Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Passage: Eastward across the Kaiwi Channel

Transitions are always difficult. Arriving to a fast-paced city from the wilderness of the ocean, we become acutely aware of where we spend our energy while cruising versus while trying to fit into society. It is similar for disentangling from land as well. But step-by-step we moved toward getting underway. Although we didn’t have any down time, we felt as prepared as we could be for untying and pushing away from the dock at 1830 on Thanksgiving as the last rays of sun reflected off the buildings of Honolulu.

We motored out of the harbor and found decent sailing conditions as the stars and city buildings twinkled to life in the moonless sky. Our plan was to get Tao to Makapu’u Point (the easternmost point of Oahu) and jump off from there to have a better sailing angle toward Lanai (to the SE in ENE winds). Since this means after a mere 3.5-nm we would round the Diamond Head buoy to head NE, directly into the wind, we decided to continue to motor. As we expected, seas got rougher after rounding the buoy; however, we did not predict that they would continue to intensify as we slowly made way upwind to gain northing. We surmised that it was due to the large tidal fluctuation during the New Moon that serendipitously reached its lowest point at 2030 while we were on the “shallows” (20-fathoms, or 120-ft) at the western edge of the Kaiwi Channel. We worked our way into deeper water (100-fathoms, or 600-ft) and the chaos of waves decreased. However, the seas became markedly more chaotic an hour later as we passed Koko Head (2-weeks previous from which we had watched a full moon rise), so we decided to fall off 2-nm short of the eastern point and start sailing toward Lanai.

Prepared for winds stronger than forecast (E to NE 20) we had removed our 80% jib and hanked on our storm jib which we quickly hoisted. Chris throttled Yannie down to neutral and took the helm from Captain Tilly (our auto helm) as we fell off and were immediately broadside to the seas. Chris powered Yannie down completely and closed the engine sea cock, while Shawn clipped into the jacklines and jumped on deck to set the 3rd reef in the mains'l while Chris hauled away. At this stage, Chris was finally gripped by horrible seasickness, after having fought it valiantly for the first several hours. Tao’s boat motion is nearly always better when under sail than power, and it was the same in this situation, though in general there was not enough wind (10 gusting to 20-knots) for the remnant seas, making the motion less-than-comfortable. With Shawn at the mast again, Chris struggled through his sickness to get the mains’l all the way up and Moni set on course, taking a moment to be sick overboard before he stumbled down below to try to sleep it off. By default Shawn got the graveyard shift. We could have used more sail area up forward (good argument for roller furling headsails), but we were definitely moving (albeit slowly) in the right direction and the sea state was finally becoming more regular.

At midnight, 8-nm later near the middle of the Kaiwi Channel, Shawn noted vessel lights straight ahead. She immediately raced down below to check the AIS which showed nothing. It must not be a large ship. Unfortunately, quite quickly it became obvious that it was indeed a large vessel. The white light turned into a green and red and white light; dead ahead and yet not showing up on the AIS. Still plenty far away, Shawn apologetically woke Chris for extra eyes on deck. Although he continued not to feel well, he was willing to do anything, but could not quite concentrate. With Chris ready to start the engine if neccesary, Shawn hailed the “tug-towing-a-barge-entering-the Kaiwi-Channel” on 16 to make contact. As she switched to 18 for discussion, the ship FINALLY popped up on the AIS a mere 2.5-nm away (turns out its signal had been blocked by our mast and sails). The Moana Holo tug captain, who had indeed seen us on his radar, was planning to momentarily turn more to port to head toward Honolulu (as opposed to starboard to go up the channel and then on to Kahului on windward Maui) leaving us plenty of space. Relief washed over us as the barge’s green starboard light slowly disappeared indicating their movement to port. Over the next half hour we watched as the merrily lighted tug with its tow passed 1-nm to our starboard.

