Cruising the Hawaiian Islands

Hunt, Steve

by Steve Hunt

OK, so you made it in the “Fun Race to Hawaii!” Why not go for a “Fun Cruise” of some of the Hawaiian Islands before returning to the rat race? That’s just what my wife Marilyn and I did a few weeks after we finished the 1994 West Marine Pacific Cup race.

Everyone knows how important preparation is for the race. Well, it’s just as important for a successful cruising adventure.

We approached both elements as separate projects. To do well in the race, off comes all the heavy cruising gear. Fortunately, you can ship your anchors, chain, dinghy, outboard and all the heavy items you can imagine from the Bay Area, Seattle or Los Angeles. We built a sturdy wooden crate to hold it all, took it to Hawaiian Express in Hayward a few days before the start of the race, and it was delivered to us at Kaneohe Yacht Club about 14 days later, all for a reasonable fee.

To plan our trip we obtained a Marine Atlas of the Hawaiian Islands, which had copies of all the NOAA charts, a copy of Charlie’s Charts and sought local knowledge available from many members of the Kaneohe Yacht Club. We spent about 3 weeks on our trip and feel that was adequate for the islands we visited. The best sailing in sheltered waters in all of the Hawaiian Islands is right in Kaneohe Bay. It’s a little confusing at first and you might run aground once or twice, but you will soon get to it. We did quite a bit of sailing in the bay before departing on our cruise of the islands. Our itinerary took us first from Kaneohe Bay to Hale-o-Lono harbor on Molokai, then to Manele Bay on Lanai. Then a quick look at Kahoolawe, and on to Okoe Bay near the southwestern tip of the big island of Hawaii. We worked our way up along the western shore of Hawaii, across to Maui and up along its western shore to Honolua Bay. Then on to the north shore of Molokai to Ilio Point and returning again to Kaneohe Bay to conclude our trip.

In more detail, we left the bulkhead at KYC at 0900 and arrived at the Hale-o-Lono anchorage on Molokai about 1600. The entrance and exit can be a little dicey with big waves, but certainly doable in most conditions. Just don’t lose steerage way. This is an old barge harbor and is protected except when southerly winds blow. It’s about the right distance to travel for your first day.

We left Hale-o-Lono about 1000 the next day headed for Kaena Point on the Island of Lanai. We tried to work our way west along the south shore of Molokai before going across, but winds were right on the nose. We tacked and headed for Kaena Point in 25/30 knots of wind, gusting to 35 knots, greatly appreciating our autopilot and dodger. We had been told this should be a good anchorage, although a little exposed. We decided it was unsafe under existing conditions and continued on to the sheltered commercial harbor of Kaumalapau two thirds of the way down the western shore where we spent the night. Interesting, but too commercial for us. The passage along the western shore was very protected and beautiful with high cliffs and spectacular scenery. Next time we would skip Kaumalapau (don’t these names get you?) and go to the Manele Bay on the south shore.

Twenty years ago we spent several days anchored in White Manele Bay in a small chartered sailboat, so it was fun to return. However, White Manele is now a marine sanctuary, so you can’t anchor there. We continued on to the harbor at Black Manele and were greeted by a school of spinner dolphins upon our arrival. The Harbormaster on Lanai was great. She couldn’t have been more helpful or hospitable. The huge pineapple plantation that used to be in the crater bowl is gone, replaced by the tourist industry. There are two beautiful luxury type hotels on the island. The Inn at Koele is up in the center of the island near Lanai City and is somewhat reminiscent of the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite. The Manele Bay Hotel overlooking the ocean is equally spectacular in a much different way. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at each. If you want something more economical, yet quaint and with very good food, visit the original 10 room Lanai Hotel up in the city. You can hike, snorkel, play golf, rent a 4-wheel drive car to explore, or just relax. We spent five or so days on Lanai and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The next leg of our passage was the longest, Lanai to Okaoe Bay on the southwest corner of the Big Island. It’s important to arrive during daylight, so we left Lanai at about 1330 hours for an overnight sail and anticipated arrival the following morning. Typically you should expect strong winds and perhaps heavy seas as you pass by the Alenuihaha Channel. That’s another reason for traveling at night, because the winds and seas are often more moderate. A beam or broad reach should serve you well and keep you comfortable through this stretch. We sailed most of the way with one reef in the main, no jib, and were flying. You will probably get wet, but isn’t this what it’s all about? It’s great sailing in shorts with warm weather, even though you’re taking on some spray. Once again, the autopilot does the trick. Marilyn & I each took one hour watches during the night. It’s easy and fun to do for one night. We were advised to keep the wind abaft the beam and it was good advice. There is little point in trying to point up higher, more direct course, because as soon as you get in the wind shadow of Hawaii somewhere off Kona you are almost guaranteed to run out of wind.

