Sunday, February 9, 2014

Anchorage Report on Radio Bay

We arrived in Radio Bay on December 11, 2013 and stayed until February 1, 2014. Some of the information about Radio Bay published on the web and in cruising guides has changed, and this is an update for those considering making landfall there.  Non-cruising readers may want to give this post a miss.

General anchorage characteristics

As an anchorage, Radio Bay is not as scenic as some, but it is a chill place to make landfall if you are not ready for crowded Honolulu. In addition to other transient vessels (the only yachts anchored there), your neighbors are the Coast Guard cutter, Kiska, cruise ships (which arrive about every other day but usually depart by 5:00 p.m.) and a lot of containers from freighter offloads. The cruise ships are not actually in Radio Bay---they are tied up at the terminal outside (as are the freighters)---but they are a dominating presence as they loom over the anchorage. The anchorage can be a bit noisy, as both the cruise ships and the Coast Guard conduct regular emergency drills during the day; a large generator operates in the freight yard; and occasionally, freight is offloaded in the wee hours of the morning, causing you to wake at 3 a.m. to the sound of back-up alarms from fork lifts. However, the place shuts down around 5 p.m. on most weekdays and is quiet on most weekends. 

Coast Guard crew members conducting regular maintenance

Even the Coast Guard has to climb the mast

This winter, Radio Bay was not very crowded. There were only one to two other cruising yachts there at any given time during our stay. One of the yachts had been coming there for many years and told us stories about the times when fifteen or twenty boats would be crammed into Radio Bay and cruisers' potlucks were held on the wharf. It's hard to imagine that many boats being crowded into such a small space or that kind of a social scene in Radio Bay. During our stay, activity in the bay was centered around the Pali Kai outrigger club.

Paddlers from the Pali Kai Outrigger Club head past the breakwater towards Kuhio Bay

One of the voyaging canoes moored in Radio Bay getting underway

Radio Bay is protected by a breakwater and is beguilingly calm. Most of the time, there is minimal swell and motion to the boat, making it a very comfortable anchorage. But Radio Bay also has a mud bottom. Give your stern a lot of room from the sea wall when you initially Med moor, and set a second anchor right away if your primary anchor drags in mud at all, in order to be prepared if high winds and/or high surf kick up. Although these events don't happen very often (and are obviously probably more frequent in winter), Radio Bay can quickly become very nasty when they do occur. We had one high surf advisory and one high surf warning during the time we were there (seven weeks), sending seas spilling over the breakwater. 

Chop reflecting off the sea wall when the wind kicks up

The seas during the high surf advisory brought a lot of floating debris into Radio Bay. The dinghy and canoe club beaches became piled high with driftwood and flotsam. A moderately-sized deadhead also ended up floating in the anchorage. Rather than have it bump alongside someone's boat, Patrick tied a line around it and towed it to the wharf, where he tied it off on one of the ladders. A call to the Harbor Division office eventually brought a crew around to remove it. Patrick helped rig the slings around the log from the water in order to lift the deadhead out of the bay. Then, the Harbor Division removed the slings and attached lines to the log in order to position it so the fork lift driver could carry it away.

Patrick standing by after attaching the yellow slings to the deadhead

Adding a line to prepare to lift the deadhead with the fork lift

Steadying the deadhead into position

Hazard removal

The high surf warning was accompanied by high winds (sustained winds of over 30 knots with a maximum gust of 42 knots), and we spent seven quality hours keeping an anchor watch that night. When the wind was over thirty knots, we ran our engine and motored forward to take some of the strain off our anchors. We had two anchors set and might have been fine without running the engine, but with the concrete seawall behind us, we weren't taking any chances. The next day, we found out that four local boats had gone up on the rocks in neighboring Reed's Bay during the storm.   


Most notably, cruisers no longer need an escort to pass through the security gate every time they want to leave or return to the boat. In fact, cruisers no longer even have the option of using the security gate (which is the quickest route to the Customs and the Harbors Division offices.) Generally speaking, however, this is a positive change for convenience's sake. Now, to go ashore, cruisers leave their dinghies on a dinghy beach at the east end of Radio Bay---right next to the beach where the canoe club members launch their outriggers---and walk up the hill to the main road (Kalanianaole Street.); The Pali Kai canoe club members were friendly and welcoming to respectful cruisers walking across their property while we were there. 

Once you reach Kalanianaole Street, turn right and walk to the next big intersection (about 1/4 mile.) On the left side of the intersection is a convenience store, the Keaukaha Market; past the market is the bar with free WiFi and a fast connection (Margaritaville.) Turn right instead, and the Customs office will be on your left. The Harbors Division office is just a little ways down the road from Customs, on the right, near the large cruise ship terminal.  

