Skip to content

On the Move: Big Island to Lanai

April 23, 2012

The seductiveness of a safe harbor cannot be overstated, especially when the harbor in question is not only safe but sunny and tranquil and has its own restaurant where the servers know your name and the fish tacos are excellent. Here the neighbors are friendly to a fault and the passers-by, inquisitive. “You really from San Francisco? And alone?”

Murre ready to depart Honokohau Harbor, Big Island

We had stayed almost a month in Kona and had little to show for it but an abiding satisfaction, a contentment that began to feel like belonging. Yet comfortable as it was, we knew Honokohau Harbor must be abandoned, and soon, if other islands were to be visited in any detail.  Not many weeks remained of our Hawaii cruise; soon Murre would plunge into the North Pacific.

True to form, winds in the Alenuihaha Channel took my intentions toward departure as a sign to increase velocity and stack up waves like boulders. We were ready on a Sunday but had to wait until Thursday for a lull. This put Murre in a foul mood, forcing me to search for solitude (in the form of a baseball game) at the restaurant bar.

Suddenly what I had regarded on one day as a paradise became a prison the day after I’d resolved to leave. The men at the bar, men with large bellies and red faces, wanted to watch basketball. Basketball, of all things!  Their fish stories, once so charming, were now loud and plain, and they reeked of their catch and stale beer just as the heavy air outside reeked of the volcano’s spew. How had I not noticed this before?

The weather service called for “stiff rough-water trades to diminish briefly on Friday before accelerating to near gale levels in front of a shear line approaching from the north.” I didn’t know what a shear line was and resolved not to find out, so on Thursday Murre and I motored in a flat calm (winds behind the islands are no indication of wind in the channels) to the staging anchorage, a run of 35 miles to a small depression in the coast just under the Big Island’s northwestern point called Nishimura Bay. From here the jump across the Alenuihaha would be the shortest.  An hour from the bay and I saw a line of white water ahead. The mountains had finally fallen away to low hills and the ocean winds were pouring into the island’s lee like a river undammed.  For a time I feared the wind had overwhelmed our anchorage, but her waters were flat as we eased in and dropped the hook in sand.

Anchored Nishimura Bay--really more of a roadstead

It saddened me that our second visit to Nishmura would also be brief, just one night, but we must stay ahead of the weather, and this would not allow for going ashore to explore the countryside. I cleaned and stowed below for a boisterous passage, put a reef in the main, laid out my foul weather gear, and set the alarm for 2:30am. But while I was cooking dinner the forecast changed. The arrival of big winds moved from Friday to Saturday night.

We’d get to stay a day.

Looking Southeast from Nishimura Bay--Mauna Loa Rises in the Background


“I hope you know you are on private property,” said the man, approaching slowly. He was Hawaiian, held his long hair in a pony tail, his mouth vacant of several teeth. On his shirt the words “Kohala Perserve Grounds Crew”.

Earlier in the day I had beached Coot on the rocks above Nishimura Bay and begun the short walk to the hill on which stood an ancient Polynesian navigational heiau* that I could see from Murre, one of several such structures on the islands. But almost immediately I was stopped by a sign: “Kohala Preserve Private Property. This site is sacred to the Hawaiian people. Help us keep it for future generations. Please show your respect and stay away.”

It is one of the great curses of cruising, the No Trespassing sign, found a few steps from the beach on almost every island I’ve visited in the Pacific. One learns quickly that if anything at all is to be seen, such signs must be ignored.

However, in this case, and after a moment’s thought, I’d turned away. It was something to do with the wordsacred. I walked out toward Upolu Point over hills of rock and dry grass and scrub covered over with a thick, endless ocean wind; then back to the bay before Nishimura, now a disused landing for the town where white people snorkeled and locals fished; and then back to a neatly manicured knoll, also signed “Private Property”. Here I had lunch on a bit of lawn in the shade of an acacia tree while watching Murre pull with urgency at her anchor.

“Pardon?” I said.

“This property,” the man waved in such a way as to encompass the entire area I’d just traversed, “are you aware it’s all private?”

