Friday, June 13, 2014

Aloha to the Aloha State

February 18-May 14, 2014

Five months after arriving in Hawai'i, we left the islands to make the last long passage of our three-year journey:  Kane'ohe Bay, Hawai'i to Sitka, Alaska. We gave up our plans to visit the island of Kauai before we left. We had spent too long in Honolulu and now a weather window for our passage to the Pacific Northwest was starting to present itself. We also wanted to maximize the amount of time we spent in southeast Alaska and British Columbia before returning to our home in Seattle at the beginning of September. Reluctantly, we left exploring Kauai for a future trip. (It’s always nice to have a reason to go back to Hawaii.)

We spent most of our last three months in Hawai'i in the Ala Wai Marina, in the heart of Waikiki, on the island of Oahu. It’s funny how quickly you become accustomed to a new home base and how your everyday surroundings don’t seem that noteworthy, because I have very few pictures of Ala Wai or our time there. I have a store of mental images of Ala Wai though:  the classic Royal Ensfield motorcycle I used to pass on my way to the head in the morning (whose considerate owner put a rug underneath to sop up oil drips); the painted hibiscus flower graffiti on the dumpsters; the depressing amount of plastic, floatable garbage in the harbor and how only one liveaboard ever bothered to clean it up from around his boat; the patient grandfather fishing off the wharf almost daily with his mentally challenged grandson; the resident porcupine puffer fish, barracuda, spotted eagle ray, and box fish that hung out in the marina; and the diverse collection of boats---some stowed and tidy with their lines coiled neatly as fern fiddleheads on the dock; others, with so much clutter hanging off them or stashed in adjoining dinghies like suburban garages, you wondered when was the last time they were underway. And last but not least, I remember the hapless doves wandering all over the docks and parking lots that were a miracle of evolution, because they managed to survive, despite being either so fearless or so stupid, that you had to be careful not to step on them. 

Their habit of spending time on the ground makes me want to call them ground doves, but I think these birds may have been zebra doves. I didn't get any shots of the doves at the marina, but I got a couple of photos of them elsewhere around town:

Evolution's sweethearts

Talk about a taxi stand!

Some other random shots from Waikiki appear below:

A classic shot of Diamond Head, Waikiki, and surfers, with Kewalo Basin channel buoy in foreground

The Ala Moana Canal runs through downtown Waikiki

This trash boom theoretically collects plastic garbage from the Ala Moana Canal and prevents it from going into the open ocean:  We never saw it being emptied

A nicely landscaped water main access

A yellow billed cardinal
When we first arrived at Ala Wai, it was a very social time for us. We had happy reunions, catching up and sharing stories with most of the boats we had spent the end of last year’s cruising season with (exploring Penrhyn, Christmas, and Fanning atolls):  Silhouette Texas, Irie II, and Just Drifting. A month after we arrived, the crew of Saliander also returned from their trip home to New Zealand. All of them had made their initial landfall on Oahu, while we made landfall on the Big Island. We were also glad to join up with the crew of Amandla again---whom we met on the Big Island, but who departed Radio Bay for Honolulu ahead of us. Although we were in downtown Waikiki---the tourist mecca of Honolulu---with any number of upscale bars and restaurants to explore, we socialized much the same way we always did at anchor:  gathering on each others’ boats or frequenting the low key pubs around the harbor. 

Al gives the shaka sign from up the mast...

....while brother Phil watches from the cabin top

Our favorite hangout near Ala Wai had the same name (different spelling) as Patrick’s favorite hangout on Bainbridge Island:  Harbor Pub. Although it was in downtown Waikiki, its regular customers were locals. It was a “Cheers” kind of place, “where everybody knows your name.” They looked after their own, holding a fundraiser for a neighbor who was mugged, or all pitching in to cover shifts for a bartender who seriously injured his shoulder. We liked its friendly vibe immediately. The pizza and nachos were good, the drinks were cheap at happy hour, and the Harbor Pub used any excuse to hold a party. They also had an amazing band, which played on Thursday nights. I don’t know the name of the band, but it was anchored by Andy, an exceptionally talented musician. He played many instruments but excelled on the ukulele and the sax, leading the bands in tunes that varied from traditional Hawaiian music to jazz to rhythm and blues. It had been a long time, but I cut a rug in Honolulu!


