Hawaii 2011

Molokai to Honolulu

19 June 2011 | Hawaii

Today is Fathers Day, and I’m thinking about my father (see photo, below), his enjoyment of sailing, and how much he would have liked to be part of our journey.fal001 edited-1 Sonata, the 39 foot sailboat he bought when I was in college, was a Transpac boat, built in the ‘50s to be a high-speed contender in that race. (Of course by today’s high-tech standards, it was somewhat of a slug.) So here we are in Transpac country, at the Hawaii Yacht Club. Everything is focused on the arrival of the Transpac racers, about 4 weeks from now. The dock we are on was damaged in the March tsunami, but they got it repaired (and coincidentally ready for us) because of the urgency of the arrival of the Transpac fleet.

Mark and Dot Hazlett, of Pu’aena, had arranged for us to stay at the Waikiki Yacht Club, across the way, and it was a difficult decision to choose HYC instead. But ultimately we decided not to pay the extra for the WYC facilities (including a swimming pool), since we’ll be here for about two weeks.

These are really nice people here. Chris, the HYC manager has gone out of his way to be helpful. Parking permits are scarce to nonexistent, but he tracked down a permit for us. The club’s bartender is on vacation in Las Vegas, and he had left his parking permit in his car. The car was at his mechanic’s shop, and a neighbor had the key. Chris contacted the bartender, the mechanic and the neighbor, and then drove out to retrieve the permit for us. Astonishing! It has enabled us to rent a car for at least the next week. We plan outings by car all over Oahu.

I’ll back up and tell you about Molokai, the last island we visited. It was different from any of the other Hawaiian Islands, primarily because there are very few tourists. Other than one big, remote golfing resort, there seem to be no big hotels. Most people who want to stay there have to find a rental house or condominium. Of course that wasn’t a problem for us – we anchored in Kaunakakai Harbor, and dinghied ashore.

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Getting anchored in Kaunakakai Harbor was not an easy thing. Adjacent to the town of Kaunakakai, the reef extends out half a mile, and is mostly exposed at low tide. When they created the harbor, they dredged a 20-foot-deep rectangular space out of the reef, built a wharf in the middle, and built a causeway out to the wharf. The whole affair sticks out into the trade winds, and on the leeward side of the wharf, you still experience the 25 knot winds, even though the waves are knocked down to nothing. In 25 knot winds, it is quite difficult to anchor. Not only that, but as far as the State is concerned, the dredged area is a turning basin for the ferry, the tugs and the barges that come into the harbor. The only consideration for visiting yachts is that they stay out of the way. So the available anchoring area is limited to one small corner, and you’d better not swing out into the turning basin when the wind changes. (And of course, you’d better not swing the other way, or you’ll be onto the reef.) To make a long story short, we ended up putting out three anchors – two forward and one to the stern. It’s a long process, and pulling them all up when you get ready to leave is a drawn-out, messy job. There’s all sorts of garbage on the bottom of the harbor, and the mud is sticky. Each anchor pulled up at least its own weight in garbage and mud, which then had to be removed and washed off.

But anchoring difficulties aside, Molokai was an interesting and charming place. We went ashore and rented an elderly, beat up, but expensive Toyota from the only rental agency on the island. We drove from end to end and top to bottom of the island in the 24 hours we had the car. The little town of Kaunakakai (commercial center of the island) has a middle America look about it – little stores with false fronts, dusty shops, and no traffic lights. We found the Laundromat, the natural foods store, the grocery store, and we poked our heads in a souvenir shop and an art gallery. We had an expensive but mediocre plate lunch, and shook our heads at the prices of things. Tomatoes, $4 a pound; gasoline, $5.21 a gallon. Rental car with 104,000 miles on the odometer: $60 a day.

First we drove north, to the windward side of the island. At Palaau State Park, we looked off a 2000 foot cliff, down at Father Damien’s leprosy colony at Kalaupapa. Hawaiian leprosy victims were banished and isolated there for a century before a drug was found to prevent the progression and transmission of the disease. Now it’s a national historical park, but some of the residents (now very elderly) still live there by choice. Escorted tours are possible but expensive, and there is no road to reach there. The only access is by trail, boat or airplane. Father Damien (now Saint Damien) ministered to the residents there in the nineteenth century, before he caught the disease himself and died. The view from the Palaau cliffs is gorgeous and astonishing. Big whitecaps out in the Pacific Ocean reminded us why we didn’t choose to sail the windward side of the island. (Reportedly, though, it’s a spectacular sail).

Next we drove out to the west end of the island, a relatively unpopulated area, with a long gorgeous beach. Much of the west end of the island is owned by Molokai Ranch, an entity with a somewhat checkered and much-reviled history. Some time ago, it was planned to be a huge development, and there are miles of road with installed utilities (including fire hydrants), concrete paving, and bare land. There are some enclaves of luxury homes, but it’s mostly just kiawe brush. The cracks in the road have grass growing up through them, and sometimes the road is encroached by the brush and grasses down to one lane. The developers have floated a number of plans, but the island residents seem to hate them. The current plan, which we read about in the local paper, is to install giant wind turbines on the Molokai Ranch property, to create electricity for Honolulu. According to the paper, 92 percent of the residents are against this plan. The huge cost of the undersea electrical cable would reportedly be borne by ratepayers, including Molokai residents.

