Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kauai: Sailing to the Garden Island of Hawaii

About 100 miles to the northwest of Oahu lays Kauai, known as the Garden Island of Hawaii. Most people fly and not many people sail across the channel to get to Hawaii's oldest and rainiest island. On this weekday morning, the trade winds are light and so we start our sailing voyage from Ala Wai harbor under power. The forecast calls for light winds for the next few days, but hopefully there will be enough wind to sail at least part of the way. Just in case, Gemini's fuel tanks are full and 20 gallons of extra diesel is strapped to the deck. We're on a time schedule. Its the first week of October and everyone is saying that the north swell is about to kick up and make anchoring in Hanalei Bay dangerous. But I have some good friends, Mike and Haesung from Okinawa, who are anchored there now for the next week or so and they say it's fine.

So persuaded by some and against the advice of others, Gemini departs Ala Wai harbor for her first major inter-island adventure in the Hawaiian islands. At first, the winds are light but steady and Gemini is able to sail on a nice broad reach, putting Diamond Head further in the distance behind. Sailing west and beyond the southern bounds of Pearl Harbor, there's a tanker anchored near Barber's Point that needs to be avoided. This is where the winds die, so Gemini's engine comes to life. Around Barber's Point and past Ko Olina, Gemini churns and burns diesel on a magnetic course of 300 towards the northeast cape of Kauai, over the horizon and not yet visible. The day comes to an end as the lights of Oahu's Waianae Coast replace the sun as it sets over where we know Kauai is hiding.

The winds are still absent and Gemini's engine rumbles into the night. The WindPilot windvane is only good when there's wind so about 12 hours into this voyage the skipper is seriously regretting not fixing the electric autopilot. What was I thinking!? Hand steering all the way to Kauai is not for the feint of heart. If the winds don't pick up, I'm either going to have to heave to and take a break, which would delay our arrival, or I'm going to be one tired fool. Did I mention this was a solo voyage? Well, not really. I have friends waiting in Kauai but on the water out here, its just me and the sea birds.

At some point in the night, still with absolutely no wind and the engine rumbling along, I'm really struggling to stay awake. Scanning the horizon once in awhile and checking the diesel fuel level every few hours, once in the night emptying a fuel can into the main tank is all I can do to stay awake. Trying to micro-nap with one eye open, crammed into the corner of the cockpit with my foot on the helm to steer, I think I'm starting to hallucinate. What is that? Is that the lights of Nawiliwili in the distance? That's no hallucination, finally in the early morning hours Gemini passes the point in the channel where Oahu's lights to the east give way to Kauai's lights to the west.

Morning time comes and its a beautiful sunrise over a blue horizon. It's time to try to catch a fish. We're trolling all the way to Kauai as the contours of the land come into view. First Kauai looks like a dark cloud on the horizon. But then you can see the majestic mountains and the land gradually turns from grey to green. Spectacular green. Kauai is beautiful! Especially when you've been sailing all night and so happy to see land again. Soon, there are boats. Fishing boats all gathered around a FAD (Fish Aggregating Device) buoy that attracts fish. There's birds all around too. The birds are the one constant companion when you're sailing. They're attracted to boats and of course to schools of fish so it's exciting to see a huge flock of them diving in the water. Oh and there's fish jumping out of the water, too! Yeah, I'm going to surprise my friends in Kauai with some fresh fish when I arrive...

Sailing through the fish action with the Rapala lure trailing behind, we get a strike! I reel it in a ways but unfortunately the fish spits out the lure. Then nothing more. Oh well, I need to get to Hanalei Bay before sunset so I'm not slowing down. Still no wind, so the engine rumbles on. Around the northeast cape of Kauai, I can see how this is such a rainy place. There's a line of constant rain, just on the shoreline, but where I'm sailing I'm dry. It's such a beautiful coastline. Putting it behind us, Hanalei Bay gets closer. Dolphins come to play and escort Gemini part of the way.

By late afternoon Gemini arrives to enter and anchor in Hanalei Bay in the daylight. Just in time to meet our friends before sunset and in time for a celebratory drink. Fatigue gives way to excitement. This bay is so idyllic and makes for a safe harbor for anchoring. There's several other boats at anchor here too and there doesn't seem to be much of a swell. Nice sandy bottom and a depth of about 15 ft is perfect for Gemini's anchor and rode combo. Need to use the dinghy to get around and to visit Mike and Haesung on Second Jump, but they come to visit me first to bring drinks and food. Another local friend, Heather joins us too and we all enjoy an impromptu dinner party aboard Gemini at anchor in Hanalei Bay.