Probably, the farther offshore you are, the longer you will be able to sail. You will still have several hours of motoring ahead. We arrived in Okoe Bay at 1930 hours the following morning, and were greeted by another school of spinner dolphins upon entering the Bay! It’s a little intimidating to cross the Anenuihaha Channel, but this was one of the most enjoyable sails of our trip. We were fortunate to have a full moon, twinkling lights from the island, moderating seas and wind conditions. Okoe Bay is very difficult to get to by land and possesses a stark beauty combining turquoise waters with lots of black lava. We spent three days exploring the ruins, hiking on the jumbled lava flow, viewing the blowhole and the breathing rocks, and snorkeling in several of the coves.

Next we headed north to Honaunau or the City of Refuge which is a National Historical Park; a nice park and well worth seeing. There is also very good snorkeling in the little bay. We continued our northward trek to Kealeakua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument. Here, timing is everything. This is a great anchorage, but, since it is now a Marine Life Conservation District and Underwater Park, you are not allowed to anchor. We knew this ahead of time and planned our arrival in Kaawaloa Cove for a little before 1300 hours when the tourist catamaran leaves its mooring and doesn’t return until after 0900 the next day. It’s OK to use their mooring as long as you are out of their way when they return the next morning. It’s really the only way to see the area since you can’t anchor. The cove is teeming with fish as the tour boats feed them regularly. This was one of our favorite spots. We were told there was a yacht club at Keauhou Bay and we could probably tie up there or anchor in their bay. Not so. They are principally a social club and have no guest dock. All the moorings were taken, so we had no other choice but to continue northward to Kailua, Kona.

We made the mistake of calling the infamous harbormaster at Honokohau Harbor. He says he controls the west coast of Hawaii and basically you are not welcome, as there is no room. We were practically ordered to anchor out in Kailua Bay and report to him upon arrival. We suggest you go into Honokohau Harbor, get off your boat, and try to talk face to face to arrange for a berth for a few days. Another option, if your boat needs some work, is to talk to the people at Gentry’s Kona Marina. We were there by land and they seem like nice folks.
The low point of our trip was anchoring in Kailua Bay. It was compounded by the fact that there were tremendous swells coming in offshore from Hurricane John. No winds, but enormous swells. Kailua Bay is a rolly anchorage even in the best of conditions. Since Triumph was rolling from shear to shear, we arranged to use a large commercial mooring that was available, went ashore and stayed in a hotel. Don’t even think about taking your big boat into the pier. Although you can take your dinghy in, the dinghy slips are rented, so they aren’t too happy about having you stay there either. We recommend making arrangements to stay in Honokohau Harbor, and then rent a car to do your land based sightseeing.

Next stop was Kawaihae Harbor. There are quite a few pleasure boats here, but it is primarily a deep-water seaport to provision the island. The harbormaster was very helpful. Matson Navigation has a container barge that comes regularly. When we were there, Kevin Costner and company were filming Water World, one of the year’s biggest flops. Watching all of this held our interest for several days. At the very least, this harbor is a good place to wait for proper conditions to cross the Alenuihaha Channel to Maui. We suggest an early morning departure, continuing north to Upolu Point before crossing the channel. We had a beautiful reach across in 20-25 knots of wind and moderate seas. Your destination should be La Perouse Bay on Maui and you can evaluate whether you think this would be a satisfactory anchorage. We found it to be a little inhospitable and continued on up the western coast to Lahaina. We looked in at Wailea, Kihei, and Maalaea enroute. We didn’t have time, but would like to have seen Molokini Island. Lahaina is a bit touristy, but always fun. The anchorage is rolly, but we’re used to that by now. You might get lucky with a berth in the harbor. It never hurts to ask. After a couple of days, we got one of the Lahaina Yacht Club moorings, rented a car and did all the appropriate tourist things ashore.

Next stop, just for the night, was Honolua Bay on the northwest coast of Maui. This is a very pretty setting, calm and no rolling. There is room for maybe four or five boats. It’s the best jumping off point to cross the Pailolo Channel to Molokai. A 0900 departure on a broad reach got us comfortably across the channel in 20-30 knots of wind. The north shore of Molokai is magnificent with steep cliffs rising from the water; clouds shrouding the peaks and providing the rains that feeds the numerous waterfalls. We had planned to anchor for lunch in the bay near the leper colony in Kalaupapa, but 30-knot winds and rough seas changed our minds. It was delightful sailing with the wind, so why stop? We chose an anchorage for the night, which was tucked around Ilio Point on the northwest coast just off the hotel. From here it’s an easy daysail back to Kaneohe Bay.