A Quick Update of the Last Six Months

April 28th, 2015

Well it’s been six months since my last blog post, which just happens to coincide with the last time I took Bodhran out on an overnight cruise. This blog has always been a way for me to send pics and let people know what I was doing with my life, but most of the time I’ve really concentrated on my cruising life and not life in general. I might get some good cruising in again this Summer, so I better get caught up on all the non-cruisy stuff now.

The plan last October was to stick around Hawaii through the Winter and then sail home to Seattle when the weather became palatable in June. That plan is off the table for now. I’ve just gotten myself into too good a situation here to leave. June through September is the good season to sail back to the West Coast and it could still happen….I have been know to change my plans on a moments notice.

Life at the fuel dock is going great. When I moved Bodhran out here in October, I’d been told that we’d probably be able to stay until December. Here it is almost the end of April and there’s no sign of construction starting anytime soon.

I can’t imagine a much better situation than the one we have here at the fuel dock. The guy who “manages” the property for the company that holds the lease is very, very leissez faire. There are 12 boats out here, 10 of which have people living on them. It’s an interesting experiment in anarchy that’s had a few issues over my tenure here, but for the most part works extremely well.

We get to use the old convenience store as our clubhouse/workshop/laundry and bathrooms. We have BBQs and parties on a regular basis. Rick keeps the veggie garden going, ensuring we have all the herbs, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and broccoli that we can eat. Best of all we live on this little oasis in the middle of crazy Waikiki. We sit and play music in front of a campfire surrounded by all the city high rises with an unobstructed view of the ocean and Ala Moana park.

The other great thing about the fuel dock is it’s location right at the entrance to the Ala Wai Boat Harbor and Ala Wai Canal. The Canal is a dirty drainage that was dug a hundred years ago to drain the swamp that is modern day Waikiki. It’s pretty gross, but it’s very scenic. Most important it gives me a calm place to paddle my latest obsession, my 14′ racing standup paddle board.

Standup paddling, or SUPing, always looked like a silly kind of way to get around. I’d done a little down in Fiji and it was fun, but I still wasn’t quite sure about it. When I had to opportunity to buy a board from C4 for a measly $350, I decided it was too good a chance to pass up. It was a 2 year old floor model that had a lot of cosmetic scratches, but nothing serious.

I’d only paddled my board once when I through my back out at work putting a tool box away in an awkward spot. After a few days of icing and not working, I decided to take my board out for a paddle. My back wouldn’t straighten out before my paddle. What was going to be a quick trip, turned into a 5 mile paddle up the Ala Wai and back. My back felt fantastic. I had full range of motion and I was hooked. I try to paddle every morning and it’s doing wonders for my back. Most days I head out into the ocean, sometimes as far as Diamond Head and back. When the wind pipes up, I’m happy to have the dirty old Ala Wai to paddle in.

Work is going well. I have a great schedule that pays the bills while still affording me plenty of time off. The Winter has been slow except around the holidays and Spring Break. In the Summer it’s really supposed to pick up. It can still get stressful bringing the boats through the surf on big swell days, but for the most part it doesn’t really even feel like work. I hang out on the beach, serve drinks and take people sailing every day.

In addition to the catamarans, I’ve also been working on Swiftsure. Swiftsure is a 68′ raceboat that was built for the 85 Transpac. She took the trophy for first across the line that year. I fill in as a backup captain and have done a lot of maintenance on Swiftsure, but mainly its just fun to sail on a thoroughbred sailing machine.

I’m living a healthy lifestyle, biking, SUPing, hiking or surfing pretty much every day. I live in a great place. The weather is pretty much always good. I have a great circle of friends. I have two jobs, that don’t really feel like jobs. I just can’t justify sailing on when things are this good. Someone told me that it’s hard to move to Hawaii. The islands either accept or reject you. I feel like Hawaii has embraced me in a big way. It’d be plain rude to leave now…..maybe next year.

