Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Honokohau and Yoga

Honokohau Harbor, just 4 miles north of the well known Kailua-Kona, is a nice respite. Blasted out of solid rock, it is known as the safest place on the Big Island in heavy weather and also has the only haul out facility. Though created for commercial and fishing boats and lacking cruising amenities (no power hook up or showers and no permanent living aboard), it is wonderful that we can be here living aboard legally for 90-days per calendar year for super cheap (though we don’t yet know the exact price as they’re in a transition to an online system).

Our first day here we wandered around familiarizing ourselves with the immediate area. We asked lots of questions of Daniel, the DLNR Honokohau Harbor Master (it is not completely clear about regulations in certain areas, and everyone we talk seems to provide conflicting information, i.e. anchoring in Kawaihae…), the DAR (Department of Aquatic Resources), and Gentry Marine regarding hauling out and dry storage possibilities (there are currently 2 spaces available for a 33-ft boat). In search of a booklet the DLNR mentioned providing coordinates and information regarding the 175 free day use moorings around the islands (installed to reduce destruction of fragile coral) we found the marine hardware store and a surf shop that told us about a surf break within walking distance.

We meandered toward the surf break and stumbled into the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park (one of 3 on this side of the island). This park preserves the costal sections of two traditional ahupua’s (land divisions), each with sufficient resources to support its historical residents. Originally each division ran from the forested upper slopes of the volcano down through the lava flats all the way into the ocean and included ingeniously engineered fish traps, fish ponds, raised beds for crops and hand dug or natural anchialine ponds for drinking water. We walked a long loop starting at a beach just north of the harbor breakwall that had innumerable huge green sea turtles feeding placidly at the edge of the water then continued on along the coast past the surf break and finally to the recently restored Kaloko fishpond. The wall that separates the ocean and brackish water pond is amazing and the artistic masonry work, without the aid of cement, was described as “listening to where the rock wants to be”. From here we headed inland and walked a restored portion of The Kings Highway to the Visitor’s Center. We continued onward to close the loop home and stumbled on a boardwalk with a self tour booklet describing a multitude of enchanting petroglyphs and made it back to the beach we started from in time to watch the sunset over the turtles.

(Can you see the two figures in the left picture?)

Originally, we had planned to spend a few days in this area by taking a mooring in Kona Bay, but have been told they are all now privately owned and the DLNR manager of that bay to ask about availability is on vacation until next week. On the upside, Daniel told us we are indeed allowed to anchor there and not required to take a mooring as we had thought. So, our second day we decided to find our way into Kona to scope out the scene (although there is no bus here, we’ve found it relatively easy to hitch a ride from here into town and a bit more difficult to find a ride back). Kona feels a bit bigger than Hilo and in our wanders we found several grocery options (including our preferred KTA with good poke selection) and made our way to the pier, off which we plan to anchor. The cruise ship that is in port in Hilo on Tuesdays apparently makes it way to anchor off Kona on Wednesdays, which it happened to be, and the pier and waterfront were filled with tourists so we wonder what it looks like the rest of the week. Since we were in town, we searched out Bikram Yoga Kona, the only Bikram studio on the Big Island and took a 5pm class, our first in 8 months! It felt incredible; both of us have been missing exercise aboard and we are searching for a way to practice more yoga in this cruising mode. One of our (or at least Shawn’s) goals during our exploration of the Hawaiian Islands is to visit as many Bikram studios as possible from the boat. We hope to take at least one class from each of the 3 Bikram yoga teachers at the Kona studio over the next few days and Shawn is excited to guest teach.

Another small world story (the last being after having just met another young cruiser, Brian, in Hilo also recently sailed to the islands from mainland, we were pointed to look for “Brian of Kainani Sails” by Chris' grandmother who happens to live on the same floor as Brian's grandmother in Oahu. Turns out Brian and his father were also the contractors that constructed the addition on Chris' sister's house in Oregon a couple years back). Anyway, a couple days ago a guy walking by our boat stopped to chat. After a few moments we determined that he owned one of the sailboats we had seen while anchored in Puako and after a few more we realized he was basically family. We had been told to look for him by river guide friend Ariana's mom who had a close friend that had been cruising in Hawaii for over 25 years... We spent a nice couple hours of chatting with Michael during which we learned a lot about cruising around the islands and were then surrounded by the glow of “small world encounters” for the rest of the day.

Our current plan is to enjoy the mellow Honokohau, yoga, turtles, and maybe even some surf while we're here and then make the short hop out to the Kona anchorage to poise for another push south along this beautiful coast. Although it is warm, some days the clouds blanket the sky here most of each day and our solar system does not quite keep up, but luckily others the sun blazes through all day long and our battery banks fill up early. We look forward to resupplying with a few jerry cans of diesel, another load of fresh food and getting back out onto the hook again soon.

Friday, July 22, 2011

First anchoring adventures on the Big Island

In our estimation, cruising in Hawaii is completely different from sailing in Mexico. We aren’t familiar with the weather patterns and there isn’t the well informed cruiser base of information we had in the Sea of Cortez. Still, we have much information to go with (Mehaffy cruising guide, Soggy Paws compendium, and NOAA weather radio) and are learning the patterns by observation with every day we are out. Since there is currently no lava flowing into the water around the very windy and exposed southern route, we chose to head north around the Big Island. To find safe anchorage, it is necessary to get around the northern point into the lee of the island which requires skirting the edge of the infamous Alenuihaha Channel where winds crossing the Pacific are funneled between the islands of Hawaii and Maui causing extremely increased wind and wave conditions.

Since 74-nm is a long way for us during daylight hours and we were hoping to avoid the afternoon winds in the Alenuihaha Channel, we decided to leave very early and make miles motoring until the winds filled in- expectedly around sun rise. Our alarms went off at midnight Thursday July 14th and we slowly organized to head out of Hilo Bay. As we pulled Rocky aboard around 0130, the sky opened for a wet send off. As usual, the rains passed quickly and we motored out of the harbor under the full moon. We were barely past the breakwall when Shawn spotted the first tug-towing-barge on its way toward the harbor. Smack in the middle of the shipping lanes, we set a course offshore to avoid and had barely relaxed after passing safely when Chris spotted a second round. This time, past Peepeekeo Point, we chose to pass on the island side of the tug and its barge so set course now toward shore. Once safely past, Chris took a sleeping shift and Shawn oogled the full moon, moonbows (yes, rainbows created by moonlight), the moon set and rainbows as the sunrise shone upon Mauna Kea.

By 0800 the trade winds had filled in with a solid 10 knots and up went the sails for an amazing sailing tour along the uninhabited and rarely visited northeast coast filled with extreme valleys. Shawn awoke from her cat nap to views of magnificent valleys cut into the island including Waipio Valley on the left, a wall of 11 (yes, eleven!!) waterfalls tumbling thousands of feet to the ocean and Waimanu Valley to the right. It was so beautiful that we just stared and kept trying to capture it with pictures as we enjoyed our downwind sail. Finally we spotted the ‘Upolo overlook we had stood at just over two weeks previous and quickly after we were passing the wind farm marking the north end of the island.

Of course did not manage to avoid the afternoon winds, so as we entered the channel and winds started to increase, we downsized sail area by dropping the main. We were lucky (and wouldn’t have done the passage if it had been forecast otherwise) to have only moderate tradewinds as when we rounded the island at about 1500 we saw solid 25 knot winds gusting to 30 with Tao flying under 80% jib alone. Then just as suddenly as the winds filled in, we were in the lee of Hawaii and had no wind at all. We chose to drop sail and motor in for ease of selecting an appropriate anchoring spot in these new-to-us anchoring conditions (finding large enough sand patches while avoiding commonplace lava, coral, and boulders). Nishimura Bay is amazing with a beautiful football sized patch of sand easy to anchor in. We set the hook in very light on-shore winds and watched the strange winds and swells over the next hour before the winds shifted 180-degrees to strongly off-shore. For the next two days conditions were the same, 15-knots gusting to 25+. Good to know that this is what this area sees with moderate tradewinds blowing.

We spent three nights and two days enjoying this amazing anchorage and had no idea how good these anchoring conditions actually were. Though it was windy, the set was solidly in the sand in a comfortable 35-ft of depth. It was crazy to look offshore to see the lumpy seas in the channel behind us and to realize how tenuous our hold to this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is and how much open water lay behind us. We enjoyed wonderful views of Maui across the channel in the clouds, a reconstructed heiau (“religious temple” this one dedicated as a navigational aid used by the early Polynesians) on a cliff to the north of us, dramatic dark clouds sliding down the foothills of Maunu Kea creating rainbows each afternoon but no moisture ever reaching us in the anchorage, increased southerly swells and spectacular sunsets. Everything felt new here in conditions we were not familiar with, and we realize that Fatty and how the dinghy will perform under sail and rowing in different conditions is still relatively new to us (it was a bit awe-inspiring to think about the possibility of being swept out to sea in it). The first day Chris bravely explored rowing Fatty in the windy conditions and of course we found that Fatty’s hard bottom and keel allows so much less sideslip than Eeyore that rowing was easy in the conditions we had. He proceeded to scout possible landing areas for us to scramble ashore while Shawn baked bread and got more comfortable with each gust that didn’t budge Rocky’s hold in the sand below. The next day we spent exploring the area together first rowing a half mile to the neighboring Mahukona Harbor, filled with weekend revelers, for a snorkel and then gratefully back to Nishimura (which felt like our personal anchorage), to anchor Fatty, snorkel in and scramble ashore between swells. We spent several hours hiking along what was an old sugar cane plantation railway and other 4WD trails in the as-of-yet undeveloped open lands with million dollar water views.

