Thursday, September 29, 2011

Across the Alenuihaha

After more than a month of respite and land life in Honokohau Harbor, it was a bit difficult to motivate to throw off the mooring lines again. But after a week of provisioning and monitoring the weather forecasts closely, early on Friday the 23rd we finally broke free. At the mouth of the harbor we again med-tied to top off our fuel tanks and after exiting the harbor were under sail again. Not too far out we were welcomed back to the swell. Around Keahole Point (Kona airport and the most western point on the Big Island) seas were quite mixed, short period and generally uncomfortable, but a few miles N, when we neared Makalawena, seas calmed a bit and from there we pleasantly jibed our way up the coast. A bit over 4-hrs and 17-nm later, we sailed into beautiful Kiholo Bay. Many thanks to Peter McCormick (m/v Hopena, our neighbor in Honokohau Harbor) for sharing his local knowledge about this gem of an anchorage. When we got there, we realized that our definition of good anchoring sand patch was indeed the same as Peter's, and we happily dropped the hook and watched the sun sink down below the horizon.

After a refreshing night on the hook- we awoke to another day in paradise. Sunny but no wind, over our morning cup-o-tea, we watched as the previously empty black sand beach began to fill with colorful canoes and paddle boards. Eager to get underway we prepped to sail as the small craft swarmed Tao. As a small onshore breeze filled in just before 1000, we sailed off the anchor just moments before nearly 100 standup (SUP) paddlers pushed off on an 8 mile paddle race along the coast. We raced them NE out of Kiholo Bay finally cutting across the front of them (possibly a little close) and aimed due N for Nishimura Bay. A pleasant steady 10-knot SW breeze filled in with no accompanying seas and we zoomed across the outer edge of Kawaihae Bay. It was reminiscent of oh-so-long-ago sails across Santa Monica Bay and Banderas Bay and we savored every moment as we knew the following days crossing would be nothing like this.

As we approached the northern edge of Kawaihae Bay and could see whitecaps rolling down the Alenuihaha Channel, we brought down both sails and fired up Yannie for the final approach. Just after tying up the 100% jib, we were greeted by 20-knot NE winds funneling over the north end of the island. We reached Nishimura nice and early and Rocky was set before 1500 providing us plenty of time for final preparations for the crossing. This included: engine check for air and oil, reducing the foresail, running jack lines and checking all on deck tie downs, testing the EPIRB battery and topping off abandon ship kit, creating a basic cruise track in Costal Explorer, another list of last moment morning tasks, food prep and get to bed to catch some zzz’s before our 0330 wake up call.

Sunday morning the 25th the forecast called for 10-kt E winds veering south in the afternoon, wind waves 3-ft in the morning then 2-ft or less, and N swell 4-ft. What we actually saw was sustained 15-knot winds from the NE gusting to 20+, with 4 to 5-ft seas at 4-seconds. After much debate, we ran with our triple reefed main and our storm jib (approximately 25% of the foretriangle area which we've now lovingly nicknamed knick-named “the potato chip”) and saw speeds between 4.7 and 6.3 knots throughout the 30-nm crossing. It felt a little like we were on passage to Hawaii again only we could actually see land. Before our trip, we had heard the full gamut of horror stories about crossing the Alenuihaha Channel; from mostly bad to downright ugly. Maybe it's because we planned carefully for a good window, maybe it's because we were conservatively rigged, or maybe it was just luck, but we are grateful to have had a spectacular crossing experience. Over the 6+ hour passage we watched: a sliver of a moon and Orion before fading into the sun rise over the northern edge of the Big Island (Upolo Point), the Big Island (Mauna Kea and the Kohola Mountains) receding, and Maui (Haleakela) becoming clearer and clearer.

In addition to the gift of safe passage weather from the gods, we were able to comfortably point high enough to make Nu'u Landing (an unbelievably gorgeous spot on the unpopulated SE edge of Maui) with winds a bit above the beam. Thus, we sailed a solid 30-degrees higher into the wind than we had originally planned. We cruised into the stunning little bite just before noon and decided to drop the hook and check it out. Though at first it seemed a bit small and quite close to the channel, the well placed lava flow had created a perfect fetch break and a place for an eddy to form which had filled with extremely fine black sand. Nestled at the base of the majestic volcano, Haleakela, with the channel winds still howling just outside our personal lava finger, we celebrated an amazing crossing. Although safe in relaxed trade winds, we still felt a bit exposed on the edge of the Alenuihaha, so planned to stay one night. With only a short time here, though we were tired, we motivated for a surreal swim into shore and a walk along the a’a lava and the cobble beach that formed our safe haven on Maui. Magnificent, if you ever have a chance to visit this anchorage, grab it!