Another place we went to for happy hour was the Ilikai Hotel. It was a nice change from the Harbor Pub because you could sit outdoors. We also enjoyed hearing the pu being blown. (The "u" in that word should have a long vowel sound symbol over it, pronounce "poo.") A pu is typically made from the shell of a horned helmet or a triton snail. The blowing of the pu can symbolize a variety of things; but in this case, it represented greeting the sunset and saying goodbye and thank you for the day. The man who performed this ceremony at the Ilikai had been blowing the pu for 50 years.

Blowing the pu
The first week I was at Ala Wai, I met Rhoda Green, a resident of Kirkland, Washington (near my home in Seattle). Rhoda is a certified dive instructor who was in Honolulu for a dive vacation and to visit Al on Irie II. She and I did a lot of snorkeling on the coral reefs around the marina. We visited the reefs off Waikiki, Magic Island, and Turtle Reef. Most of the habitat in these areas was degraded coral rubble, but there were still a lot of things to see. Spotted morays inhabited the crevices in the rubble, giant porcupine puffers trundled along, spotted eagle rays flew over the ocean floor, and every now and then, we’d be surprised by one of Hawai'i’s huge sea turtles. There weren’t many colorful reef fish in these areas, but when we swam out to one of the dive spots, called “Kaiser,” we were surrounded by clouds of black triggerfish and unicornfish. The fish were very tame and swam along with us, making me wonder if the charter boats that brought divers out there fed them? Rhoda and I even explored some of the manmade lagoons in the area for life. In one of these, we saw a very cool animal:  the upside-down jellyfish. True to its name, this jellyfish sat on the sandy bottom of the lagoon upside-down, looking very much like an exotic flower. Unlike most jellyfish, it seldom pulsed along through the water column.

I wasn’t used to snorkeling in the surge and waves typical of Oahu, so I focused on swimming and didn’t bring my camera on our snorkeling expeditions. 

My friend Lisa (SV Amandla) and I spent an interesting morning wandering the streets and alleys of a neighborhood in which some of Honolulu’s best graffiti art is found. Lisa had wanted to photograph it, and I was so impressed, I went back later on my own to take some photos too. The graffiti art was part of a street art project called “Pow Wow,” in which street artists are given license to create on the walls of certain properties. The art is left up for one year and is then painted over with new designs. In this way, the street art that we saw is more ephemeral than most, and we preserved it in our photographs.  (If you like what you see below, check out the archives on the Pow Wow web site for more art.)     

The street art themes varied from sustainability to the darker sides of city life.

"He's got the whole world in his hands"

The above image was very powerful to me, because of the two parts of the person's body that are missing:  the absent head and the decapitated feet. The person is sitting astride a pig ("gas hog"), whose silhouette is filled with the images of junked cars. In his hands, of course, the human figure is spinning a globe.

Some local businesses also got into the spirit of the Pow Wow project

City life

A detail from a much larger mural

My favorite images were of the Polynesian people:

The beige areas in this image were actually created by gouging away the white paint and some of the underlying brick:  an amazing piece of artwork

Notice the real plant (in the gray pot) incorporated into this mural

Strong men

Some of the murals were just whimsical:

Hula girl:  Photo courtesy of Lisa Dorenfest
These fun excursions with Rhoda and Lisa were my introduction to the Honolulu area.

First and foremost though, we and all our fellow cruisers were at Ala Wai Marina for the same reason---to work on our boats---and as the weeks passed and a new cruising season approached, the project work intensified. We had completed two of our major projects in Radio Bay:  welding the broken shaft for the water paddle of the wind vane and replacing our house battery bank.

In Honolulu, Patrick plugged away on a variety of projects, including having a new end fitting swaged on a damaged lifeline and removing the plastic coating from the cockpit lifelines to inspect those. He replaced the engine start battery and installed a new VHF radio. Meanwhile, I treated and flushed our fresh water system and prepped and sealed the pinrails, whose varnish had splintered down to bare wood in the tropical sun. I also began renewing all of the exterior varnish, beginning with the cockpit coaming and handrails. Together, we end-for-ended and remarked the anchor rode, and Patrick replaced the link connecting two sections of chain together. Patrick also completed a variety of other electrical and plumbing projects.