Now 0100, we were crossing onto the dreaded Penguin Bank from 300 to 30-fathoms and experienced nearly immediate changes. Most notably and unexpectedly, the winds dropped, and we were being swept by current southward along the bank instead of our intended eastward progress. The weather window was small, Chris was sick, and so without much thought, Yannie was called back into service to motor sail. Chris took this opportunity to head back to the sea bunk. Only too quickly was he back up on deck again hanging over the side losing what was left of his dinner. He crawled back to his bunk and gratefully slept hard. After getting onto the bank, the seas thankfully became calmer and Shawn enjoyed the brilliant phosphorescence and twinkling stars with Orion watching over us for several more hours. Chris awoke at 0400 feeling much better and wanted to take watch to allow Shawn a rest. Together we took down the mainsail and Shawn made haste to the bunk leaving Chris to mull over the option of motoring either to Lanai as planned or to Kaunakakai Harbor on Moloka’i, usually too far upwind to sail from Oahu. Feeling astonishingly well, Chris enjoyed a few hours of slicing through the calm water watching shooting stars and the rising sun. Shawn awoke at 0730 as we neared the entrance to Kaunakakai Harbor.

Welcome back to Moloka’i! By 0800 we got the anchor down and set, had called the harbor master to relay our arrival, and dived into bed to rest as we gently swayed at anchor. After several hours of sleep, we (including Grizzly) awoke and enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of thick sliced deli turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce topped by a fantastic sunset. Although the passage was tougher than we like, working through the struggles of our adventure always makes safe landfall in paradise that much sweeter. Overall, we are both very thankful to be where we are, together, and living our dreams.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Too much or not enough Oahu??

Just in case you're wondering why everything seems to take us so long. This is what happens when Chris has breakfast duty… Needless to say, Shawn ended up making brunch around noon and now we have a nicely cleaned sink with all the old no longer functioning adhesive material completely removed.

We can’t decide if we’ve had too much time or not enough on Oahu. We really had all the intentions of being in Oahu for only 1-week. But at the end of that week, the forecast for crossing looked grim. No problem, we can always find fun ways to explore and spend time. Mellow is more our style anyway. So we continued to visit Chris’ grandmother frequently and added trips by bus to see interesting parts of Oahu. While APEC was in full swing, we tried to get away from the city to hike Diamond Head, but found that for safety of the dignitaries, the trail was closed early. So we hopped another bus and continued E to Hanauma Bay. Permanently off-limits to motorized vessels of any kind, this well known bay is where hoards of Honolulu tourists descend to snorkel the beautiful reef. Ironically it is also where Chris’ grandparents watched workmen dynamite a section of the coral in 1957 when the first Trans-Pacific undersea telephone cable was laid. From here we had a gorgeous view of Diamond Head at sunset to the W and Koko Head and the fullmoon rise to the E.

The next day we did an around-the-island bus trip stopping at a few points of interest. Our first stops were on the NE windward side of the island; Kaneohe Bay and Mokolii Island (locally known as Chinaman’s Hat), which might just have the most beautiful bus stop in the world. We caught another bus and got off again to explore Kawela and Turtle Bay on the NW windward side of the island. Again we boarded yet another bus and continued SW around the island, and near literally stepped off onto the the world renowned beaches of the “North Shore” where tons of surfers were shredding the small waves of Pipeline and Sunset. The energy of onlookers and surfers alike was abuzz in preparation for the imminent annual ASP Triple Crown surf competition.

Over 2-weeks in Honolulu-town and still, the weather was not mellowing. We negotiated a monthly rate with the Kewalo Basin folks and although there was a small weather break forecast for the end of the next week, we decided to buy a full November bus pass (an upgrade from the 4-day passes we’d been using until now). Also, our list of fun things to do kept growing. This extra time allowed us to visit Chris’ other uncle, Strat, show him Tao, and join Grandma and him for another trip to the Punchbowl for the year anniversary of Grandpa’s passing. On the 17th, we had to move Tao to the slip open on the other side of our dock as the owner of the one we’d been in was due home. Shawn taught a yoga class at Bikram Yoga Nimitz in Honolulu and Chris met with Dorothy Iams and sat in on a few science classes at Punahou School. We were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of humanity with stores constantly reminding us of the approaching holiday season. Since USPS was accessible here, we decided to do our Christmas shopping early. Among all of these tasks, we continued to visit Margi every couple of days, and the howling trade winds persisted. We are under the impression that winter weather in Hawaii includes more breaks in the trade winds than summer months- however this has not been our experience thus far. Pouring over the online weather models, we found a small 24-hr window starting Thanksgiving afternoon before stronger-than-normal trade winds would return late Friday, and decided to attempt an eastward crossing. Our focus immediately shifted to tying up loose ends in preparation to sail.