Itching to find what we had understood as the “light wind” side of the island out of the wind tunnel we surely were still in, the next morning we sailed off the hook and headed south on the strong winds. After a mere hour of heavy winds and gusty sailing we passed a wind line and were becalmed. Good thing we had only planned to go a few miles so we had time to wait it out and see how the winds would fill in. We ate a nice egg and sausage brunch and an hour later onshore winds filled in and we had a beautiful sail south past Kawaihae Harbor (that apparently no longer allows anything but commercial traffic inside its breakwalls). Making such good time, we thought maybe we could make Honokohau by sunset, but as the land headed more westerly toward Keahole Point, it became apparent that it would be an upwind battle. So instead, we turned around and sailed into Puako Bay, at the base of Mauna Kea, which we had heard was a possible anchorage. We had also noted 4 anchored masts from offshore, so figured there must be a good spot.

Wanting to check out the entire area for a safe anchor spot we dropped sails, fired up Yannie, and slowly approached the reefs off Puako Bay toward the other anchored vessels. The water here is so clear you can see the bottom 50-ft away and the features appear to be near the surface. Ever so slowly we approached, Shawn watching off the bow and Chris watching the depth sounder, and crossed over the first dark area of rock with plenty of depth (30-ft). However, to get to the boats anchored in what looked like beautiful sandy bottom required repeatedly crossing over rocks and boulders that were getting shallower and shallower. It didn’t look like there was much room on the sand patch anyway and uncomfortable with the rapidly shallowing depths (13-ft below water line, that’s a mere 7-ft below our keel, was the shallowest we saw) we turned around and went back out to find our own nice sand patch in depths we were more comfortable with. After a bit of searching we found a good sized strip of sand where our anchor chain could lay completely on sand in the onshore winds. We dropped and set remarkably easily. Chris got his fins and snorkel and dove to check the set. All was well so we made ready for an evening in a roadstead anchorage putting out the flopper stopper to combat the roll. Abruptly the wind shifted to offshore and was immediately blowing 10 gusting to 15+ knots. As Tao turned around 180-degrees, our anchor chain snagged on the edge of one lone rock. Although frustrating we were grateful that the sun was still out and Chris was able to dive the 35-ft down to easily move the chain over the rock back into our private strip of sand. For the first time ever we were in a situation where more chain wasn’t necessarily better and we decided to pull some in so instead of our normal 5:1, only 4:1 (often quoted as recommended) scope. There was great star watching until the moon came up and the rest of the night winds were consistently strong offshore.

Although Rocky held solidly and our flopper stopper did its job well, it was an uncomfortable enough night on the hook that the next morning we were both ready to continue our southward trek in lieu of exploring the area. Sailing off the hook, we rode the strong offshore winds right out of any wind. We waited an hour drifting in the swells using little breezes that would come this way and that before we finally turned on the engine and motored toward shore where the winds finally filled in; unfortunately from the direction we were headed. All afternoon we enjoyably tacked southwest along the coast until we realized we didn’t have enough wind to get us to our goal before sunset. We decided to motor sail the rest of the way to Honokahau to ensure a good night of sleep and watched planes take off and land from the lava landing strip as we passed Keahole Point.

We reached Honokohau Harbor just before sunset Monday July 18th and did several passes searching for a possible sandy area outside the harbor where we had heard it was possible to anchor. Slim pickings, but we found one and dropped Rocky smack in the middle of it. As the sun set we were backing down to ensure the set and... it dragged! Another first, the sand layer must have been very thin. As the sun had now set we would no longer be able to dive to check our anchor set and since we had the option, we decided to motor into the harbor (we had phoned earlier just in case). It was a bit less-than-ideal to be coming in quite so late, but plenty of lights blazed and Chris had gratefully received good directions to an open mooring. We found ourselves in a tight basin and needed to back past the mooring for our bow into a 15-ft wide space between two small fishing boats. Thankfully the wind was calm, and after some tactical discussion while floating, Chris impressively managed to get us in first try. We did use the railing on one of the power boats to hold onto while Chris jumped off Moni to the dock to tie our two stern lines and Shawn grabbed the mooring with a boat hook to attach it to our bow. It was challenging but med-tied again we had a refreshingly calm night of sleep.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mahalo Hilo and Majestic Mauna Kea