New Job and a New Home in Waikiki

October 11th, 2014

It’s been a whirlwind 3 weeks here in Hawaii. I feel amazingly fortunate to have slid into life here so well. My last blog post found me undecided, trying to figure out my plans for the Winter. I’d moved over to Kaunakakai, the main town on Molokai where I had good internet access. My first option was to try and get some work on the mainland. I had two prospects, but neither one turned out. Fortunately they got back to me quickly, so I was able to rule out that plan for the Winter right away.

The next step was dust off the old resume and start looking for jobs in Hawaii. I turned to Craigslist and found 8 different captains jobs, mainly on Oahu. I emailed my newly polished resume and got 3 interviews setup within a day. I’d wanted to do a full circuit around Molokai, but alas it was time to be a grown up and find a job.

I started the long motor back to Oahu just before sunrise. The trades had broken down and there wasn’t a lick of wind. It would have been a perfect time to visit the rugged north side of Molokai, but instead I listened to my Suzie Diesel all day as she pushed Bodhran through a silky blue sea.

I pulled into my old slip at Ala Wai Harbor with only 20 days left of my annual 120 day allowance. My mission now was to find a job and find a place to live. Amazingly Gary, a friend who I’d not met yet, tried pulling into that same slip not 30 minutes after I got in. We’d both called ahead of time and were give the same slip assignment. Fortunately the slip right next door was free, and Gary just checked off to park his Endeavor 35 there.

Gary had been at the Fuel Dock before, but had run into some personal problems with a few of the folks there and had to leave. I’d been scoping out the Fuel Dock myself. My friends Garrett on Mary Jane and Chris and Lila on Privateer live at the Fuel Dock and I’d been over for a few BBQs/music sessions.

The Fuel Dock is alas part of the past here in Honolulu. It used to be the place that incoming cruisers went to when making landfall before they got a slip assignment. They had beer, sandwiches, laundry, wifi, a book exchange and would even have concerts. There was always room for about 10 boats to med moor to the surrounding pier while the face was kept free for boats taking on fuel. The property was bought out by a Japanese consortium who purportedly intend to turn it into a wedding chapel.

The Fuel Dock has now been shut down leaving 800+ boats with a long voyage down to the Keehi Lagoon to refuel. The old store has been turned into a clubhouse for the boats that are still med moored around the pier. It’s basically a marina inside a marina where everyone knows each other and it’s not part of the overwhelming bureaucracy that is the Hawaii DNLR. It took two weeks of Gary, Chris and Garrett lobbying for me, but I was able to move in last week. The only hitch is that construction on the new wedding chapel or whatever they build here might start in the next few months, leaving me homeless in Hawaii again, but for now I’m trusting in the mind numbing bureaucracy to work in my favor and keep me in.

While the Fuel Dock story was going, I was also looking for gainful employment. The interview I had up in Kaneohe fell through. They seemed pretty flaky on the phone, so I wasn’t too sad when they didn’t get back to me with directions for where I was supposed to meet them. I did interview for and was offered a mate position delivering the Spartan Queen, a 65′ luxury catamaran, down to Fiji. It would have been a good gig, but would only have lasted 3 weeks. My final position that I didn’t take was running a wildlife tour cat out of Waianae on the west coast of Oahu. It probably would have been a good job, but I wanted to stick around Honolulu and my group of friends here.

I went to a BBQ at (a different) Chris’ house the night after I interviewed with the Spartan Queen. I was all set to take the job when Lili from Privateer mentioned that they needed captains at her job. Lila is a photographer for the various beach catamarans in Waikiki. She gave me the contact info for the manager at the company with two of the cats the next morning, and a few hours later I found myself out on a booze cruise on a 45′ catamaran off Waikiki to see if I liked the job. There wasn’t much of an interview process. 36 hours after Lila had mentioned it, I’d been hired. I’ve been working almost every day since.