We mailed out boxes stuffed with holiday gifts, filled our tanks with diesel which required a half mile walk to the nearest fill station and back with a 5-gal jug twice (good job Chris and thanks to Kewalo Basin Harbor for lending us a dolly!) and water (always a tedious task was made more interesting by requiring carrying twelve 5-gal jugs from the water spout at the far end of the dock and then lowering them down to our boat at low tide because our drinking water hose was way too short for the distance). Finally, off to the grocery to provision for a couple of weeks as we make our way back to the Big Island via at least one several day stop at Lanai. Two back packs, 5 rip-stop nylon bags (one of the unsung heroes of our adventures) and $250 of groceries later and we caught a bus back toward the harbor and walked the final half mile to Tao where we cleaned up and stowed our purchases. The next morning we grabbed an early bus, poinsettia and Christmas present in hand, to visit Grandma for a nice Thanksgiving brunch (as well as the added bonus of a last load of laundry, hot freshwater shower, and frozen water bottles for our fridge). Even though there are many things we would still like to see and do on Oahu, we were able to experience much more than we ever expected, and most importantly, it was very special for us to be able to spend so much quality time visiting with Chris’ grandmother. Thank you, Margi!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A “quick” visit to the rainbow capital, Oahu??

Tuesday, October 25th, and yet another channel crossing; this time the Kaiwi Channel with destination Honolulu, Oahu. In an attempt to balance making some miles before the winds got too strong and having enough wind to mostly sail, we set the alarm for 0330. At 0500 with no winds and in complete darkness, we exited Lono Harbor utilizing the GPS track we had collected when entering. As it was the day prior to a completely New Moon, a tiny sliver of moon rose above the horizon heralding the waking sun soon after exiting the harbor. We motored until almost 0800 until we were nearly off Penguin Bank, a shallow area running SW off the edge of Moloka’i, when a slight breeze filled in. Over the next two hours we encountered light winds everywhere from WSW to NW, and rolling uncomfortable seas caused by opposing currents rushing along the shallow bank (see map below). Finally, just after 1000 a squall passed over head bringing comfortable winds from the expected E direction.

Another hour later we started to pull reefs in the mains’l and by noon, as we approached the western edge of the channel, the winds were up to 20 knots and we had lashed the entire main down. Having heard motors all morning only to discover time and again that they were planes, we finally spotted our first real traffic- a cargo ship speeding down the channel toward Honolulu. Why wasn’t it up on the AIS yet? This was a good reminder that there is no substitute for standing watch and using your eyes. As it turns out, we (Shawn) had mixed up the early morning cable connections which left us without actually receiving signals (oops!). Many thanks to the ocean gods for allowing us safe crossing, as traffic is one of the big concerns over the nearly 40-nm crossing. Once in the protection of Makapu’u Point (the easternmost point of Oahu), the sea state suddenly settled and sailing conditions became very SF Bay-like. We had a beautiful hour of sailing during which we watched first Koko Head and then Diamond Head Crater come into focus. It was Shawn’s first time to Oahu and she was amazed at the huge quantity of houses clinging to the foothills. Whereas on the Big Island there were fresh-looking lava flows, here on Oahu, it looked like there were flows of houses covering any surface flat enough. Then we rounded Diamond Head, and Waikiki and Honolulu’s skyscrapers came into view. It was quite a culture shock to have left Moloka'i, the least populous of the main Hawaiian Islands, and arrive in Honolulu the largest city on Oahu, the most densely populated island of the archipelago.

Immediately we picked out all the normal big-city-on-the-water things; parasailers, submarine glass bottom tours, tourist filled catamarans, cruise ships, etc… We were able to sail directly to the entrance of Kewalo Basin Harbor, one of the few spaces we’d been able to find in our attempts to call/e-mail from Lono Harbor. We are grateful that the Kewalo Basin harbormaster, Charles Barclay, welcomes cruisers in spite of our transient schedules. Once Yannie was cranked up, we pulled down the sails, and Shawn ran around like crazy attaching lines and fenders. Chris steered us into the harbor channel, and watched surfers carving up waves both to port and starboard. We pulled alongside a tire-lined temporary dock to check in. After some slow paperwork, we made our way into slip “107” whose owner is absent until mid-November. Our first “dock” tie-up since Mexico, we both realized that each harbor experience in Hawaii has been unique. Honolulu is its own universe. Originally serving the fishing fleet of Honolulu, Kewalo Basin is now open for commercial and private use. Despite the change in use, no upgrades have been made to the docks; therefore, the fixed dock that we were assigned is more appropriate for a 100-ft vessel with much more freeboard than Tao. Still, we’ve made it home, tying dock lines from all four corners of Tao and adding chafe gear where necessary. We are especially grateful to have found space just days prior to the beginning of APEC (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation). This meeting of economic leaders from 21 Pacific Rim countries, including President Obama, will lock the city down with everyone on high alert and several maritime closures.

We hoped to accomplish only a few things while in Honolulu. At the top of the list was to visit Chris’ grandmother, Margie. Since here, we have been visiting her near daily at Arcadia, the retirement home that she and Chris’ grandfather moved to in 1997. As an added bonus, our surprise visit overlapped with Chris’ uncle Peter and his wife Andrea’s. We enjoyed visiting with them (tours of Punahou School, Manoa Valley, Lyon Arboretum, and the Outrigger Canoe Club), and with their help, we managed to get Grandma down to Kewalo Basin Harbor for a pleasant visit to Tao! Although we planned the visit for high tide, the distance from the dock to the boat and negotiating our life-lines required too much acrobatics for her 93-yr old body. Andrea cleverly found a 5-gal bucket for a seat on the thin dock finger and we supplied one of our Hilo-purchased umbrellas to ward off the alternatively beating sun and “liquid sunshine” that arrived in waves. Margie and John had been avid sailors over the years and it was very special to share the boat that we sailed across the Pacific to get here.

We also visited Chris’ grandfather a few times at the Punchbowl, a national cemetery and now the resting place for thousands that is an amazing memorial to the sacrifices of those who have served in the Pacific. In addition, family friend Lynden (Dave's best friend from Punahou School) and wife Jackie took us on a tour of some Honolulu sites including the windy and historically significant Nuuanu Pali (cliff) overlooking Kaneohe Bay on the north side of the island and out for a nice dinner. We have taken classes at all 3 recognized Bikram Yoga studios on the island of Oahu; Honolulu, Nimitz, and North Shore. The first two are about a half hour bus ride from our boat, though unfortunately neither of them honor Shawn’s teaching certification. Therefore, frequent yoga classes for both of us get quite expensive unless we’re here long enough to get on the teaching schedule. The third was a 2-hr bus ride through the center of the island to the North Shore, an area renowned for its legendary big-wave surfing. We also checked out SW Oahu by bus and Chris has only to hop to the other side of the Kewalo Basin Park to catch some surf.

Chris managed to catch a cold here in populated paradise and the trade wind pattern is conspiring to keep us here a bit longer- neither favorable for us to leave in a timely fashion as we had planned. Sometimes we wonder why we try to plan. Our island exploration and visiting activities halted for the past few days for Chris to get better and we are currently making new plans as we watch the weather. The strong trade wind activity is forecasted for at least the next week. APEC is here next week so Waikiki and Kahe Point (two of the three real anchorages on the south side of Oahu) are closed to vessel traffic. Although we had planned to make a “quick” trip to Oahu, we are a bit boxed in. We might attempt to brave our way around the E edge of Oahu and up to Kaneohe Bay, or alternatively spend a few more days here and then work our way along the protected SW edge of Oahu (a bit reminiscent of the Kona coast on the Big Island), or maybe just stay in this safe harbor until the weather is favorable for a comfortable eastward Kaiwi Channel crossing. We hope to at least round the island via the amazing bus system here, possibly teach some yoga, and definitely continue to visit Chris’ grandmother to name a few ideas. There is always plenty of interest to do, just don’t expect a straight or short answer when you ask us what our plans are.
(thanks for the nice photo Andrea!)