The Sail to Molokai
(8/14/98 - 8/15/98)
Oahu is approximately 25 miles from Molokai, the closest island to the east. Back in August, a friend and I decided to sail my boat over to Molokai and anchor at Haleolono Harbor for a couple of nights. Although I've been sailing in Kaneohe Bay for 19 years, my offshore sailing experience is very limited. Nevertheless, we decided to have a go at it and it turned out to be fun, although the trip over was pretty wet and wild. Here is a description of the event. Sorry - no pictures!
Mel, a friend from the Sierra Club, came over Friday morning at 2:30am and we loaded the pickup and headed for the boat. By the time we got everything loaded and left the slip, it was 3:30am. We motored out of the yacht club, past the large coral head, and then raised the sails and headed into the bay. It was very dark and the sprinkling of small flashing green and red lights was confusing, but I had made the sail to the channel entrance in semi-darkness a few weeks ago and knew how to read the lights. After a while we came upon the red and green channel markers and motored out the length of the channel. It was still very dark and the wind was picking up, it began raining slightly, and the swells coming down the channel grew in height. Eventually we reached the buoy marking the outer end of the channel and raised the sails. To gain an advantage on the wind we tacked to the northwest for a while before turning eastbound.
After 40 minutes or so we came upon Moku Manu, a large rock island jutting up a couple of hundred yards off the Marine Base. We glided through the gap between the rock and the Base and then set course for Molokai, navigating off my hand-held gps unit. By now the sun was starting to show some light on the horizon and the winds were picking up more than ever. Along with the increasing winds came the whitecaps and choppy seas. Weather reports had forecast 8-12 foot seas and winds 20-25 knots. I'd say both were pretty accurate, although the seas for the most part were probably more like 8-10 feet.
The next several hours were pretty interesting with the boat pitching, bobbing, and crashing through the swells, occasionally sending up a wall of water which the wind would immediately shower back down upon us. The boat handled it just fine, though, and we never considered turning back. But we were quickly drenched and remained so for the rest of the trip.
Mel brought a hand line on the trip and trailed it behind the boat to see what he would catch. Soon after laying it out, he caught a 2' tuna which he pulled up into the boat and threw onthe cockpit floor while he tried to straighten out the line. The fish flopped around on the floor for a while and then suddenly began to shake violently. Something within the fish had ruptured and it was bleeding profusely and shaking even more violently than before. The combination of bleeding and shaking sprayed blood all over the cockpit in a matter of seconds. I had never seen anything like it before; it was as if the fish had just exploded! Mel spent the next 15 minutes or so with a bucket cleaning up the mess. He managed to catch 5 more fish; all smaller than the first. He let them go.
As we beat our way across the channel Molokai appeared on the horizon and continued to grow until we were now aiming at Laau Point, the extreme southwest corner of the island. The last time I made this trip (in a friend's boat) we were becalmed as soon as we rounded Laau Point, and I hoped this would be the case on this trip too. However, when we rounded the point this time the wind blew as fiercely as ever, but simply changed directions. Now we had to head directly into the wind and it made our progress slower than ever. After zig-zagging for an hour or so, we decided to motor the rest of the way.
It was 1 pm when we finally motored into Haleolono Harbor, wet and tired but glad to be there. There were three other sailboats at anchor and we chose a mid-way point between them all and set the main and stern anchors in such a way that we would be secure. The wind was still blowing in the harbor very strong and I was concerned about the anchor slipping.
The rest of the day was spent tidying up the boat (everything down below had been churned into a big mess) and relaxing. Mel took the kayak and explored the shoreline for a while and I remained on the boat. After dark we cooked a light meal and then turned in.
Originally we planned to remain on Molokai on Saturday and return to Kaneohe on Sunday. But after spending the afternoon swinging on the anchor, we decided to make our return trip Saturday morning. There isn't much to do at Lono Harbor.
We got up at about 5:15, ate breakfast, secured everything the best we could, and prepared to depart. As it turned out, both anchors had set themselves very deep in the mud and were extremely difficult to dislodge. The only way we were able to do it was to run the line around a winch and crank very hard on them until they started to raise. We motored out of the harbor, talking briefly with another boater who was preparing to leave, and raised our sails and turned westbound. The other boat, a sailboat about 38' in length, was about 1/2 mile behind us and remained so for the entire trip back. As we left the island of Molokai, Oahu was nowhere to be seen because of clouds on the horizon. So we simply steered a course given to us by my gps (I think *everyone* should have one of them) and headed out across the channel.
The winds and seas on Saturday were strong, but fairer than they had been the day before. The trip was mostly dry and comfortable and we made good time. At one point dolphins appeared all around the boat jumping into the air, and gliding past as silent grey shadows streaking through the water just below the surface. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone.
Finally Oahu appeared and continued to grow larger as we churned onward. At one point I could see a vessel at our 10 o'clock position. I kept watching as it grew larger and larger, but remained at the 10 o'clock position. Because it remained at the same position, this indicated that we were on a converging course. Soon we could see it was a large container ship so I asked Mel to call him on the marine radio to make sure he knew we were there. The ship replied and said that he saw us on his radar and asked us what our intentions were. We told him that if he maintained his speed and heading that we would alter slightly to the left and pass behind him. He agreed and this is what we did. It was very interesting to see this huge ship pass right in front of us out in the middle of nowhere. And, it makes me realize that the "big sea theory" might not always protect a small boat sailing in the darkness. Thank goodness it was daylight and we were able to clearly see him!
We followed the shore of Oahu, remaining about 5 miles offshore, until we went through the gap between the Marine Base and Moku Manu again. Then about 4 miles further on to the channel buoy where we turned into the bay and then headed back to the yacht club. It was 1:15pm when we pulled into the slip, making the sailing time just about exactly 7 hours. This was quite a bit better than the 9.5 hours it took on the outbound voyage.
Mel and I agreed that it was a great trip. We learned a few things from the experience (put fish in a bucket, for one) and didn't get sunburned too badly. The boat is cleaned back up and ready to go again, except for some recurring problems with the engine that I've been fighting for the last several months. But it's going to be a while before we go inter-island again, simply because it's such a long trip. Now we can just tell folks, "Been there; done that".