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On the Move–Honolulu to Kauai

December 2, 2011

November 10

Once through the breakwater and into the Ala Wai basin, Murre was directed to the Waikiki Yacht Club instead of the municipal marina, which was accepting no more “transients” (Hawaii’s official name for the cruising lot) until after President Obama’s mid-month visit. What possible connection there could be between the arrival of a small yacht and that of a world leader went obstinately unexplained, and only later did I learn that the Ala Wai Harbor Master was famous for closing his marina to transients at every possible opportunity. Thankfully his spite had not infected the Yacht Club whose port captain gave Murre a luxuriously long end-tie and offered to help with the lines. The ladies at the office were equally gracious as they accepted the fee for the slip, the fee for the electricity, the fee for the pool and the showers. And I was allowed access to the bar and restaurant as if I were a regular member, except that I was made to pay my check on the spot. Past the club library, down the hall and by cases of trophies was the club’s private entrance. And just beyond, center-city Honolulu.

Honolulu from atop Diamond Head

The charms of a city open only to those who come in the company of money. While its sidewalks can usually be negotiated without a toll, they quickly lead into temptation. Glittering store windows, the aroma and amiable bustle of restaurants, the bright lights of movie theaters all tug at the wayfarer’s unguarded pockets, and even the aloof museum requires a contribution before unveiling its mystery. A walk in the woods may be free, but a city is pay-as-you-go.

And in a city the vulnerable sailor, so long unable to spend his coin, is immediately adrift. That the smell of coffee-house brew is far more attractive than his own pot seems perfectly natural, as is the fact that ship-board staples are suddenly but leather compared to the offerings that sizzle in a steak house kitchen. A baseball game can be heard at no cost from the radio aboard, but baseball on the large television of a nearby pub and with cheering companions is what he longs for. Inexplicably he finds he is buying a round. He is happy. Everyone is happy.

Honolulu is big and built for fun. It fills the low plane from water to mountain with highrises whose ground floors are full of shops of every sort and whose doors stream with tourists. Tourists fill the street and gather in hordes at the cross walks–American and Japanese mostly, though there are representatives from distant Europe and China. While waiting at an intersection, the rare working man in his dark suit is pressed on all sides by vacationers and the occasional bare-chested, bare-footed surfer and board. By sunrise the waves below Diamond Head are dotted with surfers and soon after the beach fills with bathers–the hotels disgorge their chaise lounges; umbrellas pop open like daisies; dangling tags reveal their hourly rate. Large day-boats glide over the horizon offering cruises to famous swim spots, but few want to leave the beach, and the boat captains sit in the sand playing their Ukuleles for a tip to pass the hours. Surfboards can be rented and lessons received. If you have failed to bring your snorkel gear, that too can be had for a nominal fee. Drinks are served. Here, where it is perpetual summer, the city is always open and ready; enjoyment is available at every turn; payments begin at once.

To Jack Tar, whose pockets piracy had topped with gold, the expenses of a city were at least briefly supportable. But only seawater had flowed into my pockets for a year or more, and I was not so flush with the city’s excitement that I couldn’t hear the urgent whispers of poverty.

Joanna Hiking Oahu Mountains

Fortunately, the weekend after landing in Honolulu this particular innocent was rescued by a Good Samaritan in the guise of his wife, who is accustomed to a city’s bazaar and has a knack for a deal. The Surfrider Hotel room she had booked for the two of us magically, inexplicably became free; for no apparent reason except her presence, the Budget car was upgraded to a luxury class; and at the Pearl Harbor Museum, the docent handed us complimentary passes. Being of the city, my wife is no longer gobsmacked by the glitter and can walk by a row of shops without becoming a berserker. I held her hand tightly as we passed the unlikely fortresses of Gucci, Prada, Hermes (what these stores sell I do not know) on our way to a breakfast at IHOP. Later we hiked the mountains and drove the entire island without spending a dime. But Joanna could not guard me forever. On Monday she returned to the States, and I was forced to plan my escape from Honolulu alone. For this difficult task I retired to the bar of the club where Tom was already in the habit of handing me a Gin and Tonic before I was well and truly seated. Maybe I’ll leave tomorrow, I thought. Maybe.

