Maui to Oahu – The Near-Death Sleigh Ride to End the Season

Let me start by reminding ourselves and our fellow cruisers that sailing and schedules do not and should not be combined.  Passages should always be undertaken with due consideration to weather and local conditions.  Under no circumstance, other than life-threatening, should we put to sea to make the next port because of a schedule or deadline.  We have always held true to our rule that visitors can either choose a location OR a date to meet up with us; but NOT both.  This prevents us from pushing the boat in conditions we should not be out in by choice.  The rule has served us well….until last week, when we were up against a deadline to make Oahu to meet up with family who were visiting for Thanksgiving week.  In hindsight we should have spent the week in Lahaina and sailed into Oahu the following weekend.  Even if that meant not having ample time to clean up Ellie before the visit.  The story that follows is our punishment for breaking the aforementioned rule.  Neptune was paying attention to our temporary lapse in judgement and smacked us for it.

We sailed up the leeward side of Maui as far as the Kaanapali coast before hitting the headwinds barreling down the channel.  The trades were funneling down the Pailolo Channel between Maui and Molokai at about 30 knots gusting higher.  Ahead of us were a sea of white caps and short steep seas breaking every third set or so.  We put in a double reef in the main and sheeted the sail as flat as possible.  We furled the genoa completely away, raised the yankee on our inner stay, led the sheet outboard and sheeted it flat.  We decided we were ready for the channel and fell off.  The sails filled, Ellie heeled and bore off across the channel at 7 knots.  Even under this reduced canvas she was making too much way on a beam reach (the most powerful point of sail).  We only have two reef points in the main and this is the first time I have wished we had a third.  I decided it wasn’t putting a dangerous load on the rig yet so I would just hand steer and enjoy the roller coaster ride across the channel.  It was only 12 miles until we reached Molokai and what I thought would be the lee.  We were tearing across the channel with big wind and breaking seas pooping the cockpit every 5 minutes or so.  I was in full foulies hand steering.  We’re hardcore so we threw out a handline with a cedar plug on the end.  We were convinced we could get a mahi at these speeds and we were right.  After 15 minutes the bungee went tight and I called Lyss to come pull it in.  The conditions demanded 100% of my attention so she was on her own to get it in.  She put on her gloves and pulled in a three and a half foot mahi.  It was fresh so was wildly flapping and flailing on the side deck and was getting blood everywhere.  She flipped him over in her arms and bear hugged the beast!  We had heard this worked and now we have evidence it does.  It immediately calmed down.  We tail wrapped him, made some cuts and threw him over the leeward side to bleed out.  We were still tearing across the channel at 7-8 knots when Alyssa went to work cutting off the fillets and baggin’ up the meat.  She finished before we passed the eastern point of Molokai and had cleaned up most of the blood.  We were happy to have fresh fish for the first time since the Marquesas.

Turns out that the trades howl through the Pailolo channel and then split when they meet Lanai and turn down the coast of Molokai ripping down the Kalohi Channel, between Molokai and Lanai.  So instead of finding the lee we found more 30-35 knot winds and the same big seas.  The big difference was that we were now sailing with the wind on the starboard quarter so the motion and strain on Ellie and her rig was much less.  The wind was still at 30 knots apparent but we had a nice sail towards Lono Harbor, what we had thought would be our nice overnight anchorage.  Lono harbor is a manmade breakwater on the SW end of Molokai that was built so they could harvest sand from Molokai and take it to Oahu to create Waikiki Beach.  We read that you can enter Lono Harbor in most settled conditions.  So that was our planned destination.

