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The Tale of the Whale

Mark Twain called Hawaii "The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean." Fifteen Club members ventured to the fiftieth state this past January to test the veracity of Mr. Twainís observation. While this trip was planned a year in advance, the devastation last summer in the Caribbean made that decision seem clairvoyant.

We chartered three boats from Honolulu Sailing Company; however, they would only charter to us with a local captain, since none in our Club had any local knowledge. This proved to be of as much value on land as on the water. Joining us were Captains Greg on Gauguin, Nate (No Hurry), and Ryan (Naia, the one catamaran in our flotilla), with Club skippers Mia McCroskey, Steve Krakauer and Bob Rainey, respectively, acting as first mates. The other members enjoying paradise were Nancy Beirne, John Francischetti, Joel Mack, and Lisa Travaly (Gauguin); Corry Grant, Cindy Persaud, Karen Strouse, and Walt Wronka (No Hurry); and Linda Baker, Mary Ann Gordon, Nancy Mathiesen, and Doug Otte (Naia).

As this was their first trip to Hawaii, several people decided to arrive a few days early. By Saturday afternoon all had safely arrived and proceeded to the supermarket for provisioning, followed by dinner at various nearby eateries. It was then an early bedtime, especially for those still on east coast time (five hours later), as Sunday morningís departure would need to be early.

After a brief skippersí meeting at 8:00 am to ensure that the Captains, who hadnít been given much information by the charter company, were aware of the entire trip itinerary and what we hoped to accomplish. With that, and some last minute provisioning, tank topping off, etc, No Hurry was off at 9:00 am, with the others away by 10.

 With winds from the northeast, and our destination, the west end of Molokai, lying about forty miles due east, Captain Nate chose to motorsail along Oahuís south shore for a couple of hours, to get a better angle on the crossing. Gauguin and Naia chose to sail southeasterly first, then motor north later. This proved to be the faster route, but what they missed was twenty minutes of three pod of spinner dolphins riding the bow wave and crisscrossing in front, behind, and under No Hurry. What a sight!

 

Still, we arrived at Hale OíLono harbor, a very isolated cove on the west end of Molokai, with plenty of time for a swim, and to admire the sunset. This cove is where locals like to camp out and fish. Naia found out just how unfriendly some Hawaiians can be. The calmest part of the cove was near one campground, where the locals threatened to cut the anchor line if we stayed there. Moving to the other side of the cove, we rafted up along the not-so-seaworthy seawall. This was really the only time we found the "locals" to be anything less than easy-going and friendly.

Mary Ann: "Tonight we had a traditional Club appetizer party. Food was plentiful, as was laughter and Steve's famous piŮa coladas. Boats were quiet by 10:00 pm. About 10:45, Captain Ryan, sleeping topside, heard a loud pop! He was the only person who heard the stern line snap as gentle waves made our fenders squeak. However, the sound of his running feet (always a signal of a problem) directly above our cabin roused Linda and me. Once we were on deck, Ryan explained from shore where he was trying to secure what was left of the stern line to .... something! There werenít a lot of choices other than the rusting piece of iron that had cut through the old stern line. So for a few minutes, as a flashlight was found and some options weighed, Ryan pulled the stern about 20 feet back to the wall. Linda suggested a cleat she spotted slightly ahead of the stern and Ryan agreed it was the best choice. We found a newer line and Naia's stern was made secure, as well as the other boats tied to it. As we made our way back to our bunks, we laughed because we knew an even worse wake-up had been avoided and we vowed never to tie up like that again."

The following morning, a few went for a walk along the deserted beachfront. Then it was off to Lanai, and Manele Bay. Along the way, No Hurry and Gauguin stopped along Lanaiís west coast for a quick swim and snorkel under some towering rock formations. Arriving at Manele, with its very limited docking. we were fortunate to get berths for Naia and No Hurry. Arriving last, Gauguin rafted alongside No Hurry. Many appreciated the shore showers, before heading off to watch the sunset at Hulopoíe Beach Park. In Hawaii one can never tire of the sunsets. Most came back to the boats for dinner, but No Hurryís crew decided to splurge, and dine at the Four Seasonís resort, though not opting for the $700 per night rooms. Naiaís crew finished off the night with a cutthroat game of Farkle.