The job entails taking up to 49 people at a time out for a 90 minute booze cruise off the beach in Waikiki on either the 45′ Na Hoku II or the 43′ infinitely more fun to sail Manu Kai. That all sounds great until you realize that means driving a 45′ catamaran, renown for their lack of turning ability, through throngs of swimmers and beginning surfers, out through surf that has been up to 6′ feet high on my biggest day. Oh yeah, and you have to do it through an unmarked channel through the reef, that’s a couple hundred feet wide, but is only a few feet deep at low tide and you don’t have right away over anybody. It’s basically terrifying. Even worse is coming in when everyone is looking toward the beach (away from you) and you’re trying your best to keep the boat going slow so you don’t surf a wave and take out everyone in your way, but keeping the boat slow means that you can’t really steer, especially with the rudders kicked up to deal with the shallow water coming through the reef.

My saving grace comes in the form of the two deck hands, armed only with conch shell horns, who direct people out of my way and tell me to back hard when I’m about ready to run over someone. Oh yeah, that’s right there are up to 49, often drunk, people all between me and the bow of the boat while I’m executing these maneuvers. We try to keep them out of the middle of the boat so I have one clear lane to see through, but I have three different line ups that I have to see to make sure I’m in the channel. The deck hands are there on the bow to be my eyes coming in and tell me when I need to make a correction, and God bless them for it.

I spent 9 days training on both boats with the three other captains. I feel comfortable on Manu Kai and have worked a few solo days on her now. Na Hoku II is a bit more of a beast and I don’t quite feel confident I could get out of trouble with her. I need a few more training days with big surf or low tide, but will soon be running that boat as well. The days are long. We get to the boat at 7:45am and don’t get back to the dock until 8pm. Fortunately my commute consists of a 10 minute bike ride from Ala Wai Harbor, through Ala Moana Park, to Kewalo Harbor. I’ll probably end up working 4 days a week, through 3 would suit me better. That’ll still give me time to get some projects done on Bodhran and enjoy Hawaii for the winter before setting sail for Seattle in June.


September 18th, 2014

Even my mom guessed it. Bodhran’s in Hawaii for the Winter. Normally late August/early September are a good time to sail back from Hawaii to the West Coast, but El Nino threw a hitch in that giddy-up. The storms started marching across Alaska two weeks ago and there’s no sign of them abating until Spring. Even if there had been wind north of the islands, I’d have been hit by two low pressures systems a week the whole way home. That and the prospect of a long cold Winter in Seattle makes this an easy decision to make.

I now have decide on one or a combination of three options:
1. Find a place to leave Bodhran and come home and work for the Winter
2. Find a place to live aboard Bodhran and find a job in Hawaii for the Winter
3. Cruise Hawaii for the Winter

The problem with Hawaii is the lack of boating facilities paired with a lack of all weather anchorages. It adds complications to any of the above options. Ala Wai marina is well located, allows liveaboards and cheap by Hawaiian standards, but transient boats are only allowed to stay for 120 days a year. I’ve already used up 100 of them. I can go back in January if they have room, but for now I have to find someplace else.

La Mariana Sailing Club in Keehi Lagoon has berth space for me, but they don’t allow liveaboards. They’re actually cheaper than Ala Wai. The plan here would be to leave Bodhran and go home and work/spend the holidays with family before being able to come back and stay in Ala Wai until Spring. Of course I could still come and go and get some cruising in around the islands. This is my preferred option.

Another option in Keehi Marine Center right next door to La Mariana. It’s a nicer marina and allows liveaboards, but require work history, letters from your bank and a survey before you can get moorage. It’s also $900 a month. If I was working, I could stick around a place like that, but it seems like such a hassle and living under the runway at the airport/air force base isn’t worth spending the premium.

I don’t really like the idea of sailing around Hawaii by myself for 6 months. I could probably get some folks from the mainland to fly out and visit, but I’d have to find some buddy boats to hang out with. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a cruising community in Hawaii, but who know I might find something.

In the meantime, I’ve left Oahu in search of more peaceful climes. I left yesterday morning and took advantage of a northeasterly wind to get across the Kaiwi channel to Molokai. It started out light, but turned into a ripping good sail beating into 15-20 knot winds by the time I reached the lee of Molokai and motored the last few miles into Haleolono.

