Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sailing the Kona Coast

Many sailors complain of not enough wind along the west side of the Big Island. However, we have enormously enjoyed the Kona Coast likely because Tao is a very responsive light air cruising sailboat and we have kept an open schedule (i.e. we're okay with moving slowly). No, there is not much wind, but the upside to that is that we are able to anchor in relatively open areas. And yes, we have had to use our engine more than ever before. Still, with patience we have thoroughly enjoyed slowly sailing down and back up this beautiful coastline over the past 3-weeks. Of course, we are not experts on the area, but what we observed was that south of Keahole Point (the Kona airport, or the beginning of the Kona Coast) currents and winds abruptly shifted. North of the airport, winds tended to be gusty and strong through the notch between Mauna Kea and the Kohala Mountains. From there, heading south along the island we tended to be sailing with light NW winds and a moderate current. During the evening winds would slacken and shift to light offshore until the sun came up and winds shifted back in a daily cycle. Coming back up the coast line, we tacked into the light winds and currents and with each tack toward shore were rewarded with up close (because depths were more than 400-ft a mere football field from the shore in many places) views of ancient lava flows that built this island. Yes, several days we were unable to make more than 10-nm, but relatively safe anchorages so close were welcome stops.

After slowly sailing off anchor in Honomolino Bay, we tacked our way up along the coast line for a relaxing 8-hr (just over 12-nm as the crow flies) light wind sail. As we drew closer to our goal, we were surprised to see another sailboat anchored in Kahuko Bay off Ho’okena. It turns out 'Uhane (Soul) is a trailerable 27-ft Vancouver and is being refitted at Honokohau Harbor. From sunset through dawn we enjoyed dark clouds and rainbow producing precipitation which was a nice change from the common hazy vog in this area and reminded us hurricane season in Hawaii is in full effect. In the morning we went for a hike along the cliffs above Tao and stumbled across an entrance to the lava tube we saw from the water. We feel fortunate that we were able to explore this incredible geological and cultural wonder.

Yet another small world story to report. While in Ho’okena we were returning to Tao from snorkeling, when two snorkelers appeared along side. After chatting a moment and inviting them aboard it turns out the woman, Mari, just finished a hatha yoga teacher training based in Ho’okena (Hale Kai) and the man, Daniel, was our yoga friend Elizabeth(who we visited in Kealakakua Bay)’s research advisor at CIIS. We also met the owner of Hale Kai, Deborah as she snorkeled past and finally her husband David when we made our way to their property when we were again anchored in Kahuko Bay on our way back up the coast. Deb, David and Mari kindly spent a whole afternoon with us showing us around their Bali-style, ocean front, off-the-grid property with open air circular yoga space in the middle surrounded by an abundance of fruiting and flowering trees. They generously invited us to stay for dinner and the next morning we offered them all the opportunity to sail with us 6-nm up the coast to Kealakakua Bay. We were pleasantly surprised when all 3 of them made space in their day to join us.

It turned out to be an amazingly perfect day. The three of them snorkeled out to Tao from the Ho’okena Beach and Chris ferried their gear in Fatty. The winds were quite light, but the 5 of us (and Griz of course) were all appreciative to be able to share such a beautiful day on the water. It was exciting for us to have crew aboard to share this adventure with. David, a lifelong outdoor adventure photographer, took some shots of us sailing off anchor (we’re excited to see them), Deb valiantly fighting motion sickness showed us all sorts of yoga poses we could do on deck, and Mari, a natural sailor, spent much time at the helm learning and also managed to make pizzas from dough Shawn had started early in the sail. As the sun set, we sailed onto the hook in now semi-familiar Kealakakua Bay. We turned on Yannie to set the stern anchor to keep us safe from damaging any coral and enjoyed Mari’s pizzas by candlelight as the sun dipped below the horizon and stars and phosphorescence came out.

We passed the next day relaxing in the sunny, clear (you can see coral 30-ft below us clearly through the water) and much calmer Kealakakua Bay and again visited our friend Elizabeth for a yummy lunch after which Chris performed the manly task of hanging several things in her newly painted space. The following day we felt it was time to continue north and ever so slowly made our way up the coast. When we called to check in, Honokohau Harbor informed us that there were no available spaces. This deflated both of us as we had been looking forward to some relaxation in a safe harbor, but grateful that alternative safe (though admittedly less comfortable) anchorage was reachable, we set our course for Kailua Bay. Just before we reached it, we tried the harbor one more time to check for availability and by miracle a space had opened up, so we high tailed it the extra 3-nm and Chris did more amazing acrobatic feats with Tao and Yannie to get us safely med-tied once again. With a sigh of relief at the lack of motion, we took ourselves out for dinner at the harbor restaurant and then slept hard. We plan to be here for another week or so, recovering, doing yoga, surfing (Chris has already gone out once with the folks from Hale Kai) and re-organizing for making the committing jump across the Alenuihaha Channel; portal to the rest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Big Island Bliss: Ho'okena, Honomolino, Okoe