A pleasant breeze greeted us on Tuesday morning for our sail to the Molokini atoll. This was intended as a short distance, about fifteen miles, so that we could take our time, and do some whale-watching. This is prime whale-watching season, as this is the time of year that humpbacks migrate from the cold Alaska waters to mate and give birth. Whale-watching usually involves some whale-waiting. However, we didnít have to wait long, as the whales were everywhere. And not just lolling about, but breaching. A lot. The breaching happens so quickly, and of course, spontaneously, itís impossible to know when, or in which direction the next appearance will be. And it happens amazingly quickly for an animal that big and lumbersome. By the time someone yells "whale," itís already to late to see what the other person saw, much less get a picture.

Anchoring is not allowed at Molokini, to protect the coral; however, numerous mooring balls are provided. The only catch is that they are about ten feet below the surface. The water is crystal clear, and itís easy to see them, once directly above them. After securing Gauguin, Greg was kind enough to dive with the approaching boatís line to assist in the tie-up. A few people went snorkeling.

Joel: "We snorkeled the Molokini Shoal and viewed beautiful varieties of fish. However, the best views of the shoal were to be had by diving fifteen feet to get a closer look. Whereupon, the sounds of the humpback whale calls could be heard echoing everywhere."

As the atoll is open to the north, we were partially exposed to the swells, so were gently rocked to sleep.

In the morning, we headed toward Maui, keeping all eyes focused 360 degrees for more whales. We werenít disappointed. Along the way to Lahaina, we stopped along the coast for some snorkeling and lunch. We arrived at Lahaina in the late afternoon, and found no available dockage in the tiny harbor. No Hurry and Gauguin anchored in the designated area outside the breakwater, while Naia proceeded a little farther north to a mooring belonging to a friend of Ryanís. Due to the size of the dinghies, it was necessary to make two trips. except Gauguinís had an electric motor with no way to recharge it, so the entire crew crammed into the dinghy for every trip. It was a bit of an adventure with the slight swell, but we made it. Wednesday evening we had a group dinner at the Lahaina Fish Company, one of the best restaurants on the island. The service was excellent and no one was disappointed.

Thursday was a layover day so people could explore the history of Lahaina, the first capital of a unified Hawaii under King Kamehameha. Several on Miaís boat did a historic walking tour, others just strolled around and window and souvenir shopped. All went to see the famous banyan tree, probably the largest youíll ever see (itís the largest in the US). When planted in 1873 it was a mere eight feet tall. Itís now over sixty feet tall, covers two-thirds of an acre, and has rooted into sixteen major trunks. Most gathered for dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise. Yes, itís the name of a restaurant. No, itís not related to Jimmy Buffett, except for defending a lawsuit from Buffett Incorporated over the name. They won, with the stipulation that they would not open any more restaurants using that name (they also own one on Oahu).

Off we went on Friday morning to Kaunakakai on the south side of Molokai. Molokai is probably best known for the colony that Father Damien built to treat leprosy (now called Hansenís disease). Another lovely day in paradise, with more spectacular whale sightings. At one point, several whales put their side fins straight up in the air, almost in unison, so that it looked like a synchronized swimming contest. Along the way, Naia stopped at a cove on Maui, near where they had been moored, for a little swimming. They all heard the whalesí songs by floating perfectly still. Mary Ann says it was one of the "top five moments of my life!"

Somewhere along the way, the starboard engine on Naia started blowing a lot of black smoke, and clearly was not providing any propulsion. Upon arrival at Molokai, Captain Ryan and Bob changed into their diesel mechanic secret identities and dove into the bowels of the aft cabin to make some sense of the problem. After a few hours, and coming up with nothing, they put in a call to a local marine diesel mechanic. The man said he would come down to the boat at 7:00 a.m. the following morning. (Molokai has a small population, and Kaunakakai is very laid back).