Upon approaching Lono we started to see breaking waves.  We studied the breaking waves and saw they were breaking on the east side of the breakwater so we figured it was just the trades breaking on the wall – business as usual.  I looked at the chart and we had detail to enter the harbor and the entrance was 50 yards wide so I felt we had enough room to maneuver even if we were fighting high winds on the way in.  We got closer and could see a swell sometimes across the entrance but never breaking waves.  We decided it was safe and began closing with land.  When we were a half mile out I told Alyssa that I was noticing a large swell and we should keep an eye on it as we went in because a rogue set could catch us in the shallow water outside the breakwater entrance and that could be really bad.  We were in shallow water (25 feet), all lined up and less than a tenth of a mile out when Alyssa saw saw a barrel and yelled, “Oh My GOD!”.  I turned my head and almost had a heart attack.  I was staring at an 18 foot wave face and half of it was breaking in a huge barrel.  At this point we are less than 70 yards from the entrance and that wave was on a mission to break right where we were and crash into the entrance of the harbor.  I threw the wheel hard to port, spun Ellie around, lined her up with the wave face and nailed the engine to full throttle.  We climbed up the wave face with the breaking barrel only 15 yards to starboard.  Once at the crest we saw the next one coming and it was even bigger AND it was already breaking.  I bore off to port and then lined up with the face before it hit.  We made it over the wave before it closed out and we made haste for deep water.  Once in deep water it sunk in just how close we came not only from imminent shipwreck but very possibly death.  If we had been caught broadside to that breaking wave it most certainly would have rolled us and threw us into the rock breakwall.  We realized how foolish it had been to try and enter that harbor when a large swell was running and also how lucky we were just to be alive.

The trades were blowing too hard to try and beat back up the coast of Molokai so we resigned ourselves to a night at sea and decided to make Oahu by the next morning, tuck Ellie in a marina and go celebrate being alive.  The only catch was that to get to Oahu we had to cross the Kaiwi Channel….at night…with stiff trades blowing…and a huge NW swell.

The seas did not get huge until we cleared the lee of Molokai and were exposed to the full wrath of the stiff NE trades and gigantic NW swell.  That’s when the seas got very steep, confused, and started breaking.  The wind was at 33-38 sustained and we were running downwind with 1/3 of the jib poled out to port.  The wind had created 13-18 foot waves that were mixing from the N and E around the SW corner of Molokai.  This sea state combined with the NW swell to create huge, steep, washing machine seas.  We thought Ellie was handling the sea state well until a few breakers crashed into the cockpit.  That’s when I focused my hardest to take the optimum track down the wave faces and make sure we weren’t rounded up into the wind, which would have put us beam-to the seas and at risk for capsize.  I was focused on the next set of waves when we were lifted up the crest of a particularly large wave that broke while we were at the top and threw us into the trough below.  The whisker pole hit the water and dug in, shuttering the rig and completely stopping forward progress.  We were alarmed and confused at what happened which was quickly followed by realization.  I got Ellie lined up again and after getting back on course we looked the rig over and were elated to find no damage.  We thought the sail may have ripped from the force of the pole being pushed aft in the fall but the line leading from the pole to the bow held and saved the sail, pole and quite possibly the entire rig.

At this point we were startled and began thinking about other options.  Could we run for Lanai?  No – it was upwind.  Could we run back to the lee of Molokai?  No – also upwind.  Could we lay to our sea anchor?  Bad idea – can’t stay put in a shipping lane and the trades are forecast to get even stronger over the next two days.  Keep running dead downwind?  No – it’s a hell of a long way to the Marshall Islands.  The realization set in that the safest place to be was in the lee of Oahu, 60 more miles SW.  It was going to be a long night.

It got dark.  There was no moon to illuminate the waves to help line up the breakers.  We took turns at the helm for the next 8 hours.  Dodging shipping traffic outside Honolulu was an added bonus to all the fun we were having.  No sleep was going to be had that night.

We covered the 60 miles in record time and were safely in the lee of Oahu by 2:00 am.  The waves began to subside followed by the wind.  We motored into the lee of the island and dropped the hook behind a curve of sand in front of a powerplant.  We gave each other a hug and were exhausted but happy to be safely anchored after a very trying passage.    We also swore that we would never again violate our rule about pushing it to make a schedule or accommodate a visitor.  We also vowed never again to cross between islands when the trades are pumping.  Sailing in Hawaii is no joke!  We haven’t seen seas that large since we left Northern CA last year.  We were also very proud of Ellie; she is one tough boat to come through all that unscathed.

We are alive and well now in the beautiful Ko Olina Marina in Oahu.  It’s the most expensive marina we’ve ever been in but worth every penny as far as we’re concerned.  This is resort country club living at its finest.  Beaches, pools, grass, grills, showers, laundry, restaurants, live music, watering holes and most importantly: FLAT WATER.  Ellie is safe and we are cleaning her up and giving her some much deserved TLC.  She sure deserves it.  The old girl has seen us safely across over 9,000 miles of ocean in the past year.  Time for her to take a few months off.  I think we’ll join her.

We are spending Thanksgiving here at the marina with Alyssa’s family, who are flying out from California.  We’ll be flying back to California at the beginning of December to visit friends and family for the holiday’s.  We’ll be back in Oahu in January to get Ellie ready to head south again.  

We plan to be in the Line Islands by April, Cooks by May, Samoa beginning of June, Tonga by July, Fiji in September, New Caledonia in October, and Brisbane, Australia before the onset of cyclone season.  At least that’s the current plan.  Written in sand at the low tide mark. 

Everyone have a great holiday season!  We’ll write again when back and prepping Ellie for her next  adventure on the high seas.

I wish I could share pictures from that night but we were too focused on keeping the boat safe to take any.  Here is a shot of me in foulies in the lee of Maui and a shot of Ellie in her slip at Ko Olina Marina, our home for the winter.


Lewis & Alyssa

November 22, 2014

Ko Olina Marina, Oahu, Hawaii


VIDEO: Riding 35+ Knot Winds in the Lee of Maui

Here’s a video the Mermaid shot while running downwind from Maalea Bay, Maui.  We had a sliver of jib out and were pushing hull speed.  The wind was 30-35 knots sustained and gusting in the high 30’s.  Look at the spray on the top of the white caps.  I got drenched and we had to pull the foulies out of deep storage to deal with the spray.  Now imagine this wind but MUCH more fetch creating large, short, steep, breaking seas mixed with large ocean swells.  Those are the conditions we had on our passage from Maui to Oahu!  Full passage update to follow. 

Lanai – Jeep Adventures, Diving and a Tale of Two Worlds

After a very enjoyable 2 hour motor over glassy seas to Manele Bay, Lanai we tied to an actual dock for the first time since Mexico!  Sherry, the harbormaster, was so welcoming and accommodating.  She and her husband are sailors.  They are preparing their Beneteau for a trip to Tahiti next year.  Jeff invited us to ride with him up to Lanai City at the top of the island and we jumped in his truck and rode up to their home.  After visiting with him at the house he graciously offered the use of his Jeep!  We fired it up and took off to explore the island.

Lanai has an interesting history as it was once almost entirely owned by the Dole Pineapple Company.  The last pineapple was harvested in 1992 and the land was all purchased by billionaire Larry Ellison.  The 3,000 residents are family and descendants of those that worked on the plantation and the population is concentrated into the small town at the top of the island.  The town is at 1,500 feet so the climate is cooler than at sea level and gets more rain so is more lush.  100 years ago they planted cook island pine trees all over the town and along the main roads into and out of Lanai City.  It creates a nice ambiance and is reminicent of Lake Tahoe in California.  We enjoyed the little town and spent time at the cultural center.

The next few days we really took advantage of the Jeep and went 4-wheeling on many of the dirt roads that lead up into the mountains and down to the beaches.  We visited ancient petrogliphs near shipwreck beach and toured the ancient village at Kaunolu where King Kamehameha spent his vacations fishing and testing his warriors.  He used to make them jump off a 65 foot high cliff past rocks and into the sea.  If they made it they were forgiven of any wrongdoing.  If they died it was considered fate and punishment from the Gods.  It was a pretty cool site and the ruins were in good shape.  That said, Alyssa is pretty much over looking at stacked rocks and I think they sure are starting to all look the same.

We spent our last day in Lanai at the four seasons resort just lounging and enjoying the gorgeous view and good people watching.  Rooms start at $1,000/night so I’m sure we were surrounded by celebs but we don’t have TV or care to follow hollywood media so we wouldn’t know if they were famous or not.  But they can afford some pricey food and drinks!

Lanai provided us with the most stark contrast between rich and poor that we have seen on our voyage thus far.  On the windward side of the island you have dilapidated shacks with very poor, drug addicted people.  Outside Lanai City and down at Manele Bay you have the ritzy four seasons with well manicured grounds and golf courses surrounded by multi-million dollar homes.  A microcosm of the USA at its extremes in one tiny island.   

We left Lanai on Sunday and sailed for Lahaina.  We were met with 20 knots out of the north preventing us from laying Lahaina in one tack.  We bashed close on the wind and made the lee of Maui about 6 miles south of Lahaina.  On came the engine and we creeped up the coast at a blistering 3 knots for two hours.  When we finally reached Lahaina it was howling 25+ knots which made entering the harbor too dicey for our taste so we decided to concede to the weather and run.  We ran downwind back to the lee of the island where the wind died.  After another two hours of motoring we found ourselves rounding Papawai Pt and were met with more high winds on the nose.  We pushed through the gusts and chop and made Maalea Harbor in two tacks.  After entering the harbor right before sunset we dropped the hook to the right of the entrance to assess the docking options.  Turns out there were none.  All the boats were med-moored and the place was packed tight.  We were unable to raise anyone on VHF, including the coast guard so we pulled anchor and left before it became totally dark.  We motored into the wind and dropped the anchor in the gradual sloping sand at the head of Maalea Bay, the large bight in the lee of Maui.  We spent a very windy but relatively comfortable night there.  In the morning we sailed for Lahaina but decided not to go in and set sail for Molokai.

I’ll write tomorrow about our terrifying and trying passage from Maui to Oahu.  The seas were huge, the wind was howling, we almost died twice, were knocked down past 75 degrees with half the whisker pole in the trough and spent a sleepless night dodging traffic off Honolulu.  

In the meantime, here are some pics starting with Ellie moored off Lahaina and ending with sunset over Manele Bay, Lanai:

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Maui no ka ‘oi! Moored off Lahaina

Maui no ka ‘oi!  Which means Maui is the Best!

We had an epic day sail from La Perouse Bay to Lahaina.  The winds funnel between the volcanoes, through the valley and blast the leeward side of the island.  We flew across the stretch of protected water at 7-8 knots under reduced canvas with huge grins on our faces!  The wind was howling 25 knots with only 3-4 foot wind chop.  It felt like we were back on SF Bay.  It was one of those sails that you know will be burned into memory forever.  We covered the 30 miles in less than 4 hours and were on a mooring by 2:00pm.

We are really enjoying Lahaina Town.  Great food, great music, friendly locals and a cool vibe make this an awesome place.  It’s also a dangerous place for cruisers on a budget because they have perfected the art of emptying your wallet!

We are moored in the open roadstead off town.  It’s very rolly with wind chop, swell and wakes making it a bit uncomfortable.  Also the strong current flows against the northern winds so the mooring ball rides amidships doing a great job of rubbing off our ablative bottom paint.  The ball, which was once white, is now blue! 

Lahaina Yacht Club is incredibly hospitable to visiting yachts and has provided us with a free mooring and access to the club house, bar and showers.  The club is right on the waterfront and we can watch Ellie right from the club.

We are going to get fuel and send a letter in the morning and then we plan to sail for Lanai, a private island owned by billionaire Larry Ellison.  We will try to get into the small boat harbor in Manele Bay before some southern (Kona) winds kick up the channel.  Lanai City is suppose to resemble old Lake Tahoe so we’re excited to check it out.

We’ll send some pictures from Lanai.  Here are a few from Maui.

IMG_0517La Perouse Bay, Maui.  Rocker stopper out on pole in foreground.

IMG_0530Sunset over Kahoolowee Island as seen from La Perouse Bay

IMG_0538Drinks at the Lahaina Yacht Club.  Lahaina open roadstead mooring field in background.

IMG_0549Ellie (on left) riding to her mooring off Lahaina, Maui.  Sunset over Lanai as seen from the yacht club.

Land Cruising the Big Island of Hawaii

Aloha!  We are currently on a mooring in beautiful Lahaina, Maui.  We just sailed in yesterday from La Perouse Bay, where we stopped for two nights after running the Alenuihaha Channel from the windward side of the Big Island.  We had a great overnight downwind run through the channel with winds around 20 knots and waves 8-10 feet.  We timed it well and the conditions were relatively pleasant compared to the horror stories we have heard about the channel.

We spent about 10 days anchored in rainy Radio Bay, Hilo.  We set Ellie’s anchor hard, paid the extortion fees to the government and went in search of a rental car.  We found a good deal from the airport and rented a Town & Country minivan.  All the seats fold into the floor so we took some cushions and mattress pads out of the boat and turned the back of that van into a little camper!  We spent an awesome week circumnavigating the Big Island counter-clockwise.  We spent way too much money on good food and good times but it was a great way to see the amazing sites, soak in the natural beauty of the island, unwind and reacquaint ourselves with life in the good ol’ US of A.  

Here are some pics from the road trip:

IMG_0374Picturesque Waipio Valley

IMG_0354Akaka Falls 

IMG_0360 IMG_0366The wheels / land yacht

IMG_0378Exploring the inside of a lava tube

IMG_0396 IMG_0397 IMG_0401Hiking down to gorgeous Polulu Valley

IMG_0402 IMG_0405Our attempt to camouflage the van while parked down a dead-end dirt road in Kohala.  Didn’t work because a local stopped and stared intently for 5 minutes before figuring out it was just a couple cheap white tourists boondockin’ it…  

IMG_0411Awesome beach on Kohala coast where we enjoyed breakfast

IMG_0427Bet you didn’t think you could take a miinvan offroad did ya?

IMG_0428 IMG_0431Opulu Point.  Northern most point of Big Island.  Token hottie

IMG_0433Hike to Kamehameha birthsite and the eerie Mookini Heiau

IMG_0439Mookini Heiau.  The flat rock is where they sacrificed 10’s of thousands of Hawaiians as offerings to the gods or because they violated a Kapu (taboo).  A lot of blood was shed here.

IMG_0450Inside the walls of Mookini Heiau

IMG_0454The grounds of Mookini Heiau

IMG_0458Minivan glamour shot

IMG_0459Exploring a 600 year-old native fishing village on the NW side of the island

IMG_0472 IMG_0473Pu’ukohala Heiau in the background.  Kamehameha the Great built this (OK thousands of Hawaiians built this) amazing structure to appease the Gods and allow Kamehameha to conquer and unite the entire island chain.  They sacrificed people throughout the building just for good measure.

IMG_0478Hammock time

IMG_0488 IMG_0493We took a grueling hike down hot lava fields to visit and pay homage to the Captain Cook memorial on the shore of Kealakekua Bay.  It was here that the great explorer and circumnavigator was hit in the head with a club and then stabbed to death by the Hawaiians after a misdeed by one of his men led to retaliation. 

IMG_0494 IMG_0495 IMG_0496 IMG_0501 IMG_0502 IMG_0512Volcanoes National Park.  That is the active vent on Kiluea.  It is currently erupting lava and flowing down on the edge of Pahoa Village.  Unfortunately the Nanny State won’t let people near the flow.  Thank God we have the State to protect us from ourselves.  What a shame that we could not see the lava up close.  

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