After leaving Kealakekua Bay, we had a relatively slow sail in light winds. We decided to check into Honaunau (aka Two Step), a well known snorkeling venue and home to the now historical park of the restored “City of Refuge,” sanctuary for Hawaiians in trouble since the 16th century. Although it looked beautiful, tons of people swarmed the beaches and waters. As we found only the tiniest spot of sand for an anchor, we decided to continue south. 3-nm later in Kauhako Bay and the town of Ho’okena, we were greeted by spinner dolphins (who use the large sandy area as a resting ground) jumping in welcome. The biggest sandy area yet, we happily set both our bow and stern anchor with bow heading west toward the incoming swell and our stern facing the protective cliffs. After the sun set we enjoyed the “air conditioning” as the offshore breezes funneled right into our boat throughout each night.

This small fishing town with no electricity was the main shipping port until WWII when the road connecting the Kona Coast to Hilo was completed. Now, the beach park is crowded with families during the day and permitted campers at night. We spent several days here mostly in the water with sunny days and clear water creating amazing snorkeling visibility (100-ft!). Ho’okena, which means “to satisfy thirst” was interesting snorkeling with fresh and salt water mixing plus sand, coral, lava, rays, fish of every variety and size, and even a lava tube high up on the surrounding cliff, visible from the water. We also spent one day, termed “Apacolypto” by Chris, relaxing aboard as Chris fought a stomach bug.

Still seeking isolated anchorage, we continued south another 12.3-nm to Honomolino Bay (approximately 25-nm north of South Point). Paradise found. Nearly deserted, reef-protected, palm tree filled bay with a big sandy area for anchoring in the center, clear water filled around the edges with forests of coral, and stark lava at the shoreline creating natural bridges dotted with a few mostly boarded up vacation homes. Snorkeling between coral heads we even met the resident white-tipped-reef-shark who was just as scared to see us as we were to see him. That drove us (mostly by Shawn’s urges) out of the water for a bit and we sailed Fatty a mile or so up the coast to just off the little town of Miloli’i, supposedly the last remaining traditional fishing village in Hawaii. We spent another entire day sailing approximately 2-nm down the coast along an amazing Aa lava flow to neighboring Okoe Bay. Both Honomolino and Okoe are fine grey-black sand beaches and were heavily impacted by the Japan tsunami this past spring. Honomolino’s coconut lined beach was stripped of much sand and the forest reorganized, while the solitary home at the north end of Okoe Bay was completely pulled from its supports. As everywhere else, the clean up efforts have left manmade debris nearly impossible to find, but the substantial natural changes are still obvious.

Initially we were drawn to the south end of the bay by an interesting black and white beach of coral and lava. Tying up the sail and pulling out the oars, we rowed past a breaking wave into 360-degree lava protection for Fatty. Turns out we literally stumbled into a historical wilderness area. On shore we found stands of coconut trees heavy with ripe coconuts. Following what looked like a road in the lava-coral beach we past an intact Ancient Hawaiian sled run, then further on water sources and stone work and finally a trail system through the unforgiving lava fields. As we wound back, we noted even more trails, some of them “cobbled” with large coral stepping stones. It was a very spiritual, magical, enchanting area, and upon returning to internet, quite difficult to find information on.

As the afternoon was getting late, we sailed back to the north end of Okoe Bay and tied up for a few moments to a tiny underwater mooring we found so we could snorkel a bit around the bay. We walked on the beautiful black sand beach and marveled at the lack of what was obviously a home prior to the tsunami. Back in Fatty, with storm clouds menacing, we headed back toward Honomolino and Tao. Unfortunately, the threatening clouds actually followed through bringing an unexpected downpour and a slacking to no accompanying winds. We kept warm by rowing the rest of the way home, getting there just before sunset, we were pleasantly surprised that very little water had actually gotten in through our wide open hatches.

This gorgeous isolated area was food for our hungry souls and we recharged luxuriating in the sheer beauty of it all. We saw a relatively small number of people on the beach each day, hiked around the lava caves and did more snorkeling among the lava statues and through underwater bridges. Always the adventurer, Chris got some especially amazing views and also a little kiss from the coral on his calf which will keep him out of the water for several days to allow healing. Although we feel like we could stay here forever, we are excited also to see the rest of the islands, so with no more known welcoming anchorages to the south, we've started our northward movement.