10 Days On The Pacific

200 miles in 10 days

Dad sent me a text on Monday 9/3, "You want to sail around the islands with me?" - This was completely in character for a retired guy, who got back from a year in Vietnam and was living on his boat in Alaska. His work had also included similar shenanigans - tiny airplanes into rural Alaskan villages.

His buddy's boat was getting kicked out of the harbor in Kona. The owner of the slip needed it back, and the boat had overstayed the 120 day limit. Move it or lose it - they faxed a copy of Dad's plane ticket to prevent impounding.

I got a one-way ticket to Kona for Thursday, landing in afternoon so Dad could row ashore in daylight to pick me up at the pier with a rubber dingy. He had the 34ft Beneteau anchored out in Kailua Bay, and started rowing when I landed. I held the tiny dinghy's rope and handed dad my suitcase as waves hit my knees.

The Beneteau had two sails and an inboard diesel motor. It had two bedrooms, bathroom, shower, refrigerator, and microwave. I was situated into the room marked "Crew" - a triangle-shaped bed at the front of the boat.

They had rushed Dad out of the harbor before he could do a proper shake-down. One sail was working, no hot-water, no dinghy motor, and no navigation. We spend the night planning a trip to the fuel docks, and reading instructions.

The next day we motored over to the Honokohau fuel docks, where the Modelo man helped us dock, and figure all that out. Modelo man drinks Modelo at 10am. We filled up both fuel tanks and both fresh-water tanks. Fueling was tricky - they don't have auto-shutoff handles.

Molokai, “The Friendly Isle”

From there, navigating with Dad's iPad, we motored 30 miles to Spencers Point. There was no wind, and we broiled in the sun. We already burned half a tank of diesel, probably from towing the dingy - so we pulled it up on deck.

We got a rope hooked on the prop while trying to moor on a buoy. Dad was super concerned about that, so I dove under the boat with a knife and cut the rope loose. We didn't see any sharks, so he snorkeled around and inspected the underside, and scrubbed the sensors clean with his hairbrush.

We left Spencers Point at 4am the next day for Lahaina, about 80 miles away. Outside the wind shadow, we wore bright orange seat-cushion looking life-vests. Every few hours I sent location pins to my wife, so they'd know where to search for my body.

In the channel between islands, the weather can get serious. We saw 16-18 knots on the way to Maui, which I understand is great for sailing - Dad said more than 25 knots gets unpleasant. By this point the sun had already completely kicked my ass - there is no shade on the ocean. Dad and I had taken turns napping under a makeshift tent. This crossing was the easy part as it turns out.

We got to Lahaina after 5pm. A guy named Jim rafted us to his boat, and we walked into town for pizza. Jim knew the boat, and had volunteered to climb the mast and retrieve a front sail (headsail) fastener. Jim is a hero.

Sailboats are like eighty percent rope. My main job on the boat was to pull ropes and winches. I'd pulled Jim to the top of the mast in a boatswain's chair. Whenever we docked, I'd jump out and slow the seven-ton boat to a stop. Dad knows sailboat stuff, and he would give me the pre-game run-down. I had to the learn knots for buoys and dock lines.

Hurricane Olivia - The 9th in 2018

We were hoping to hide in Lahaina during the hurricane, but they already had dozens of boats queued to get in and no space available. Being rafted to another boat wouldn't work in a storm, also it's against harbor rules, so Jim suggested we dart over to Molokai and anchor in the mud at Kaunakakai. 

On Monday, the sail over was bad. Wind gusts hit 30 knots, and our main-sail got stuck full-out. The sail creased right where it's supposed to roll back into the mast. Inside the cabin, all the cabinet doors opened and the contents were out sliding around on the floor. I threw up two Advil I had taken earlier. The sailboat is an ancient machine perfected over thousands of years, I told myself.

Dad managed to get things under control using the diesel motor to drive directly into the wind. Then while the sail was flapping around, he handed me the wheel, jumped up there and beat the sail back into the roller. It was nearly impossible to talk over all the billowing.

Once we got behind Molokai, the high winds relaxed and we cruised into harbor. The only other guy anchored, a hundred feet away, helped us set our anchor. We gently spun around in circles all night. The hurricane was scheduled to hit Tuesday.

Jim had told us to double-anchor in the mud, so we had to search the boat for an hour under the sun for a second anchor. I'd completely sweat soaked through all the clothes I packed. If they were blood free, I just rinsed them in the sink. I wore long pants as much as possible since every little bump tore my sunburn off. 

Kaunakakai Harbor

On the second day, they let us dock for "safe harbor". The mayor ordered an evacuation of the spit and was working to move some people into the high-school gym. Jerry the harbor master drove us to the grocery store so we could pass through the police checkpoint. We got more beer and peanut butter sandwiches for the boat. This place was great, we decided. 

Peak winds started around 3am. We looked out at that one guy anchored out there, and figured he was our canary. Our boat was strapped-in by all four corners in about six foot of water. I'd poke my head up periodically to experience the roaring winds, and to see if our canary was still there. There was a power brown-out, and we lost phone service.

As the storm passed, wind moved from the side to an ideal headwind. At the center, everything got quiet, and dozens of people came out to check their boats. Dad found a sharpening stone for my pocket knife and checked on the power. We listened to the emergency radio - the Coast Guard announced boat-related accidents regularly. 

After being stuck in the boat for two days, Dad's Apple watch started to heart-rate alarm and his foot looked a little swollen. That night we walked a half mile into town for Molokai Burger - it was the only food open.

We stayed and walked around Kaunakakai four more days. We watched the forecast, emailed insurance and inspection documents to the harbor in Honolulu, and did laundry. We walked to the post-office to get a check printed to pay the harbor fees. We became regulars at the Hula Bean Cafe and Paddlers Restaurant. 

Ala Wai Harbor, Honolulu

We sailed for Honolulu at 7am Monday. It was rough water - like inside a washing machine, but not much spray. We got five foot waves every eight seconds from behind and slightly north. Once and a while we'd get hit with a ten foot wave and I'd check my heart rate - it averaged around 110 bpm for about four hours. This time less crap flew out of the cabinets onto the floor.

We used only the headsail for safety reasons - the main-sail had already attempted murder once. Dad wanted to move faster, but the headsail stuck at three-quarters out. It looked to me like the rope was slightly oversize. I would've been perfectly fine without adding sail.

When I tried to steer in heavy waves, the boat spun - aiming down each wave like a surfboard. "Weather helm", dad called it. To keep our experienced captain at the wheel, I offered to climb out there with a screwdriver to adjust things. No rogue wave tried to eat me as I fiddled with the pulley - I was fairly convinced that Dad would swing around and pick me up if that happened.

We arrived at 3:30pm - thankfully, before the office closed. The Ala Wai Harbor was a huge 700 boats. Having survived, we ate a celebration dinner at CoCo Curry. I bought a t-shirt in Waikiki to commemorate the adventure.

Waikiki From The Deck

No comments: