Oct 112014
 

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.

Sep 182014
 

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.

Sep 092014
 
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.

Feb 202014
 

We stuck around Namena a day longer than zee Germans. There was a northerly wind forecasted so they bugged out to get back up to Cousteau before they had to bash the whole way. We decided to go with the flow and head south to Makogai.

We had a forecast for 10 knots out of the north for our trip south, but it never materialized. Instead we motored in flat calm seas pulling two fishing lines behind us. Mélanie spotted a bunch of boobies going crazy over a bait ball and we abruptly changed course. The first hit came fast on the rod. Mélanie worked hard to try to get it in, but it was too strong and nearly spooled all the line off the reel before it shook the hook. It did create a knot which we didn’t get fully worked out before we got another strike. This one too through the hook as we didn’t have any drag setup because of the knotted line. I worked out the knot and got the reel ready to go again for the 3rd hit, but even with maximum drag, the fish spooled me. These guys were just too big for my rod and reel setup.

Instead we turned to the handline. We switched out the blue squid, which the tuna had been ignoring, for a blue rapalla. Fortunately the fish were still in a feeding frenzy as we circled around for another pass. The handline went taught and Mélanie started dragging it in. Unfortunately the fish spooked when he saw the boat and she wasn’t able to handle the line. We lost another one.

We came up with a new plan for fish number 5. When the handline went taught again, we kept motoring along for 5 minutes to tire the fish out. This tactic worked like a champ. Mélanie wrestled the fish alongside the boat and I hit it with the gaff. I don’t know how big the other fish were, but this beautiful yellowfin tuna was 30lbs and nearly destroyed my port visor above the nav desk during his death throws. It took us an hour, but we finally had our fish. We set off for Makogai.

We anchored off the old leper colony and took in the yellowfin carcass and ¼ of the meat for Camelli and the crew. It turns out that the Minister of Fisheries for the Eastern Division of Fiji was visiting the research station. Camelli didn’t have much time for us, but was appreciative of the tuna.

We went back out to the boat for a nice sashimi dinner including some ginger that we’d picked ourselves over a month ago for just this occasion. Afterward I went in for a music/kava session with the fellas at the research station. It was interesting chatting with the Minister of Fisheries. He was by far the most worldly, educated Fijian that I’d ever met.

Unfortunately the wind picked up out of the NW and gave us quite the rolly night. We had to bail on Makongai. The waves were wrapping around any protection, so we decided to take advantage of the northly to head down to Ovalau 25 miles to the south.

We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind. The highlight of the day was passing through a pod of pilot whales. They were holding on station and we got a good look at lots of them, but it was too rough and I didn’t have my camera out.

The pass into Ovalau was easy to navigate in the clouds and we continued our boisterous sail down the west side of the island to Wainaloka bay. Wainaloka is listed as a hurricane hole. It’s certainly a beautifully protected anchorage with great holding, but it’s a bit big to use as a hurricane hole. Still if you’re caught in the area, this is the place to go.

We were running a bit low on supplies, so we took the skiff in through the mangroves to the village and started walking towards Levuka, the old capitol of Fiji. Unfortunately we missed the 8:30am truck and there was no traffic of any kind on the road. After a couple of km we ran into a fisherman who’d also missed the truck, though he didn’t know it. Eventually we were able to call a taxi to take all 3 of us into town.

The cession of Fiji to the British took place in Levuka back in the 1860s and the town hasn’t changed much since. Walking the streets, you’d think you were in an old west town, as long as you didn’t look to the east towards the Koro Sea.

Mélanie and I walked around town and checked out the sites, poking our heads in and out of the various shops containing lots of things we didn’t need. We visited the small museum and saw a good shell collection and some of the history of the place. In the end Levuka was a poor provisioning stop. Fresh veggies are hard to come by except on Saturday. We ended up with some apples, carrots and beer from the MH and that’s about it.

We spent the last two days hanging out at a sandbar between the anchorage and Moturiki. It’s completely covered at high tide, but has a wonderfully sandy beach that appears at mid tide. Of course we had another photo shoot, played crib and generally had a very mellow time. From here it looks like we’ll be heading south to Leluvia and eventually Suva. The wind is looking light for the rest of the time that Mélanie is going to be here, so there’s probably going to be lots of motoring in our future.

Feb 132014
 
Bodhran , Odin and Suvarov

Bodhran , Odin and Suvarov


The first time Mélanie and I snorkeled out on Point Reef at Cousteau, David from Suvarov sailed by us in his little Walker Bay sailing dinghy. We figured that he was coming out to say hi, but instead he was just out for a day sail. On our way back from snorkeling, we stopped by Suvarov to introduce ourselves. Within a minute, David was asking if we’d been to Namena. I’d sailed through Namena en route from Makogai to Savusavu, but had never stopped. We tentatively made plans to head out there when the weather permitted.

Namena is a marine reserve, famous for it’s diving. Unfortunately there’s no protected anchorage. The water is deep and full of coral. It’s really only tenable in light winds. It took two weeks, but Suvarov, Odin and Bodhran all jumped on a good looking weather window and left Cousteau for the 25 mile sail down to Namena.

David from Suvarov is an Austrian married to an Argentinian. His family left for the cyclone season while David stayed back to tend the boat. Bertel on Odin is German and in much the same boat with his girlfriend gone for the season. They’d both been jumping back and forth between Savusavu and Cousteau and were ready for a break in the cyclone season monotony.

We had fantastic wind for the sail south close reaching in a 15 knot Southeasterly. I’d been through the pass before and had no problem pulling into the anchorage and picking up the one mooring. It was actually a dive mooring for a wreck, but upon inspection looked plenty strong enough for Bodhran. Odin and Suvarov came in an hour later and anchored in 70 feet of water. I was very happy to have picked up the mooring.

Mélanie and I then went to the resort on the island to pay our $30FJD fee for snorkeling/diving in the marine reserve. The resort folk were friendly, but wanted an additional $50FJD per person for each day you wanted to land on the island. We decided to forego land and go for a snorkel.

The snorkeling right off the resort dock was fantastic with 4 giant clams right there in 10 feet of water. We then snorkeled the mile or so back to Bodhran and were treated to white tipped reef sharks, a hawksbill turtle, a sting ray and the healthiest coral that I’d seen in Fiji. Namena was looking like a very good stop.

The next morning we went back to the resort for information on the different dive sites. We didn’t get too much, but found out that slack water in the passes was 1 hour later than the stated times on the tide table and that the south reef was better on an incoming tide and the north reef better on an outgoing tide.

Mélanie went for another snorkel off the dock and saw a huge grouper. She’s turning into quite the fish these days and on the way back I dropped her off at another coral head near the boats while I went back to make breakfast. About 2 minutes later I heard screaming and popped my head out of the boat to see Mélanie waving me down. I quickly hopped in the skiff and pulled her out of the water thinking that she’d been stung by one of the huge jellyfish (Grape Jellos) that we’d been seeing around the area. Instead she’d had an encounter with a particularly neurotic barracuda that we’ve nicknamed Barry. Barry started out by staring Mélanie down with his big menacing underbite. He then proceeded to nip at her fins testing to see if she was food or not. It was about then that Mélanie decided she needed to get out of the water. For the three days that we’ve been in Namena, Barry has been a regular fixture patrolling around the boat, waiting for Mélanie to get back in the water.

Odin has a dive compressor on board which was really the impetus for this trip. David and Bertel brought their skiff and dive gear over to Bodhran a bit after noon and we took off to find the mooring just inside the north pass of the reef. We had the waypoints for a number of dive moorings around Namena, but this proved to be the only one that actually existed. Once Bodhran was moored, we took to the skiffs and went to a dive site called Grand Canyon. It turned out that the current was too strong and I was forced to keep the skiff tied to me while Mélanie and I snorkeled. The visibility wasn’t great and we couldn’t stay in one place due to the strong current, but it was still a fantastic snorkel drifting along a drop-off into a seemingly endless abyss.

We went back to Bodhran for water and snacks and then proceed to Kansas where David and Mélanie snorkeled while Bertel and I dove. The site is presumably named Kansas due to a great patch of soft coral on top that looked like a wheat field blowing in the wind. Kansas was very, very fishy. The highlight were two big trevally that kept swimming in circles around us, but down lower where 1000s of aquarium sized fish that stretched as far as the eye could see.

For the next 2 days we repeated this pattern. Everyone would come to Bodhran with their gear, then we’d head out to a different dive spot where we’d look for a mooring, not find one and then anchor the boat before taking to the skiffs. I dove on Chimneys and Fantasea and snorkeled Mushrooms (dive sites really do have colorful names.) After diving each day, we’d climb on Bodhran, crack some beers and head back to the “anchorage”.

This morning David and Bertel took off due to an impending northly wind. They didn’t want to get trapped down and forced to bash their way back to Savusavu. Mélanie and I are planning on heading down to Makogai 22 miles to the south, so a north wind would work nicely for us. We’ve made our way out to where we can pick up internet from Koro island. Hopefully the next blog post will find us having spent one more good day in Namena and then having a fantastic time down at Makogai.