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.

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