Moorage is paid at the Harbors Division office and is based on boat length.  Payment there is an odd deal:  The Harbors Division won't accept cash or credit; they will only accept a local Hawaiian check or a money order for the exact amount. According to their published policy statement, this is to "...better manage their fiscal responsibility...". When you go to the Harbors Division office, go prepared with valid ID to clear the security checkpoint at the gate. Once you've completed the paperwork they'll tell you how much you owe and let you go purchase a money order for that amount. While the office hours are posted as 0745 - 1630, we found that the people who handle the moorage transactions are often both out of the office at the same time during the lunch hour. There will be another person in the office, but he won't help you with that type of transaction. We found It is best to avoid the 1130 - 1300 time-frame and save yourself a long walk for nothing.
Money orders can be purchased at the Safeway or Walmart across from the Prince Kuhio Mall, as well as other spots around town. Prince Kuhio Mall or the downtown Post Office can be visited via the Keaukaha Bus Route

There is a separate fee for shore power, paid on the wharf in a coin box (25 cents can buy you an hour of electricity.) There are only two power boxes, so depending on the number of boats present, they must be shared. One of the boxes wasn't functioning at all when we arrived, but it was eventually repaired. Head, showers, trash and recycling facilities are all found at a structure at the east end of the wharf. The showers are disappointing:  They have very low water pressure, and the women's is often chilly. There is a book exchange shelved outdoors in the same area. Unfortunately, many of the books have been damaged by mildew due to Hilo's rainy weather.

Pick the Keaukaha bus up on Kalanianaole Street. Turn left on the main road as you exit Radio Bay and walk about a block until you come to a bus shelter. Fare is currently $2 ($1 for seniors) every time you board. (The only transfers available seemed to be from the local routes to the long-distance routes; e.g., to Volcano.) The buses only run once an hour and shut down for an hour and a half in the middle of the day (you'll feel right at home if you are coming from French Polynesia!); so it works best to plan trips for first thing in the morning or first thing after lunch. The last bus back to Keaukaha  leaves downtown at 4:00 and leaves Prince Kuhio Plaza at 4:20 p.m. Bus schedules are available online or at the Mo'oheau Bus Terminal, downtown (you have to ask for them at the counter.) While you're at the Mo'oheau Bus Terminal, pick up a walking tour map of historical downtown Hilo. Not only does it show the location of some interesting sights, but it is a good general walking map for the downtown area.

There is a Home Depot at Prince Kuhio Mall and an Ace Hardware downtown. We never visited a marine supply store, but reportedly, there is one. In addition to the Safeway at the mall, there are two grocery stores downtown. KTA has a limited selection, but the "Sack-and-Save" near the Federal Building has a good selection and good prices. If you plan on renting a car and are not dependent on the bus, this may be your cheapest and most convenient place to shop. There is also a much larger KTA on Highway 11:  great selection but very expensive. Your best bet for produce is the farmer's market across from the bus terminal in downtown Hilo. It's open every day, but the biggest markets are on Saturday and Wednesday.     


  1. Hi,
    Just found your blog. We are heading to Mexico this fall and then to Hawaii in May. I'm looking forward to your Hawaii reports. We've visited Hawaii and Maui several times for the diving and love it there. The diving on the Big Island is especially good off of south Kona. We usually stay in Kahana (north of Lahaina) while on Maui. We have done several day trips diving on Lanai, also great diving. We are really looking forward to exploring all the islands on our own boat, a Columbia 43.

    We eagerly await your next report.
    Brandon and Virginia
    SV Oceanus
    Newport, Ore.

  2. Hi Brandon and Virginia,

    Thanks for your comment. Although we had hoped to explore some anchorages on the Kona side, high surf at the time made it ill advisable, so we continued on. Neither of us are certified to dive; but I can see how you would have a field day scuba diving in Hawai'i! In French Polynesia, we found that we could see almost as much snorkeling as diving. If you have an email address, please sent it to us at Kirsten and Patrick

  3. Snorkeling is a gateway drug. You really should get certified to dive. Maui would be an excellent place: seems like you can't swing a dead cat there without hitting a scuba instructor. We see a lot of independent instructors who teach one-on-one for cheap. If you're still anchored at the Lahaina Roadstead you are within a stone's throw of the best scuba shop on the island, Maui Dive. It's just south of Aloha Mix Place, one of our favorite places to eat.

    I really don't know much about Maui, except the good places to dive, the best dive shops (and the ones to avoid!) and a few cheap places to eat.

    Hope you're having fun. I sent my email address to you. Let me know you got it.

    Brandon and Virginia