 

There being nothing more that could be done, all three crews walked into town to Paddlerís Restaurant, a local favorite. A local rock band was playing oldies, and after dinner several went dancing. Captain Nate insisted that we all experience an experience unique to Molokai (as if we hadnít already). The local cafť and bakery makes something called hot bread that they sell after 8:00 p.m. from the back door. Many were tired, but quite a few followed Nate down the dark alley a few blocks away. Nate brought back blueberry and cream cheese filled loaves, which we warmed up the next morning with breakfast.

A little after 7:00 the next morning the mechanic showed up, looked things over for a bit, then declared that he needed his son to help him, and he would return shortly. However, about a half-hour later, he called to say that an emergency came up, and he wouldnít be able to return. Captain Ryan went into town looking for assistance from any likely place, including two auto parts stores. Alas, no help was to be found, so he went back to the boat for a deep think. At this point it was apparent that we were not going to be able to make our next port of call back on Maui, so we had an unplanned layover day. The crews of Gauguin and No Hurry went into town to the weekly street market, breakfast, and re-provisioning. In addition, Gauguinís crew was trying to get a taxi or rent a car for an island tour. Gauguin had purchased too many provisions, and several bags of ice, to carry the 3/4 mile back to the boat, so were trying to get a taxi to go back, as well as arrange an island tour. At the same time, Unfortunately there were no rental cars available and the only taxi driver who called back but was already booked for the day. Finally, Greg was able to get a pick-up truck from the local U-haul, which didnít seem to have a way to honor on-line bookings. (itís along storyÖ).

Along the way, No Hurryís crew teamed up with Mia and her team for a ride back to the dock. Once back, we learned that Captain Ryan, figuring that nothing was wrong with what was inside the boat, decided to examine the outside. What he found was a ratís nest of a fishing net fouling the prop, preventing it from turning. Removing it solved the problem.

        

Captain Greg was fairly familiar with the island, and took us in two shifts to a lookout on the north side of the island. From here we could see Kalaupapa National Historical Park, the Father Damien colony. The view was spectacular. Itís also amazing how such a skinny island can have such markedly different features. Unlike the relatively flat south coast, the north side has rain forests that rise steeply almost right from the coast. From there, he took us to a local park to walk the beach and relax..

Having the unplanned layover day on Molokai was unfortunate, but we still had fun. However, it eliminated the possibility of completing the planned itinerary of traversing the north coast of the island. In addition, the southerly winds and swells made the planned anchorage at the west end of Molokai too exposed to be safe or comfortable. The three captains recommended a harbor on Oahu a few miles west of the charter base, called Keehi Lagoon, and the La Mariana Sailing Club, home of an original tiki bars, and was used as the set for Hawaii Five-0. This was especially attractive as we would be at slips, with showers, and enjoy our last night out enjoying a Hawaiian legend. Being at slips was also desirable as the weather forecast was for heavy rain in the late afternoon, the first rain of the entire trip. Certainly not conditions desirable for anchoring and dinghying.

To get the Keehi we would have to travel about sixty miles, so we departed at first light at 7:00 a.m. With a combination of light air sailing and some motoring, with a little more whale-watching thrown in, we arrived at Keehi by mid-afternoon, just before the rain. The crews of Gauguin and No Hurry dined at the restaurant, while the Naia gang ate on board. Joel felt that the Mai Taiís here were the strongest, and the best, of the whole trip.

By Monday morning the rain had cleared out, but the winds had shifted back to the east. As it was a short distance back to the charter base (due east of course), Gauguin and No Hurry motored back. Naia, however, got in some last minute sailing.

 

This was the Clubís first trip to Hawaii, and by all accounts everyone had a fantastic time. Any difficulties encountered were outweighed by "but weíre in Hawaii!" Perhaps weíll return there some day.

Captain Nate made two videos that pretty much summarizes our experience. The first is about one minute, the second, about five minutes.

 

 

Photos by Nate Harmon, Steve Krakauer, Joel Mack, Doug Otte.