The wind was from the NE but there’d been a big swell from the south for a few days. The surfers in Waikiki were loving it, but in made for an intimidating entrance to Haleolono. The anchorage is inside a jetty from an abandoned quarry. Coming from the West, it looked like surf was breaking across the entire breakwater. I began to think that the big swell had closed out the entrance, but once I got the very prominent range marks lined up it was clear that there were no breaking waves in the channel. Still it was an intense ride in with no buoys, a 6+ foot following swell and lots of surge making it tricky to stay in the middle of the 150′ wide entrance.

I tucked into the far east corner where the big swell caused quite a surge, but the water was Calm. I hadn’t dropped the hook since Christmas Island. I probably should have checked it before I left. As I went to drop my chain immediately hung up somewhere down in the chain locker. The wind was blowing and there was lots of surge, so I had to hurry. I ran down to find that the chain had shifted pounding into 10’+ waves for days before I reached Hawaii and had ended up a tangled mess. I quickly decided that I’d need time to clean it up, so I popped up to the cockpit, motored back into the center of the anchorage and dropped the stern hook for only the 4th time in 8 years. It took a good 20 minutes to clean up the anchor chain. With the stern hook already down and the limited room for swinging, it seemed like a good idea to let some slack out and motor up to the skinny part of the bay and drop my primary Bruce anchor.

As I was getting my anchor situation figured out, a truck came and started setting up porta-potties which seemed a bit odd in this uninhabited, remote corner of Molokai. I rowed ashore and started exploring and ran into Moku, who was running security for the boats that were already staged on the beach for the weekends 6 person canoe races from Molokai to Waikiki. Moku was cool enough to give me the lay of the land as well as a ride up to the viewpoint overlooking the abandoned wharf. I’m going to be in the way of the 100 or so escort boats for the race if I stick around till Thrusday, so I’ll probably only spend two nights in this sweet little spot before I head off to points further East on Molokai or South to Lanai. I think that I’ll try and get back to Oahu in a week or so and see about figuring out what the next 6 months have in store. In the meantime it’s damn nice being away from the hustle and bustle of my old slip in Ala Wai.

Waiting on the Weather…..and Doing a bit of Paragliding

September 9th, 2014
The Hilton lighting off fireworks for my return to Hawaii

The Hilton lighting off fireworks for my return to Hawaii

I don’t know why I thought it might have been different this time. I waited for a month in Fiji for a decent weather window to get to American Samoa. I was “stuck” in Pago Pago for 3 weeks and Christmas Island for 2 waiting for parts. I’ve now been in Hawaii for almost 3 weeks. I hadn’t been ready for the first two, but for a week now I’ve been all provisioned up and ready to go. Patience is almost as import as skill for an offshore sailor, but mine is starting to wear thin.

The North Pacific High, which I need to be as far south as possible, has been hanging out all the way up in Alaska meaning that I’d have to sail nearly to Juneau before heading back down to Seattle. Now the high has disappeared all together with 5 different lows surrounding Hawaii. Two are tropical storms, but they pale in comparison to the big systems that are already steaming up the Aleutians to Alaska. I could just get out there and see what I get, but there’s been a big wind hole 500 miles across just north of here, which would have me spending half my fuel in the supposed trade wind belt. All I can do is wait.

That's a whole lot of no wind north of here surrounded by certain unpleasantness on all sides.

That’s a whole lot of no wind north of here surrounded by certain unpleasantness on all sides.

On the bright side, I’m docked right at the beginning of Waikiki. I’m getting a little tired of all the noise from the restaurant band across the street and the endless parade of passers by. Still it’s an epic spot to be docked in with some world class people watching.

