all the wonderful dinners!
Paddy hauling ladders to the gas station in his good car
loading a whale fillet on a mini-van

Oh crap is this going to work?
assembling the pieces

still not sure if it will work

raising the tail

a moment of uncertainty when it nearly tipped over, strongman Rod saved the whale


Rod, Sherry and Tim the owner in his Sea Shepherd shirt
wah la!

Thanks Sherry for all the photos, help, child labor and good laughs. Couldn't have got it done without you and your kids!


  1. So great to see the pictures! I had no idea it was this involved. Amazing ship building skills - I knew there was a reason you sailed across the Pacific! :)

  2. It kept getting more involved as it went along. It was going to be a mural, then just a cut out, then 3D with Bondo barnacles. I used to work at a boat restoration place in Oakland ages ago. Funny how old skills can still be useful. Wish you were here, it sure was fun to do. I'll have to dream up something else now.

  3. Oh, I just love this! It really makes the Fish & Dive shop LEAP out! Just love love love all the pictures of the progress. Amazing design! I had no idea how you were making a 3-D figure of a whale tail, and now I get it. You are awesome! I bet the kids had a blast helping, and now they can see the fruits of their labor every time they go by. Great work!

  4. I was wondering how the heck you were making a 3-D whale tail out of wood, and now I get it. Amazing design! So great the kids jumped in and helped. They'll always feel proud when they go by. Great job! Great idea! You rock!

  5. Katherine,
    Great photos and love thw whale tale. My favortie photo is the one of you smililing and your best!


  6. Oh man... I need to plan another trip to Molokai just to see this! Oh, and to see you and Paddy of course. :-)