We motored down the Ala Wai Channel on November 6th headed for Pokai Bay, a tiny, rock-wall harbor near the small town of Wainea, chosen because of its reputation for being a calm anchorage and because it put us within a single night’s sail of Kauai. Even from two miles out, the Honolulu skyline seemed to go on forever. An hour later jets on final approach dropped their wheels right above Murre’s mast. Barbers Point and its refinery loomed ahead and here a tanker was moored to a bright yellow platforms far offshore in the brisk easterlies, swinging on a single line like a dirigible as its ebony cargo was pumped through floating pipes to distant tanks. Even more than the island below it, this ship, I thought, is what keeps the city afloat. Once around Barbers, the island’s terrain dried up. The mountains became dead grass and bare rock. We pulled into Pokai an hour before sunset and dropped anchor in ten feet of water behind the dilapidated sea wall, battered by the last hurricane and never repaired.

Pokai Bay and the Mountains of Northwest Oahu

Next morning I rowed ashore to explore the town and quickly found that the neat bungalows along the beach belonged to the Army and were on a large military compound as now was I. When I asked a young woman leaving one of the bungalows for the walking path to the exit, I received a strange look. How could such a disheveled, heavily bearded man have gotten into an Army compound in the first place, and should she let him out?  My explanations did not resonate, and the woman reluctantly pointed to a gate at the end of the sidewalk. “But it’s locked,” she said flatly. I was still plumbing the depths of my gratitude for the appropriate response when she continued, “Don’t you have a car?” I pointed to Murre, bobbing jauntily in the near bay, and reiterated the technicalities of my arrival. “I came by boat,” I said. “Well, if you had a car, you could go out the main gate.” Then she shrugged and walked away.

But Port Hilo had taught me that the tight wrap of security in Hawaii may be flappingly open at the backside. There an escort was required to ferry cruisers by truck from the pier through two sets of locked gates to the street, but to avoid this trouble one had only take his dinghy to the opposite beach and the same street could be achieved by walking through a field. The field was unfenced and required no government issue identification–in fact it proudly carried a banner: “Public Beach-Pedestrian Access”. And it was much the same at Pokai, where I returned to the beach, turned left, walked to the grassy park, down the drive and was at the main street in five minutes.

Here I discovered the unhelpful woman’s larger betrayal–leaving was not worth the effort. A handful of fast food restaurants decorated the roaring street along with a local grocery, a dentist’s office and a dog grooming shop. I returned to the beach and sunned away the afternoon.

Kauai is the last, most northwesterly of Hawaii’s inhabited islands. Long called the “separate kingdom”, it is seventy miles northwest of Oahu and across the widest ocean-facing channel in the chain, a channel whose roughness twice defeated King Kamehameha as he moved to conquer this final prize. How fast were Kamehameha’s canoes? I didn’t know, but conservatively Murre would require twelve hours to cross in the forecasted “moderate trades”, so we weighed as the sun set hoping for an easy passage and a landfall at dawn.

Rugged Kauai at Dawn

A night scattered with round cloud glowing in moonlight frustrated my attempts to identify the sky, but the passage compensated with other features. My course took us through an area noted on the chart as a “submerged submarine operating zone”, and I wondered how many and where and could they “hear” me. A light on the port quarter soon became a supply tug and barge on a parallel course but making nine knots to our five. It soon passed and I dozed in short shifts as Murre rose and fell, tugged along under jib alone.

An hour before dawn another light approached from dead astern; the Zaandam, a Dutch cruise ship. It became a lighted city as it neared, passing close to port as we entered Nawiliwili Harbor together an hour after sunrise. It spun on its heals to round the breakwater’s bitter end while Murre made a wide and lazy turn of it, and then I steamed into the protection of the tiny marina.

Zaandam entering Nawiliwili Harbor

This arrival carried with it the feeling of coming home, home to the island my wife and I have so often visited and where I now anticipated the welcome of Peter and Nancy, my father and mother-in-law, residents of Kauai now for many years. But there was no one waving to me from the breakwater and the couple on the boat ramp were unfamiliar to me. I motored to my arranged slip and docked. The parking lot was empty. I left the engine running and wondered if I’d got the wrong harbor.

Murre at Nawiliwili

  1. Lucy Heston permalink
    December 8, 2011 2:01 am

    So is this post like a season finale cliff-hanger? When does the new season begin so we can find out what happened at harbor? SO excited ….

  2. Dr. Bruce permalink
    January 25, 2012 7:38 pm

    We are waiting for the next installment – even if it is from the yard 🙂

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