A comedy of errors regarding getting our new smart phone... All went well buying it off Ebay, but after 6 days (including 4th of July holiday) of attempting to implement patience and hoping for our phone, still "out for delivery" according to tracking, to be delivered to Amanda's house, Chris contacted the USPS. There it was at the Hilo post office (and had been for 7-days) awaiting a pick up. Apparently they had attempted delivery and because no one was home had left a note that it required pickup and the little note was lost. Thankfully, we did manage to call the day before it would have been shipped back to mainland. The mystery was solved, so we picked up the phone, though unfortunately the story does not end there. From the post office, Chris took the phone directly to Verizon to start our new data package plan, and that day (?!?!) they had changed their offered pricing structure. No more unlimited data packages, which confuses all of our careful planning regarding finances and having phone and internet access... Frustrating as it is, here we are, so we'll see how one month of it goes and make decisions from there.

We were waylaid once again from leaving Radio Bay by David and Elizabeth, on neighboring Canadian boat Demelza, who offered us to accompany them in their little Toyota rental car up to the summit of Mauna Kea. We have been wondering how to make this journey happen so jumped at the opportunity and enjoyed both their company and the adventure. After a quick stop at the visitor center at 9K feet, we started the slow drive up the $1million/paved mile road. We had only minor mishap when at 13K feet after losing all power, we had to pull over and wait for the car to recalibrate before the final climb. We're guessing the rapid altitude change was too drastic for the fuel injection system in this modern "smart" car to keep up the appropriate fuel to air ratio.

We made it up through the clouds to the summit in plenty of time to watch the entirety of the sun set. Mauna Kea is a massive shield volcano, taller than Everest when measured from the ocean floor to its 13, 796-ft above sea level peak. It is a sacred mountain in Hawaiian mythology and one of the best sights of astronomical observation in the world (due to height, dry and stable climate) with 13 enormous telescopes resting on its summit. Dressed in all of our layers in the just above freezing temperatures at the overlook, it felt like being in a plane above the clouds. We were able to see below us clouds all around, to the south the Mauna Loa peak (Kiluea which we visited is on its flank, but with a different source of magma, geologically considered a different volcano), and to the west all the way through the clouds to the ocean far below and even Maui Islands distant outline. After watching the epic sunset, we were ushered by park employees back down the mountain (and reminded that our 2WD breaks were likely to fail on the descent...). We had a fine slow journey back down through the clouds to the visitor center which had hot chocolate and telescopes focused on the moon and saturn awaiting for all interested, which we were.

We had set up a Saturday departure with the Radio Bay harbor master, but missed it to see Mauna Kea and were not legally able to leave Radio Bay on Sunday, so we did yoga and relaxed. Monday was spent scrubbing Tao down inside and out and cleaning Fatty's bottom in preparation for departure. But Iain and Alyson, a fun couple on their custom built aluminum boat Loon III, had landed and we decided to stick around yet one more evening for interesting happy hour conversation with them. Finally Tuesday morning we managed to break free our mooring lines. Once the USCG was notified that we were leaving past the cruise ship in port, we had an uneventful motor out of Radio Bay, past security for the last time into Hilo Bay and onto anchor (out of the shipping channel and clear of the rocky reefs) inside the breakwall.

It feels wonderful to be back at anchor. The motion of the boat reminds us that we are indeed cruising and not living ashore. Once satisfied with our anchor set and placement, we rowed Fatty ashore to the Hilo Bayfront beach and made haste to our favorite sushi spot before they closed for the afternoon. Then one more stop in the KTA for some final provisions and we wandered through the Farmer's Market before rowing back across the channel to Tao bobbing happily at anchor. We made it back just before the several passing clouds started to shed rain in the sunny afternoon and noting that the current was holding us side to the wind looked up the tides and realized that it is nearly a fully moon. We listened to the weather and downloaded a GRIB file in preparation of sailing out of the bay, watched the cruise ship navigate out of the harbor at sunset and a barge under tow be brought in under bright moonlight. It felt so good to be disconnected from shore and hence reconnected to offshore that we were loathe to leave that midnight so we decided to stay for one more relaxing day at anchor here in Hilo Bay. Our current plan is to leave tonight around midnight under the full moon for a 74-nm passage north around the Big Island to put the hook down on the sunny west side in Nishimura Bay (hopefully before the channel winds pick up too much tomorrow afternoon). We have much enjoyed our in depth adventures around the Big Island from Radio Bay, and now it feels great to be under way again...