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The Waikiki Rod and Gun Club is a somewhat amorphous group of 25 or so sportsmen who play a lot of golf and meet 11 times a year to exchange lies about past conquests, to brag about future exploits and to share a few friendly drinks. (This last activity has moved one of the members' wives to call it "The Waikiki Rotten Gun Club.") In the 12th month the WR&GC actually turns talk into action and goes fishing and hunting.
That is why a fortnight ago members and wives of members, and guests and wives of guests, moved over to the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii for a 12th-month weekend, an occasion described in an invitational brochure as a "20th-century renaissance of gentlemanly skills and values. Plying the blue waters of the Pacific in search of marlin. Hunting swift-footed game in the Hawaiian wild. Golfing (also occasionally in the Hawaiian wild)." The invitation identified the event as "The Kona Invitational Olympiad," and proclaimed: "It's a tradition." (It is—the club had done it once before.) Points, it was explained, would be awarded for performance in three events: fish by pounds, game by inches (horn curl) and golf by net strokes.
As headquarters for this weekend of roughing it, the club chose the new multimillion-dollar Kona Surf Hotel, a luxurious resort snuggled between the 2nd and 3rd holes of the Keauhou-Kona Country Club. However, the prime movers behind this unique triathlon, Allan Starr, head of a Honolulu advertising agency, and Harry Meyer, an Oahu millionaire who is described as the "sort of" president of the WR&GC, had no intention of allowing the members and guests to loll away their stay among the Kona Surf's sybaritic pleasures. For the fishing competition they had engaged the services of Bart Miller (SI, Aug. 16, 1971), who all but owns the Pacific Ocean. A second group would fish aboard the Blue Hawaii, owned by actor and club member Lee Marvin, who happened to be off on location. Gene Ramos, spiritual proprietor of Hawaii's most neglected volcano, Hualalai, would guide one hunting group and Ron Ostrander the other.
The fishing came first, and the four fisherpersons who had drawn Miller's Christel approached their assignment warily. They all knew their captain's reputation: Black Bart, the man who killed a world-record 111 marlin last year, often called Captain Midnight because he has been known to refuse to return to dock without a fish aboard, a consummate professional who sometimes uttered menaces, as the British say, if an angler faltered at rod or reel. The competitors got an additional shock when they boarded Christel at 7 a.m. on a cloudy Friday. Black Bart, who had looked like a choirboy in earlier published pictures, now looked like Black Beard, a clear case of nature imitating image. "I thought these people wanted to fish," he scoffed through his whiskers as Christel headed for the grounds. "Should've gone out about five o'clock. Be lucky if we get a strike now. No marlin around, anyway. We'll try for ahi."
Miller ran south toward Kealakekua while his two crewmen, moving with the speed and precision of 17th century sailors who know the plank is just one mistake away, rigged the 130-pound-test lines and attached the lures, which went into the water at 8:30 a.m. Despite the captain's gloomy prophecy, the first strike came in exactly 75 seconds. Stewart McCombs, a lanky ex-Air Force jet pilot who now is Starr's partner and executive vice-president of their agency, had drawn the first half-hour in the fighting chair.
"It's an ahi, and a big one!" Miller yelled from the bridge. The ahi promptly sounded, as tuna usually do, and the arduous reel-and-pump haul-up began. In 15 minutes the fish was visible behind the boat. It was swimming strongly and ready, it abruptly became clear, to break all the rules of proper ahi behavior. Its yellow fins flashing, it moved slightly to port and then tried to outrun the boat. Before this curious drag race ended five minutes later, Miller had gunned Christel almost to full speed. "That was the hardest-fighting ahi I've ever boated," Miller said, once the big fish had been hauled aboard.
"Hardest one I ever fought," McCombs panted. "Of course, it was the first one."
Marcia Murchison, the blonde wife of Grant Murchison, 32-year-old president of a Honolulu construction company, was in the chair when strike No. 2 came at 9:41 a.m. Before she was quite positioned, the fish—another big ahi—almost took her overboard with its first run, but then it more or less surrendered. She had it at gaff in six minutes—a big fish, but not as big as McCombs'.
Now Grant Murchison was up, a veteran who has competed in the International Billfish Tournament and last year won the first WR&GC Olympiad hunting championship. It already had proved a good day for Marcia, but it was to be the first of three bad days for Grant. A meticulous sportsman, Murchison waited out a precise 30 minutes without a strike and then woke up the last competitor, Henry Wilks, a Honolulu businessman who was sound asleep in the salon. Wilks was still rubbing his eyes when an ahi struck just seconds later, and he had it aboard in less than five minutes. That was the end of it, but it was enough—McCombs' ahi weighed 186 pounds, Marcia's 162 and Wilks' 124. Although Ben Cassiday Jr., a retired Air Force brigadier general, got four mahi-mahi (dolphin) on Blue Hawaii, their combined weight did not even equal Wilks' ahi. Captain Midnight rode again.
The Pacific had been almost as peaceful as the carpeted floors of the Kona Surf, and the only serious exertion required of WR&GC members through Friday night had been McCombs' 20-minute fish fight. But Saturday was to be different. Hualalai Volcano, rising so gradually from the Kona savannah that most round-the-island tourists do not even know it is there, has teeth like a tiger shark once one moves above the ohia tree rain forest that encircles it. That morning Grant Murchison got his second bad break—the luck of the draw put him, along with Dr. Grover Liese, a Honolulu radiologist, in a land cruiser guided by Ostrander, a partner of Woodson Woods in Hawaii Trails, the safari company that dominates island hunting. Ostrander knows the trails up, down and around Hualalai but as a relative newcomer from California he has not yet developed Gene Ramos' sixth sense of where the rams and billies are. Ramos was born in a village at the foot of Mauna Kea and has hunted the mountains since childhood.