“I had no idea,” I said. The sign placers were far too conscientious for this lie to pass muster, so I followed up with, “I came by boat; that’s my dinghy on the rocks,” by way of diversion.

Coot on the Rocks with Murre behind. Note the line of whitecaps in the distance.

“I’m just saying in case someone hassles you, you know, that you’re not suppose to be here. I don’t care, personally, I mean. My name’s Luther.” The man stuck out his hand.

From Luther I learned that all the barren land from here to the point was held by a single company, that it had all been cut up for development, but only a few roads had been scraped into the  hills before the project was abandoned. “OK by me,” he said. “I like it better just rock and dry grass. Except here the grass is green because I put water on it. We do weddings right here.”

“And the navigational heiau?” I said.

“What, you been up there?” His look was direct.

“Nope, I saw that sign. But it’s why I came ashore. Why’s it closed?”

“Vandals,” said Luther. “We had an old navigator here years ago who taught us all about the stars and he says the rocks point to Tahiti, New Zealand, California. But the kids like to tip them over so now we can’t find the piko stone (Hawaiian for belly button–i.e. center stone).”

“California?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Luther. He raised his right arm and pointed northeast. “That way.** If you’d like to see the heiau I give you my personal permission. If someone bothers you, just say ‘Luther said I could.'”


The navigational heiau is a jumble of volcanic rubble on top of which stand a number of obelisk-shaped stones of various sizes whose order is entirely unobvious. For example, Tahiti is nearly due south of Hawaii, but no stone combinations obviously pointed in that direction.

I have yet to find any scientific literature on this site.

Navigational Heiau above Nishimura Bay

Navigational Marker with Offerings of Cordage


We departed at 3:30 in the morning under a moonless, starry sky–our day’s destination Manele Harbor on Lanai–and picked up the channel winds within twenty minutes. These were steady out of the northeast at between 17 and 22 knots. On nothing but her jib Murre flew along. Sunup came sweet and rich as cream, then it rose into mixed cloud that sprinkled on Murre for a time.

Murre in the Alenuihaha, Maui approaching

The channel crossing had been my worry, but it was between the islands that our trouble began. Wind died altogether once we’d come behind big Maui, as I had expected, but half an hour later it was 15 knots and wandering between southeast and southwest and then west, much to the wind vane’s consternation. Later the wind died again so that we motored until coming below the saddle that connects the two Mauis where wind was 20 from the north; then it was 20 from the east. An hour of this and we were again in flat calm. Two hours of motoring and we had opened the Pailolo Channel near Lanai in the southeast, and here winds came strongly from the north. But I had grown weary of the game and we motored the last hour into Manele, though we could have sailed well.

These shifting winds between the islands had cost me my favorite hat, which took flight on a sudden gust only to find its one wing, a bill in fact, could not carry it except into the waves. Then there was the ship’s logbook I had set down on the transom during one of the calms. I saw it floating there after the breeze and the chop started flinging water on to the decks and grabbed for it just as it was making for the scuppers.

We made tiny Manele Harbor at 3:30 in the afternoon, a good and easy passage of 65 miles in 12 hours.

Lanai's Manele Harbor, where life is slow and the picnic tables are free as long as one types quietly.


*rock structure, often the foundation of an important building, like a temple or royal home, the rest of the building being made of wood and grass. Pronounced heyow. In such a vowel heavy language, remembering correct spellings is problematic. I tried spelling this word “haeiou” at first and was tempted to throw in “y” to ensure the bases were covered. 

**I didn’t push the obvious point, that there is no evidence Hawaiians knew of North America, much less a particular part of it named in modern times by Europeans.

  1. April 26, 2012 8:22 pm

    Glad to hear that you made the crossing safely! We miss you here as we prepare and things (including but not limited to weather) come up to push our leave date back from Honokohau as well. Keep on posting. Happy Sails!
    Shawn & Chris
    s/v Tao

    • April 27, 2012 2:51 am

      Thanks you two. Pleasure meeting you and Tao in Honokohau. Likewise re posting…keep it coming. Will watch your passage south with some jealousy. OK, a lot of jealousy. No worries re departure date. You’ve got buckets of time, right? 🙂

      RR and Murre

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: