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Lana’i is a Lump, and other facts

May 3, 2012

The insertion of a super-script comma in words like Hawai’i and Kaua’i I have often thought a needless addition, a popular insistence on the part of the politically correct that is a silly affectation if not downright wrongheaded.

For example the local hue and cry against the US Mint’s 2008 release of a Hawai’i Commemorative Quarter was not that its graphic of the group added two islands as yet undiscovered by science, but rather that the coin misspelled the state’s name. “It’s Hawai’i in Hawai’ian, not Hawaii” they argued, forgetting that this beautiful, ancient language was entirely oral until first put to paper by Europeans in the 18th century.

Hawaii Commemorative Quarter with Extra Islands

Sadly, though not unusually, my trenchant observations reveal their own prejudice. As translated into English by the west, the Hawai’ian alphabet contains 13 letters, all five vowels employed by the other states of the union but only eight consonants, which goes some ways toward explaining the bewildering number of place names that start with a “K” or an “H”. There is, however, a third element in spoken Hawai’ian not easily captured in English script; it’s a glottal stop called the ‘okina, represented visually by the super-script comma.

How important is this mark? Take this island as a case in point. If, like me, you thought I’d spent the last week on Lanai, named such by the ancients because the rich agricultural plateaus of this land resemble a comfortable porch or veranda (defined as such in none other than the Oxford English dictionary), you’d be wrong. In fact, residents of old on Maui who frequented the beaches on the lee of the island looked upon this interruption of their seaward view as nothing more than a lana’i. To them this place was just a lump.*

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Other Facts:

More recently tourist literature has prefered “The Pineapple Isle” to “The Lump”, this in commemoration of the 1922 purchase of the island by James Dole and the subsequent establishment here of the largest pineapple plantation then known. If you enjoyed Dole canned pineapples prior to the plantation’s closure in 1992, the pineapple you enjoyed likely grew on Lana’i.

With just 47 miles of coastline and a stable population of 3000, Lana’i is the smallest, least populated of the accessible, inhabited Hawai’ian islands. (Ni’ihau, just west of Kaua’i, is smaller and has fewer than 200 residents but is not open to the public.)

Most of the island’s population lives in Lana’i City, a plantation town built by Dole, the only such town in existence. The “city” is at the center of the island at 1600 feet elevation and thus is often in cloud. Being thoroughly planted with Cook Island Pines gives it a  faintly New England feel. It also has the distinction of being one of the 11 most endangered historic places in th US.

Restaurant Row, Downtown Lana’i City

Racial demographics, according to one local, are 50% Filipino, 30% Chinese and Japanese, 10% White, 10% Hawai’ian. Filipinos were brought in by Dole to help work the pineapple fields and, just like the rest of us, found it difficult to leave.

In Lana’i City there are no stop lights. There is one coffee shop, one gas station, one playhouse, one post office, one Cultural and Heritage Center and two groceries. There are five churches; most of these are on the same street.

Want to live here? A one thousand square foot home in town runs $500,000; a gallon of milk costs almost $9.00; a gallon of gas is $5.73. There are no signs at the filling station advertising the price. “We don’t even look anymore,” says Becka at the Dollar car rental facility. “Everyone knows last week the price is going up this week.”

A gallon of milk is almost $9.00

When pineapple production on Lana’i became too expensive, Dole sold to developer David Murdock. (Dole had purchased the island from rancher Charles Gay, so Lana’i has a history of one-person ownership.) Under Murdock tourism has taken on a new flare, or rather flare at all. Of the three hotels, two are Four Seasons. In 1994 Bill and Melinda Gates rented all of Lana’i, all 600 hotel rooms and every helicopter within a radius of several islands, to ensure their 15 minute, 150 guest wedding remained private. Since then Lana’i has been marketed as “The Private Island” or “Exclusive Island”, and Murdock has sought to make it anything but…but without success. Murdock claims to lose money every year and is looking for a buyer.

Luxurious Four Seasons above Hulopoe Bay

Hotels are staffed with locals; men and women who once worked the fields are now the backbone of the service industry. One story has it that an English butler was brought over to run the training program.

On such a small piece of land, land in the rain shadow of Maui, finding sufficient water for crops of pineapple and then later for crops of tourists has been a problem. Average rainfall  at elevation is 25 inches, a not insignificant amount except that there is only one mountain up there to catch it; elsewhere on the island gets much less. Early ranch manager George Monroe planted Cook Island Pines along the ridge crest to drip-filter water from the cloud cover into the aquifers. Dole used this water to irrigate his corps, and now hotel pools and world-class golf courses drink it up. Water use is a controversial issue on Lana’i.

Most of the island is dry grass and rock, like this ridge above Manele Harbor

But not half as controversial as Murdock’s plan to establish the northwestern part of the island as a wind farm. This unpopulated area of Lana’i is rocks, grass, and wind. Endless wind. And on an island whose domestic electricity comes from a diesel generation plant (see above price of fuel) this issue appears to be a no brainer. It isn’t. I spent most of an afternoon talking to local elder Albert Morita at the Culture and Heritage Center about this and other subjects. Albert is a soft-spoken, subtly intelligent man of charm though his trademark cowboy shirt might initially suggest otherwise. From him I learned that:

1. Wind farm proponents base success claims on production up-times of 40% due to the island’s very consistent winds, while industry standards are more in the range of 18%. No one expects that wind turbines will be consistently productive. If wind isn’t blowing, they can’t turn; but few know that there is such a thing as too much wind, which endangers their delicate parts. The northwestern edge of Lana’i faces the Pacific’s Pailolo Channel, one of the nastiest channels in the islands. There’s just too much wind here.

2. The wind farm will not directly benefit Lana’ians. Electricity produced here will be piped over a large, under-sea cable to Honolulu. Lana’ians will pay Honolulu rates for the their electricity. What’s more the one undersea cable in the plan will most likely be three, one primary and two backups, and so capital costs will be huge. The project may never pay for itself.

3. The project won’t bring jobs to local people and it will cordon off large areas of traditional hunting ground.

4. Even many of those residents who support the project do so under duress. For example, Murdock has threatened to cancel local union contracts unless these unions openly support the proposal. It’s become a divisive issue and “it’s tearing the community apart,” says Albert.

This sign advocating wind power on a fence line right next to …

… this sign protesting it.

Printed and hand-made signs for and against are posted in yards and along fences and bumper stickers are numerous, but from my perspective, that’s as far as the divisiveness goes.

Though Molokai is officially the “friendly isle” I have found that appellation appropriate for Lana’i. Everyone waves like they know you and there is no such thing as a five-minute conversation.

From Sherry, the Harbor Mistress, I learned that the solar panels on her roof make using her electric car free. “And solar panels mean my electricity bill doesn’t double when my daughter visits,” she said. From Emily, Director of Guest Experience at the Four Seasons, I not only hitched a ride the eight miles into town (she is the only woman who has ever stopped for me) but got a short tour of its sights. The man who runs the one art gallery showed me a map of the off-roading available and introduced me to the mouflon sheep. Albert, the elder in the cowboy shirt, patiently answered my many questions for three hours, well past the Culture and Heritage Center’s regular hours. “I’m a volunteer; I get paid overtime,” he said smiling.  I learned later he was also president of the CHC board.


Now we are waiting for wind, or rather, less wind, for our passage to Molokai across the Pailolo Channel. Small Craft Advisories have been posted every day in memory, and the harbor has at least one other vessel also waiting for the right moment, a small fishing boat whose owner is Al, a tugboat stevedore from Molokai who was here for some deer hunting. He and his two young children looked grim when they pulled in. They’d tried to make it home; they’d been to the point. “The sea was all big stuff, all smoke,” said Al. The boy was crying.

One might ask why a heavy cruising boat like Murre would feel obliged to be wind-bound in weather that binds an open, 20 foot fishing run-about, and that would be a very good question.


*This and several of the below facts from Lana’i, The Elusive Hawaiian Island–the One that Captain Cook Missed, Anderson Duane Black, Vintage Press, New York, 2001.

  1. Lawrence Killingsworth permalink
    May 4, 2012 3:59 pm

    OK, let’s give it a try.
    Thanks, Randall. I know a lot more about Lana’i (and glottal stops) than I did five minutes ago. Always enjoy your excellent stories.
    Fair winds — but not too much wind.
    –Lawrence Killingsworth

    • May 8, 2012 6:22 pm

      Nice to hear from you Lawrence.

      And do remember to take notes. There may be a quiz tomorrow. 🙂


  2. carwin867 permalink
    May 6, 2012 2:26 am

    Hello Randall and thank you for your efforts to document your sail, and adventures. I have been following your writings for several years. Starting with your adventures documented on the MOA site, and especially this one from when you left san francisco. I check your site almost daily to read your stories. Thank you again from a dreamer who will probably never take a similar trip, though I have planned it many times. Thanks again Henry Wood

    • May 8, 2012 6:41 pm


      Thank you not only for following along but for reading along. I have no illusions that what fills my heart makes it past the eyes balls of most others. As it should be. But it is gratifying to know that some besides myself enjoy the words. Yes, as you note, the adventure really began with Murre’s purchase eleven years ago and all that was entailed in getting her (and her crew) ready. (Though I’m still not so certain about her crew.)

      Action starts with idea…the dream…so keep that going.



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