Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011

Celebrating Hawaiian Style

On Christmas Eve, as a gale raged with 18-ft seas in the Alenuihaha Channel, we were safely moored in Honokohau Harbor decorating our Charlie Brown Christmas tree, listening to the breathing sounds of endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Honu) just outside Tao's cockpit, while sipping Jack Frost tea under a star-filled moonless sky. Christmas morning, Shawn taught and Chris took an 8 am class at Bikram Yoga Kona. Just before Final Savasana at the end of the packed class, one of the students proposed to his girlfriend; so much love! Back on the boat we gorged on sushi and our favorite Hawaiian style poke then worked it off with a first try of stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and a sunset hike. Maybe not the traditional celebration (at these moments family does seem very far away), but we very much enjoyed a sunny, warm, ocean-filled Hawaiian Christmas together! To herald in the new year, we plan to go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in search of flowing lava and hope to catch a glimpse of Pele's glow. We'll let you know how that goes. Happiest of Holidays to everyone, wherever you are!!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unstable Winter Weather Passages

Sunrise in Lahaina on the 10th of December brought moist, windy, and rainbow filled conditions. We constantly monitored the 6-hourly updated NOAA weather reports surrounding the unstable atmosphere and watched the rapidly changing conditions trying to make a plan. In an afternoon lull in the wind, we managed to get to shore in time for the Saturday market in Banyan Tree Park. While ashore we visited the Lahaina Yacht Club to check in, then went to the grocery to buy our favorite Hawaiian style poke and sushi snacks, and finally we scoped out areas to leave Fatty and park a rental car. We were hoping to spend a few days on the mooring, rent a car and tour some of eastern Maui that we have not yet seen (Haleakela and Hana). Unfortunately, that night we had another poor night of sleep. The strong currents (reminiscent of La Paz, Mexico) held us as strange angles to the wind and waves, allowing our roll stabilizer to tangle with the mooring. When we awoke to hear that the motor boat next to us broke free of its mooring and damaged a nearby cruising catamaran, we decided that it was time for us to move on.
Holiday Banyan Tree
One of these dinghys doesn't look like the others.
We love Fatty!!
After visiting new friends on Quixotic (whose catamaran had sustained damage from the errant powerboat), we prepped Tao to sail. The fickle winds vanished just as we were about to sail off the mooring, but with our minds set on moving to a more comfortable sleeping anchorage, we fired up Yannie and headed east. New destination: Sugar Beach at Kihei, with back up of McGregor’s Landing if Maalaea Bay was too rough to cross (there were 20 knot winds forecast for the day). With our full main and 80% jib, we sailed on the inconsistent shifting winds in the lee of the Maui West Mountains. We passed Awalua Beach anchorage, where we had spent our 10-yr anniversary, and continued on around the point and past Olowalu. It was at this spot on our way west that winds had screamed down the valley prompting our decision not to anchor here. This time, however, we were more prepared and dropped the full main before reaching the slot in the mountains while sailing by. The weather felt electric. Ahead toward Maalaea Bay, conditions did not look good with the tops being blown off frothy white caps. But still determined, we continued on. However, we were quickly overpowered when we reached the gap winds. It was indeed as rough as it looked from afar. These were not the predicted 20-knot winds, closer to 40-knots! Upon Shawn’s pleas and knowing that we were indeed overpowered with our current configuration, Chris jibed us and we headed back toward the safety of Awalua Beach. Unwilling to believe that we were unable to even reach McGregor’s Landing, stubbornly Chris begged Shawn to let us try again. With longing glances over his shoulder, he claimed it looked like conditions were mellowing again and maybe we had just seen the leading edge. A second attempt, however, had us quickly running back to safer conditions.

We reached Awalua Beach just in time for the winds rushing down the 4K-ft mountains to reach there as well. Yannie chugging away and sails down, we headed for our previous anchor point where we knew there were expansive sandy conditions. Over the howling winds Chris yelled “Drop the hook!” And Rocky was immediately on the job setting without the engine. For good measure we did back down on the anchor as we observed what the astonishingly strong winds did to Tao at anchor. Flying dust made it difficult to look into the wind, water was being blown off the wave tops, whirlpools of water were being sucked off the surface, and waves were already kicked up by the time they reached Tao only 350-yds off shore. And then suddenly, it would mellow to 20-knots, only to come raging back again clocked up to 40-knots with our anemometer. We let out nearly 7:1 all chain scope to handle the sudden extreme gusts which continued consistently late into the night. The NOAA forecast showed the next morning would be clear to move, but when we awoke, the gale warning that had finally been issued was extended and there were still lingering gusts. So we stayed put and used it as a recovery day even though the conditions appeared to be waning. Shawn cooked and rowed Chris into shore where he hitched a ride into town to grab a few more food items. Tired from several nights of poor sleep, we went down with the beautiful setting sun and slept for a solid 11-hrs.

Recovery setup below decks
We awoke early Tuesday the 13th, and were underway by 0900. Surrounding conditions were much improved and NOAA forecasts were still looking favorable (SW winds 10-15) for a Wednesday Alenuihaha Channel crossing. Slight breezes filled in and we slowly sailed toward La Perouse, our planned jump-off anchorage on the SW edge of Maui. It was a whale watching extravaganza. As far as we could see each direction, there were spouts, humped backs and whale tails diving. The whales were apparently on the move and it was magical. We made it across Maalaea Bay by 1300 where the winds disappeared. Drifting on the currents, we turned on Yannie to move the final few miles to La Perouse and checked the weather again. Not surprisingly, the forecast had changed. NOAA was obviously having difficulty forecasting with the unstable air masses aloft. The updated forecast predicted that conditions would hold through the day (now E 15-20) and then Wednesday deteriorate to solid 20-25-knots. We could see heavy storm clouds hanging over Haleakela promising rain, and feared that the window was closing for making comfortable safe passage across the Alenuihaha Channel.

Clouds menacing over Maui
Decision point, do we stay or do we go? We decided to conservatively poke our nose out into the edge of the channel where we figured the late afternoon winds would be at their maximum. If it was too much, we’d turn around and happily enjoy more time on Maui. As we left the protection of Maui around 1400, winds filled in solidly from the E at 15-knots with seas to 4-ft. Flying along under 80% jib alone, Shawn lobbied to turn back, pull into La Perouse and get the boat more prepared for the crossing, then leave before the sun set. Chris lobbied to continue on and prepare underway to make miles across the channel while the sun was shining. Together we decided to go for it. Chris bravely went on deck to set the jack lines and detatched the anchor in order to put the teak plug into our haus pipe. Feeling uncomfortable, without options to reduce sail, Shawn quickly talked Chris into a heads’l change. We dropped the jib and spent 20 uncomfortable, very wet minutes on the foredeck attaching the storms’l and removing the 80% as we floated side to the swell. Up went the storm jib, and we needed a little more area, so a triple-reefed mains’l quickly followed. We wanted to point toward the north end of the Big Island (120-deg magnetic), but instead, we settled for the southern point (150-deg magnetic) which was as high as we could point in semi-comfort. We were being set by a strong current and it was apparent that we were ferrying across a massive river of water squeezed between Maui and the Big Island. By 1530, the winds were gusting to 25-knots with seas building to 5-ft and an ominously cloudy sky. By 1700 we had lost some wind speed, and  by the time we saw the last rays of sun, seas had increased to an uncomfortable 8-ft. Five hours after entering the channel we were half way across when the winds and seas abruptly decreased and the clouds began to break, letting stars peek through. We raised the full main and sailed another half hour in less than 10-knots of wind and 4-ft seas when it finally became obvious that we weren’t really sailing, but drifting due south with the currents. Chris voiced the option of waiting for the wind and Shawn, still feeling exposed, barely half way across the channel, voted for the iron genoa.

Yannie to the rescue, again. It wasn’t until the winds reduced to nothing and then switched to the SE that we finally believed that, although still 20-nm out, we were once again in the lee of the Big Island. We both felt that we were being welcomed home into the safe embrace of the Big Island’s shadow. With the engine on we were able to motor sail another 6-hrs in mostly calm conditions with stars ablaze and phosphorescence in our wake. We watched on the AIS and subsequently searched for lights of not one but two cargo ships barreling down the Alenuihaha Channel at 14-knots of speed and one tug-towing-barge north of us leaving Kawaihae Harbor at 8-knots for points west where we had been shortly before. The quarter moon finally rose brightly but was quickly obscured by a squall that brought a half hour heavy downpour and complete freshwater rinse for Tao. As we approached our waypoint for Kiholo Bay we were greeted by the sweet scent of freshly rained upon land. Although we don’t like to come into anchorages at night, we were confident with our previous exploration and luckily dropped the anchor right into the large patch of sand just before 0200 early Wednesday the 14th.

Our eastward journey across the Alenuihaha Channel was 50-nm, 20-nm longer than our westward crossing much higher in the channel. If you add another 18-nm from Awalua Beach to the edge of Maui, we traveled 68-nm over 17-hrs. We are grateful to have made another safe passage across the deservedly infamous Alenuihaha Channel, and would not like to see it in conditions any stronger than those we saw. Although the weather window did stay open throughout the next day, it has since slammed shut and there are currently gale conditions (>35-knots with 17-ft seas) in the channel which are not forecast to let up until just before the New Year. In the safety of the Big Island leeward waters, we reveled in the land of black sand and red sunsets. We spent two gorgeous days at anchor in Kiholo Bay listening to whale blows and songs, watching huge manta rays swimming, sailing over reefs in Fatty and exploring ashore, all the while discussing our next options. When a space came open in Honokohau Harbor on the 16th, we quickly made our way there to secure moorage in safe harbor for the holidays during the dangerous Kona-wind season. As we motorsailed south along the coast, we watched whales and dolphins blow and dive. Once in the harbor, after topping our fuel and talking to the DLNR office, we were welcomed by Tim of Midnight Blue (who we last saw in Punta de Mita) on his new paddleboard as we made our way to our current home, slip J-28.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lovely Lana'i

Tao in Nanahoa anchorage, western Lana'i
Lana'i from Moloka'i
As December rolled in, the winds were finally forecast to decrease. Just before 1000 Thursday morning the 1st, we sailed south off the anchor, directly downwind out of Kaunakakai Harbor en route toward Lanai. As we poked our nose out into the Kalohi Channel, the light winds began to veer easterly (the tail of Pailolo Channel winds dominate here) and then continued to veer to the south so we put full sail up for an upwind sail. A check on the AIS alerted us to an eastbound tug-towing-barge that had already passed ahead. A half hour later, another glimpse at the AIS showed a second eastbound tug-towing-barge, this one headed toward Tao. At first this raised our anxiety level, but they were far enough away that we were able to eventually sail out of their path and they passed to our stern. Clear of traffic, we then noted a squall over Molokai to the NW. We could see white caps and a sheet of moisture headed our way, so we completely dropped the main just in time for the wind to shift and increase. An hour later the squall had dissipated and we were again under full sail rounding the NW edge of Lanai for 5-nm of gorgeous sailing in 12-knots of wind with calm seas in its lee. As we neared the island, winds vanished, we dropped sail and motored in to check out our hoped for anchorage: Nanahoa, named after the male fertility god of Hawaiian legend.

Chart showing the channels between islands


Nanahoa pinnacle

 Nanahoa anchorage, also known as Five Pinnacles, is a leeward island anchorage along steep cliffs of western Lanai, tucked in just north of several sea stacks jutting out of the water. It was a bit disconcerting to be anchoring as a small swell rolled in creating a massive blowhole just ashore. However, after diving on the anchor to check it was solidly buried in sand and deploying the roll stabilizer, the  magic of this place was palpable as the setting sun lit up the cliffs and spires surrounding us. Although we surmise from guidebook descriptions that it is usually a bit calmer (there was a 14-ft NW swell rolling into Kauai only showing up at Lana’i as 2-4-ft because of the protection of all the older islands to the NW), it was indeed gorgeous! The next morning we had fun exploring the area where water meets land from Fatty.

Sunset at Kalama Nui
With a few more anchorages that we wanted to explore on Lanaduring this lull in the winds, we decided to move on to the next anchorage that afternoon. We quickly motored in the calm conditions to Kalama Nui anchorage, less than 2-nm away. This little secluded cove is located at the base of one of the few deep valleys in cliffy western Lanai. It is tucked between walls of layered lava and known to have flat, clear waters. Though beautiful and safe, the conditions when we were there were not welcoming for swimming. This was intensified when out for a row in Fatty, Chris sited a 12-14-inch tiger shark fin in the cove a mere 300-ft away. So, instead, we sailed Fatty less than 1-nm south to Kaumalapau Harbor, the only commercial barge harbor on Lanai. We had planned to anchor there one night, but as the harbor was quite small with another sailboat already at anchor, we decided to keep Tao in the protected waters of Kalama Nui a second night.
Kalama Nui anchorage

Kaumalapau Harbor

Tao sailing away from Kalama Nui
On Saturday the 4th, we sailed out of Kalama Nui along stark 1600-ft cliffs called the Kaholo Pali toward Palaoa Point, the SW tip of the island. Just before rounding the point is a sacred cove, commonly known as Shark's Fin Cove after a large lava rock protruding the water surface. It was a favorite fishing ground of King Kamehameha I, with the site of the ancient Kaunolu Village above, and also the site of Kehekili's Leap where warriors demonstrate bravery by leaping off the 80-ft cliff, out 15-ft past a rocky base into the cove in only 20-ft of water. Two sources told us that there was a pull mooring among these towering cliffs that we could use overnight if no one else was on it. After a bit of searching, we discovered the submerged float in a surreal spot that we could never have anchored. Through the extremely clear water, we could see a beautiful rocky coral ground 50-ft below. With our flopper stopper working overtime, we were grateful to be able to watch the sunset from the cove and early the following morning, we sailed off the mooring to slowly make our way 6-nm along the coast to Manele Bay small boat harbor on the SE edge of Lanai.


Tao in Manele Bay harbor
Manele Bay, the only all weather harbor on Lanai, was indeed small and we were lucky to find space at a dock, for 4-nights of nice flat calm sleep. Soon after we tied up, the clouds opened for an unexpected 10-min downpour, which we learned it rarely does there. We considered it a good omen. This tiny harbor was peacefully relaxed with brief busy periods throughout the day when boatloads of people arrived and left via the Lahaina to Lanai ferry. A quick stroll from the boat took us to Hulopo’e Bay with a large sugary white sand beach flanked by lava bed reef tidal pools, and a secluded eroded volcanic cone with another offshore sea stack called Sweetheart Rock, Pu'upehe Islet of Hawiian legend. Early one morning, we caught a shuttle up to Lanai City, the islands only town, where all 3K residents of the island live. The town has a distinctly Pacific northwestern feel with Cook Island Pines lining the ridges catching fog-drip to provide critical water resources for this otherwise arid island. We enjoyed talking to people at the Lana'i Culture and Heritage Center and learned a bit about the islands rich, well documented history. Although known as “The Pineapple Isle,” after a time when Dole owned most of the island, pineapples are no longer grown here. Instead,  it is now nearly all owned by one entity (Castle & Cooke) and the dominant industry is tourism with two mega resorts run by Four Seasons who lease the land. Back in the harbor we met Norm and Lori from cruising catamaran, Falcor, recently arrived from Queen Charlotte Islands Canada. We decided to stay an extra night to enjoy Manele Bay more and celebrate Lori’s birthday with appetizers which turned out to be an amazing 5-course meal with the finale being a chocolate cake with lemon icing that we managed to make in the pressure cooker (since our oven needs some replacement tubing). We thoroughly enjoyed our time visiting this island and would love to explore more- though to get around anywhere else, it is either necessary to do some rigorous hiking or have access to a 4WD vehicle.

Lahaina, Maui rainbow
With the NOAA forecast calling for an increase in the trade winds, we decided to make haste out of Manele early December 9th moving to leeward Maui to await a weather window for jumping back across the Alenuihaha Channel to the Big Island. Between Lanai and Maui was a frustrating sail that turned into a motor as we crossed the Auau Channel. Winds piped up early and gave us enough boost to reef down our main, but when we tacked back into the lee of Maui West Mountains, winds disappeared leaving uncomfortable mixed seas. Having seen a few whale tails off shore from Lanai, during the 14-nm trip we searched in vain for a close up glimpse of the humpback whales that come here every season to mate and give birth. When we reached Lahaina mid-afternoon, we decided to take advantage of the gracious offer of the Lahaina Yacht Club to use its moorings for free for up to 2-weeks. After Chris dove on it and seized an open shackle, we were greeted by spinner dolphins, rainbows, strong winds and strong currents. After watching the sun set followed by full moon rise, we set our alarms for 4am HST and awoke to see the full lunar eclipse. These moments, when we feel so close to nature witnessing its grandeur, are one of the sustaining factors in our cruising adventures.