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On the Move–Maui, Molokai, Oahu

October 29, 2011

This is an odd way to explore Hawaii’s islands.

Each morning I rise well before first light to race the sun and its attendant winds across yet another reputedly nasty channel. Each evening I drop the hook into a bottom of uncertain holding along an unprotected roadstead or crowded and blustery harbor where I am disinclined to land because next day we race again. Except for a few hours ashore at Hilo (one hamburger, one world series game, one walk in the park), I’ve not been off the boat since September 28th and am thus like those old-time sailors who complained of having seen the world but all from the ship’s deck, the captain never allowing even a day of shore leave. It’s wearing. But it has two advantages: I get a preview of Hawaii’s coast for the intended later return, and I sleep all night.

Mountains of Northwest Maui

From Makena at Maui’s southeastern edge we jump to Mala Wharf (just beyond Lahaina) in the northwest, passing forbidden Kahoolawe and then tiny, crescent moon Molokini close to port with lumpish Lanai much further off. If Haleakala looks like the grasslands of the Sierra foothills, then the mountains one passes between McGregor and Puunoa Points are the same range as seen from Owens Valley, desolate, windblown, round in places, sheer in others with vast canyons dropping steeply to the sea. From the water Lahaina could be mistaken for Catalina Harbor without the casino or the breakwater, and the boats on moorings roll accordingly. Sun sets richly over barren Lanai and rugged Molokai, her tops in cloud, stands close to the north. The wind drops, the sea flattens to glass, and the sense is of being within a vast bay of which the islands are merely a part. Surely the continent lies just to the east.

In fact, that’s the predominant first impression. In a cruise that traverses each island’s lee, their proximity, their aridity, the landform along the unprotected coasts all remind of California. If a detailed log of twenty one days from Bora Bora didn’t inform otherwise, I’d say Murre and I were working our way north among the islands that decorate the coast between San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Early we rise on October 26th for the next leg from Mala Wharf to Kaunakakai Harbor on Molokai via the Pailolo Channel. The trades accelerate to twenty by 0900 without, as we pass behind the latter island, the usual swell. We are abeam Kamalo Harbor buoy by 1000 and have dropped the anchor into twenty feet, mud, behind the commercial pier at Kaunakakai by early afternoon. The south coast of Molokai is bordered by a fringing reef creating several well protected, flat-water harbors, but there is no relief from the wind, and all afternoon Murre’s chain growls in its chock. The supply barge arrives an hour after dark when winds have dropped to barely a breeze and offloads until midnight. When I awake at 0300 she is gone, but in her place is a three masted schooner, unlit, the crew asleep, and we motor quietly past.

I use the hours before sunrise to study the moonless sky where Jupiter is setting and Cassiopeia stands on her head. There are a few old friends, the Big Dipper and Orion, and I am able to grab Taurus and parts of Camelopardalis, but the two Leos refuse to be found, though I can see where they are hiding.

Famous Diamond Head

Today the sun does not bring a driving wind. The Kaiwi Channel is sloppy with steep chop anyway–out of spite, I think. We roll heavily and up comes that familiar rage at Murre for throwing me one way and then another. Oahu is clearly defined ahead, and though we are twenty-five miles from Makapuu Point, I can clearly make out both Koko and Diamond Head. But the five hours it will take to reach these landmarks seems like an eternity. I am weary, weary of the boat, of the perpetual motion when at sea, the sound of a slapping sail, the grind of the engine, the tiny, untidy space. I am tired of canned beans, pate and crackers, and the taste of powdered milk in coffee, of salt water baths followed by the donning of the same salt-soaked clothes. I am tired of sitting, hours upon hours of sitting, and a nearly equal number of hours standing in place. I need a change–I crave it. But the last twenty-five miles cannot be rushed, especially in light winds, so after venting my impatience at the auto pilot, I attempt a reconciliation with song sung at volume to pass the time. No particular song, but random bits of known tunes with filler. It’s kind of like Jazz without any of the fluidity or beauty, and the auto pilot is visibly relieved when I reach repertoire’s end.

Approaching Waikiki

Finally the close-packed mansions on the hills of southeast Oahu are in focus, then white Diamond Head light, and suddenly we are around. The chop subsides, the wind falls even further but is now judged as gentle rather than fickle. Ahead is Waikiki Beach and behind a colorful cityscape that reminds of the Las Vegas strip. Behind that the jagged, green and wild mountains of the Koolalau Range topped with cloud. The view is jarring, ridiculous, delightful. We motor slowly up the Ala Wai channel and into the small boat harbor, itself a floating city of several hundred yachts bobbing below the high rises, and we take our reserved end-tie on C dock. All around is Honolulu buzzing frenetically like any large city. The channel bridge pounds with traffic, the sound of horns. I could be on the Chicago River near downtown. By way of support, the water here is a murky and green. At the end of the pier is a bar where game six of the World Series starts in just a few minutes. I hope you’ll excuse me.


My wife, Joanna, arrived the next day. We visited the marina; I pointed out the high rises, the bridge, the green water and explained my sense of floating within Chicago, to which she laughed. “You’ve been in the tropics too long,” she said. “I left Chicago this morning. It’s forty degrees there today, not eighty, and it doesn’t feel soft or smell like flowers.” 

Sunset from Mala Wharf

Ala Wai Boat Harbor–Just Like Chicago
One Comment
  1. Connie McCann s/v Sage permalink
    October 31, 2011 12:41 am

    Randall, So very glad to hear that you made it into Ali Wai yacht harbour. Say hello to all the folks at the Hawaii yacht club for us – the showers there are delightful and soothe the weary soul. We depart Kosrae for Phonpei on Thursday and are praying, once again, to every god & godess that the ITCZ will leave us alone. Hello to Joanna and give your self some real rest as you deserve it. Cheers, Connie sv Sage

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