After a good night's rest and a sunshower it's time to explore the town of Hanalei. A small village nestled behind the shoreline of Hanalei Bay, there's nice shops, restaurants and a general goods store that luckily sells slippers since I rowed ashore in the dinghy but left mine aboard the boat. The village is very laid back and casual, which is good because I'm still all wet from wiping out in the dinghy when rowing ashore. The surf was bigger than I expected!

We only have time to explore Kauai on land on an afternoon drive. Our friend Heather is nice enough to take us all the way to the trail head of Na Pali Coast, but unfortunately we don't have time to do the epic hike. The weather forecast for the next few days is unstable, so we're just going to make a brief tour here and be on our way. Lots of nice scenery as we're passing through, though...

The weather report says that the north swell is going to pick up and make Hanalei Bay nasty soon. I think the weather report is a little slow because the swell is already starting to get big. So after enjoying some of Captain Mike's fresh roasted coffee and homemade baked bread aboard s/v Second Jump, we all decide to buddy boat and cruise along Na Pali Coast. Mike and Haesung are going to stay in Kauai a little longer but I need to get back to Honolulu. After a circumnavigation of Kauai via the Na Pali Coast. It's a beautiful day and we have good wind.

Cruising along Na Pali Coast with Second Jump, the beauty of Na Pali Coast emerges from the clouds. Rain squalls splash here and there but we dodge them all and sail into the afternoon. Second Jump eventually has to veer away on their own course, but not before executing an underway replenishment drill and delivering a going away gift of a much appreciated cold beverage. Thanks, Mike and Haesung, you're awesome!

The Na Pali Coast is spectacular, especially as seen from the ocean. Gemini sails as close as possible to the coast but of course we don't want to run aground and the winds are affected by the steep cliffs. The cliffs of Na Pali Coast eventually give way to the flat land of Barking Sands and the island of Ni'ihau is also clearly seen on the western horizon. The sun is setting now again and the colors come alive, as dolphins come to jump in the orange and red sunset glow. My camera just can't capture the image, but maybe if I'm lucky can catch a splash from a jumping dolphin.

Its going to be another night at sea aboard Gemini. Just couldn't get to a safe port before sunset and it's not a good idea to sail into an unfamiliar port in the dark. Oh well, its a clear and calm night, not much wind but just a little so at least I can turn the engine off and sail a little. Just outside of Port Allen, Gemini heaves to until sunrise. Need to enter port to resupply on fuel. The forecast says no wind, and I really don't want to be adrift in the Kauai channel.

At sunrise, Gemini enters Port Allen, on the south coast of Kauai. Not much here, in fact I don't even know if there's a fuel dock. After entering and tying to the temporary dock, the harbormaster greets me and confirms, that yes Port Allen is in the boon docks and there is no fuel to be found. In fact, the only gas station that sells diesel is in a town about 20 minutes away by car and so I have to hire a local guy to drive me there. Paying Larry $20 to drive me to town, so I can pay $100 to fill 4 diesel cans, I have to wonder, how much is a plane ticket to Kauai?

Lesson learned from the trip over: with no wind and under power, hand steering for 30 hours really sucks! So before casting off from Port Allen, the autopilot is repaired and reinstalled on the helm. Amazingly, it works this time. I don't even really need it because despite the forecast there's actually some good wind and the windvane does the job and gets Gemini halfway across the Kauai channel before the wind dies. The engine comes to life again and through the night, and into the morning Gemini inches closer and closer to Oahu.

Finally, the lights of Waianae as the sun rises over Oahu. Time to fish again. The lure goes out and once again the reel screeches to the tug of a fish. This time a nice Mahi Mahi. I can see it jumping out of the water. I get it to within 100 feet of the stern and... damn! the fish spits out the lure. I need to sharpen my hooks.

Approaching Barber's Point from the west, its in reverse of when I left. The same tanker is anchored, and the land comes into view as slowly as it disappeared when I left. Its a nice day. Morning turns to afternoon, Pearl Harbor, Sand Island and eventually Kewalo fall behind in the wake and before too long, Gemini is lined up on the channel marker buoys for Ala Wai. What an epic trip.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Waikiki: a sailor's playground

Just out of Ala Wai Harbor, in the shadow of Diamond Head is the world famous Waikiki Beach. Not everyone realizes but this is a perfect place for a casual day sail or sunset cruise. With Diamond Head sheltering from the Trade Winds, the water is usually calm here. Lots of charter sailing cruises operate in this area, with a few catamaran cruises picking up passengers for booze cruises from beach.

At one point in the middle of Waikiki, the "bight" you can get close enough to shore to anchor in 15 ft of water and sandy bottom, just outside of the surf break. You probably wont be alone though, since this popular anchorage is the happening place to have a boat party. Aloha!