The next day, Monday 26th forecast a slight increase in trade-winds so we continued on west and completely out of the channel. After a 14-mile downwind “sled” ride (reminiscent of one of our early cruising sails down the coast of Santa Cruz Island in which we first noted how impossible it would be to sail the other direction), we made it to La Perouse Bay on the SE side of Maui. Finally securely across and out of the Alenuihaha Channel completely, we'll recover here and figure out how we're going to spend the next several weeks sailing around islands other than the Big Island. As we move, we'll continue to update our cruise track position reports and we'll get more blog updates posted with pictures as we can.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eddied out in Honokohau

Sorry for the blog silence, we’ve been quite busy for the past several weeks. It’s more difficult than you might imagine living with one foot aboard and one foot ashore. The days and weeks fly by when dockside. Sunrises and sunsets pass by barely noticed. Priorities shift. Tied up to land in a safe harbor, no longer constantly vigilant, we relax and recover. And we enjoy things that come along with being attached to land; markets with fresh food (with names like star fruit, lilikoi, and dragon fruit), restaurants, laundry facilities, trips to multiple surf spots, and most repeatedly, yoga. Shawn has been teaching once a week and we have been enjoying Bikram Yoga Kona immensely having felt fully welcomed by its community.

As you may have surmised, we're still on the Big Island. Family friend Kanoa lent us his well loved Toyota truck to kick around in for a week. It was great, we felt like a local driving around in it and he’s lucky we’re on an island or Chris might have just driven off into the sunset with it. We explored a circle on shore from Kona along the ocean to Waikaloa, Puako, Kawaihae and up to Waimea in the mountains then back down to Kona via the high road. We’ve gotten eddied out a little bit imagining possibilities of transitioning to land and spending several years here (opening a yoga studio, getting certified to teach high school, etc…). Although we are still here and have plans to stay for the next week (how long have we been saying that?), we continue to hold onto the plan of throwing off the mooring lines during the next reduced trade wind window to cross the Alenuihaha Channel to Maui.

Since we’re moving so slowly, we decided a trip to Honolulu was in order to see Chris’ grandmother who has anxiously awaited our arrival since we landed in Hawaii in June. So Chris caught a flight (inter-island flights are a pretty normal occurrence here) from Kona to Oahu. It was an emotional 3-day visit in which they were able to have great discussions and also went to pay respects to Chris’ grandfather who passed away just under a year ago. It was very special to Chris to get to spend some quality time there and we both hope to visit her again soon whenever we finally sail to Oahu.

While we’ve been here in Honokohau Harbor a couple things have died. Most sadly, a huge turtle marked #116 (from years of observation) drowned after getting hooked in some fishing line. If you look closely in this photo, you can see some filament coming out of its mouth. Once we realized this, pictures stopped and closer inspection showed a hook trailing behind. As it is a federal offense to be closer than 20-ft to one of these turtles (Shawn stopped Chris from jumping in and cutting away fishing line), we immediately reported it to nearby Aquatic Resources Services. Unfortunately, the hook snagged onto one of the mooring chains on the harbor bottom before they were able to catch up to it and get it unentangled…

Most difficult for our daily sailing life, our NorCold refrigerator died. Another example of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. After doing several tests that pointed to complete cooling unit failure and then getting the run around for a part number price it became obvious that a whole new refrigerator was more cost effective (insert grumble about our wasteful society here). Replacing with a new NorCold unit (which we purchased in 2005 for $490) is now a ridiculous $750. We momentarily thought about going back to cruising without refrigeration, but realized that we’ve gotten used to having minimal refrigeration and it would really reduce our basic daily enjoyment of life (mostly having cold soy milk in the morning cup of tea for Shawn) so quickly scratched that idea. From there we narrowed it down the requirements being a DC compatible unit and a cool space (we’ve never had a freezer). Our options ranged from the basic easy to install and also inefficient “Koolatron,” barely more than an ice chest at $120, to our dream system of a super efficient “Engel” at $1000 plus a much larger installation project. Since we’re currently in this possible-transition-to-land frame of mind, we chose the inexpensive easy basic option to hold us over for at least the next few months. We’ll let you know how it goes…

And to top it off, Chris' first night away to Oahu, our main shipboard computer got drenched via a midnight downpour dripping in through the closed but untightened porthole over the navigation station. Amid the visit with his grandmother, he also fielded frantic calls from Shawn trying to resuscitate it. Chris was very calm (though he might not have been had he seen water rushing out of the keyboard when it was first moved). After finally finding the small screwdrivers, Shawn removed the battery, then removed the panels she could from the bottom of the computer and placed it outside in the sun in hour long increments of heating and then cooling all throughout the day. The next day was rainy so she had a fan blowing on it throughout. That night when Chris returned home we attempted to start it up together and amazingly it fired right up and since we've found no obvious issues. We count ourselves very lucky and also are reminded to back everything up more frequently!!

Having stayed here longer than expected does have its benefits- yesterday our Hilo friends Amanda and Jeremy and their two boys happened by the harbor and by chance spotted us. We spent the rest of the day with them. First showing Jayden (7) and Mykah (5) the boat, which they immediately turned into a jungle gym (it would have been impossible to clean enough for their visit had we known they were coming as the boys wanted to look in all the cupboards, the bilges and even the engine, lol!!). We took a walk to the nearby park in search of more turtles and caught a spectacular sunset then had another amazingly cultural experience when we accompanied them to the Micronesian 1-year birthday party they had come to town for, which happened to be given at a space right next to the harbor (Jeremy hails from a small Micronesian island called Fais near Yap). It was very festive with large amounts of extended family present, the younger generation performed dances and music, while everyone else talked and consumed amazing traditional food.

Whenever we actually get underway again, over the next few weeks we’ll be making some big decisions, so send some good energy our way and we’ll keep you all posted as soon as any actual decisions have been made.