Mainly I’ve been hanging out with the crew at the old fuel dock. The dock itself has been sold to a Japanese firm that wants to turn it into a wedding chapel. In the meantime, there’s about 8 boats that have their own little private marina in the middle of Ala Wai. They have to use their own anchors and med-moor to the wall, but it’s a sweet setup. Garrett has a Downeaster 32 named Mary Jane. He plays guitar and is fully into paragliding. Chris and Leyla live have cruised the South Pacific on their Hans Christian 33 Privateer and Chris just happens to play guitar and banjo. You can see where we might have hit it off.

The Fuel Dock Compound

The Fuel Dock Compound

The most epic moment of the last 3 weeks came last Friday. Garrett asked if I’d wanted to go with him to the other side of the island where he’d be doing some paragliding. I grabbed my camera rig and jumped at the opportunity to get out of town for a bit. Little did I know that I’d meet Maui Doug over there and get in a 90 minute long tandem flight over Makapu’u Head. Truly one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done.

So now I’m looking at the North Pacific High not forming back up for at least a week. In the meantime, I’m going to try and get a little cruising in. I’m not sure where, but I’m definitely ready to get out of the city.

Christmas Island to Oahu

June 11th, 2014

May 31st
I couldn’t have ordered up a better wind for the first two days from Christmas Island. It was blowing 10-15kts out of the SE allowing me to average a course of 70 degrees. I made 180 miles of easting in the first 48 hours. The only problem was the squalls. Smack in the middle of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), I was getting hit by squalls 3-4 times a day. Then there was the night.

The ITCZ runs along the equator from about 5S to 8N. This zone is characterized by variable winds and frequent squalls. Before a squall hits, you’re lucky to have 10kts of wind. Then the leading edge of the squall hits you with a massive blast of wind accompanied by a deluge of rain. It’s not so bad dealing with squalls in the day time. You can see them coming. You reef the sails and get ready before they get to you. You can even avoid them if they’re not too big and if the wind allows.

At night it’s different. The new moon is tonight. Without the moonlight, when there are no clouds you can see endless stars. Anywhere you can’t see stars is a cloud and possibly a squall. Last night the stars were amazing until about 8pm. Then the clouds came and all I could see was the dim perimeter lit up by the navigation lights atop the mast. Occasionally a red, green or white phantasm would shoot by as a tern or tropic birds would fly through the tri-color perimeter.

It’s always spooky to sail through the pitch dark. Last night I got hit by 3 small squalls through the night. Then at 5am, I got hit by a massive blast. I don’t have an anemometer, but with ½ a jib, staysail and reefed main, Bodhran was heeled over ~70 degrees. I climbed along the walls to get into the cockpit and blew the jib sheet and traveller. Bodhran immediately righted to a more manageable 20 degree heel. It’s hard to describe the violence of the flogging jib in what was probably about 50 knots of wind. Furling the jib is hard enough in that kind of wind, but the 2 bends in the furler extrusion from Christmas Island made it even harder. I stripped several layers of skin off my hands trying to furl the jib. Then it was time for the main.

I hopped out from behind the dodger and was assaulted by rain so hard that it left little red welts over any exposed skin. I quickly tucked in the second reef and rode out the rest of the squall under double reefed main and staysail. This squall was the beginning of a front that lasted for 4 hours. As the sun came up, I noticed that the leech had been ripped out of 3 of the top 4 panels of the mainsail. Fortunately the rips stopped at each of the panel seems, so I started up the motor, trimmed the main to keep flogging to a minimum and powered my way through the rest of the front.

Once I was out of the snottiest of weather, it was time to get the main down. I attempted to make a quick repair with some sticky back sail tape, but it wasn’t meant to be. So off came the main and up went the trysail.

It’s always fun trying to sew in a seaway. The 6′ swell running was a hinderance, but wasn’t too bad. Once again the sailrite sewing maching proved it’s worth and 3 hours after I got the trysail up, the repaired main was back up in it’s place.

My goal was to get to 153˚45W, a full degree of longitude east of the big island. I should be there today. Now it’s time to get north and away from all these squalls. I’m anticipating bigger wind up there, but it should be more consistent and easier to deal with.

