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.


  1. Sounds like it was an uncomfortable passage to where you are currently. I'm thinking you will be moving on soon to Lanai and then to the big Island. I am excited to fly out to visit you in January; meanwhile, I wish you safe passage.


  2. Ok Shawn, you're just trying to make it look like Thanksgiving wearing the beanie, jeans, and flannel aren't you? We all know it's 75 or 80F. Sounded like a rough ride, glad you guys made it.