Our last drive in the rental car was out to Halawa Bay on the northeast corner of the island. This 27 mile road narrows down to one lane for the last 7 miles or so, and passes over a windswept ridge before dropping down into a quintessential tropical valley. There’s a sacred waterfall at the head of the valley, with beach, palm trees and snorkeling at the seaward end. Along the road, we saw ancient Hawaiian fish ponds, constructed by pre-contact Hawaiians from heavy lava boulders. The walls are placed so that the small fish can swim in, and when they get bigger, they’re too big to swim out. Many of the fish ponds are still maintained functioning today. We also saw two charming little churches built by Father Damien (apparently his duties encompassed more than the leprosy colony.) And we stopped and had a Hawaiian plate lunch which was much tastier (and somewhat cheaper) than the one we’d had in Kaunakakai.

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Two of the other sailboats in the Kaunakakai harbor are worth mentioning: Libertatia (Lowell, Jenine and Emmett) came in the day after us. It’s a 1935-era boat which we had first seen in Honolua Bay. Their engine is somewhat questionable – we watched them leave the next day, sailing out of the harbor (straight into the wind), and having difficulty rounding the buoys. We watched as they lowered a dinghy, attached a tow rope, and attempted to move the boat forward under oar-power. They did finally make it, but they had a difficult upwind passage ahead of them. Lowell reported that he had found a job in Alaska, so they were taking the boat back to Lahaina. We don’t know if Emmett and Jenine will be continuing on alone.

The other sailboat of note is Doubloon. Its owner, “Stretch,” gave all sorts of helpful advice during the anchoring process. At his suggestion, we put out the stern anchor, and he told us all about local conditions. Stretch, and his dog, Honey Girl, are long term residents there. When we were ready to move on to the next anchorage, Lono Harbor, he advised us to give it a miss because of the (according to him) undesirable resident there, “Chuck.” “He’ll steal things off your boat in the middle of the night.” We chose to ignore that particular advice (other cruisers had positive things to say about Chuck). In the end, I figure there must be some sort of feud going between Stretch and Chuck.

Lono Harbor is an interesting spot, out of the waves but still windy, in a lonely uninhabited area just south of Molokai Ranch. Apparently it was built for barges in the 30’s, when there was an active aggregate mining operation in the area. Now it’s a park, but not much used. One reason may be the bees. As soon as we had the anchor down, the bees started arriving. Before long there were 20 or 30 bees buzzing around inside the boat, ultimately congregating inside the galley’s water faucet. We deployed all our bug screens, and then Craig went at the remaining bees inside the boat with a flyswatter. The surviving bees mostly moved to our shower at the stern step. Although it was shut off, there is evidently a miniscule leak which attracted them. They didn’t go away until after dark, and they were back in the morning at first light, when we pulled up the anchor for the passage to Honolulu.

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The passage to Honolulu was the roughest channel crossing yet. Despite a forecast for 20 knots of wind, with occasional gusts, we experienced on average 25-30 knots, with regular gusts to 35, and an occasional gust to 40. The seas built to 8-10 feet, and we were tossed around a good bit. We wound up with three reefs in the main and only a handkerchief of a jib out. At one point we were joined by a tiny finch.  This little bird, only 2 inches long, perched on a wire connected to one of our solar panels. He closed his eyes, rocked back and forth, and hung on for dear life for about a half an hour. He was gone briefly, and then he turned up on one of the seat cushions in the cockpit. That didn’t last long (nothing to hang onto), and then he flew into the cabin. Craig was asleep down there, so I figured I’d warn him about the bird when he woke up. Unfortunately, I didn’t say anything in time, Craig inadvertently startled the bird, and he flew out the companionway like a rocket, into the sky. That’s the last we saw of the little finch, and I hope he made it to land. We were still about 20 miles out…

[A friend has later identified the little bird, from our pictures, as a warbling silverbill, a member of the finch family.  An article I found online from the Bishop Museum says these birds, originally from England, were introduced on the Big Island, and have now spread to all the Hawaiian islands.  They've been seen flying as much as 30 miles offshore, so apparently are able to get easily from island to island -- not to worry about that little bird who hitched a ride with us on this passage!]

It was really quite thrilling to see Oahu and then, more distinctly, Diamond Head in the distance. We passed the Diamond Head buoy, which is at the finish line for the Transpac Race. Then scooting along Waikiki Beach, with its dozens of skyscraper hotels, surfers and tourist boats. We found the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, and then the Hawaii Yacht Club. Ka’sala was at the dock, and Lyneita helped us with our lines. So here we are, ready to enjoy a couple of weeks with the tourists, before we move on to Kauai and the North Pacific.

As I said at the outset, I’m thinking today about my father (who died about 15 years ago). jrj 95thBut we’re very fortunate to still have Craig’s dad (now age 96, pictured to the right). We talked with him by phone this morning in Lafayette, wished him a Happy Father’s Day. He caught us up with the news of the world, and reminisced about his own days in Honolulu (including on December 7, 1941).