June 2nd
I made it to 153˚45W and not much further. After sewing up the main, I was treated to another 36 hours of one squall after another finished off by 4 hours of 25-35kt easterlies. It was about as miserable as sailing gets. Then at sunset the wind clocked to the NE and settled down to 20 knots. I struggled through the night to keep my course east of north, but failed. By morning, I’d already lost 6 miles of easting, but the skies were blue and there wasn’t a squall in sight. I’d picked up the NE trades.

By noon, I crammed on a bit more sail, but was still having a hard time pointing Oahu at 346˚T. I wish that I could have made it further east before the trades filled in, but it is what it is. I’d made 231nm of easing total. I have 888nm left to Honolulu. So basically I’ve got to sail 4 miles north for every mile I sail west. The NE tradewinds should be more ENE, in which case I should make it no problem, but for now I’m worried. Worst case, if the winds continue out of the NE, I can swap over to a port tack and sail ESE for a while and put some easting back in the bank.

June 6th
I can remember thinking to myself 6 years ago that it’d sure suck to have to sail into these waves. At the time, I was thousands of miles east of here, experiencing the NE trades for the first time. Now I’ve been sailing into this unending freight train of waves for 4 days straight. Every once in a while an off sequence wave will pick Bodhran up and throw her down on her ear. The wood in the headliner creaks as the hull flexes between the forces of the rigging and the waves hitting it from various angles. I’m making good progress, but it’s nerve wracking. The winds have been fluctuating between 15 and 25 knots. The wind waves are only a few feet high, but the easterly swell has been running as high as 10 feet. I’ve been confined in the cabin. The awning won’t stand up to the wind and the cockpit is being constantly soaked with salty spray.

I just finished re-reading Tania Aebi’s “Maiden Voyage” for the first time since leaving Bellingham on Bodhran in 2006. It was comforting to read how many problems she had on what was a brand new boat at the time. Granted, she was 18 years old and learning everything as she went along and Varuna was only 26 feet long. Even so, 35 year old Bodhran has stood up pretty well over the years. I still cringe everytime a wave sets her up into the air so that gravity can then spike her back down with a resounding thud. There are little drops of water slowly dripping in the forepeak and around the heater on the starboard side of the cabin. Still it’s nothing compared to the regularly occurring water above the floorboards that Tania was putting up with on Varuna.

There’s 455nm left to Honolulu. In 3 days, I should work my way into the lee of the Big Island. From there it should get a little easier, though passes between the islands are reported to be terrifying at times. I can’t wait to get into some settled weather so that I can start cleaning the salt off of everything.

June 7th
Been getting slammed by 8-10′ waves for days now. It’s amazing what you can get used to, but it sure grabs your attention when the bilge pump starts cycling on. I immediately started checking all the thru hull fittings, but everything looked fine. I started popping hatches and found water on top of the diesel tanks. I’d been heeling to port, so I check the locker above to starboard and found water there too. I then looked up behind the electrical panel and found it dry. For a brief moment I was scared that I’d somehow got a crack in the hull below the waterline. Then I started tearing the amazing amount of crap out of the locker by the quarter berth and struck by a bright ray of daylight. It turns out the 1.5” hose that runs from one of the starboard deck drains to a fitting on the hull had come off. So not only was all the water that found it’s way to the deck drain leaking down below, but also the waves crashing into the hull were finding an unimpeded route into the boat. All it took was slide the hose back on and tightening the hose clamp, but damn that was an unpleasant half hour.

June 10th
Those passages between the islands are no joke. Big wind and big waves, then nothing when you get into the lee of Hawaii’s high Islands. I fairly screamed along the last 2 days into Honolulu. Fortunately I’d kept enough easting that I was able to crack off the sheets and close reach the last 5 days in. It’s a bit unsettling doing >6 knots with just a staysail and double reefed main. I couldn’t have gone too much smaller and still made it to windward.

I’m not sure how far I actually sailed, but as the crow flies, it’s 3200nm from Fiji to Honolulu. Bodhran is fairly beat up, but she made it. Now it’s time for a rest before I think about making the passage to Seattle in September.