The first month in the marina slid easily by. Then, I flew to San Diego for two weeks to visit my mother, while Patrick attended to some of the boat projects more disruptive to our living space. These included stripping, sanding, and painting the head; installing an engine cabin heater (that utilizes the hot water from the engine to heat the cabin when motoring); and investigating some venting issues with our water tanks. He also began our third major project, recaulking Silhouette’s deck-to-hull joint. We had found that the deck-to-hull joint had been leaking on our upwind passage from New Zealand. This made the inside of the hull damp, and we found moisture in some of our storage cubbies. While a long term fix would require removing the caprails and glassing over the joint, that was something we did not want to attempt while underway. Instead, Patrick removed the trim under the caprail and recaulked the joint. He then had to replace the trim and touch up the paint. Patrick tackled the port side first, since our passage to Alaska, like the one from New Zealand, would be mostly on a starboard tack.

When I returned from San Diego, Patrick and I used hand lines to turn the boat around so that he could complete caulking the deck-to-hull joint on the starboard side. I continued with prepping and varnishing the port caprail and bowsprit. Patrick gave me a spell from varnishing by doing the starboard rail and our home port and name boards (which we hadn’t touched since we left Seattle in 2011). I refreshed the paint on the boards after Patrick had varnished them, and they are once again looking sharp.

During this time, waves of cruising boats began to leave the marina, and one by one, we said goodbye to our friends. First, the boats returning to French Polynesia left, and then a small flotilla of boats heading north departed.

Before we left Ala Wai, Patrick climbed the mast and replaced our old tricolor navigation light with a new LED tricolor light. The new light is both brighter and draws less power. He also repaired a loose spreader base and did a rig inspection. The rig inspection revealed that the jacket of our jib halliard had chafed through. 

The core of this halliard probably would have chafed through between Oahu and Sitka if Patrick hadn't caught it

Down came the sail; we end-for ended the line, cut off the bad section, and I made a new eye spice for the new working end of the halliard. I also scrubbed our dinghy (which had a new coat of hard growth on the bottom from the caulking and painting project), and we packed it up for travel.

After our major projects were complete, we rented a car for a week in order to reprovision. We used the car to haul diesel, gas, propane, extra loads of laundry, and groceries to the boat. We made trips to Costco, Safeway, and Don Quijote (that’s how the store’s name was spelled) for provisions.

Don Quijote was my favorite store in Honolulu. The cheapest grocery store within walking distance of the Ala Wai Marina, it carried a huge selection of both Asian and American brands. There, you could find specialty ingredients such as gyoza wrappers, dried fish and squid, dried seaweed and shitake, a dozen brands of tofu, ramen, soba, udon, and rice noodle, and every kind of sauce imaginable. An “everything” store, Don Quijote also sold housewares, toiletries, liquor, and some clothing, and it contained a small hardware section that, more often than not, surprised us by having exactly what we needed. The other grocery stores within walking distance of Ala Wai Marina are Foodland, in the Ala Moana Center, and Food Pantry, at Eaton Square. There is also an “ABC Store” (convenience store) on just about every corner.

While we had the car, we also drove to Kane'ohe Bay to check out the anchorage and have dinner with our new friend, Karen Helmeyer, who had been introduced to us by other cruising friends. We also managed to do some sightseeing. I’ll cover our visits to the Bishop Museum and the Arizona Memorial in a separate post to keep this one from becoming monstrously long.

Before we departed Oahu, we moved the boat around to Kane'ohe Bay on the north shore. We enjoyed very much this scenic respite from the Ala Wai Marina and Honolulu Harbor. You don’t realize how noisy a marina in the city is until you leave it and go to an anchorage. At Kane'ohe Bay, we had mostly peace and quiet, although it was interrupted at certain times of day by noisy military flyovers. (There is a Marine Corps Air Base nearby.) The water was much cleaner and much clearer than in Honolulu Harbor, and the coral reefs were healthy. A large sea turtle made its appearance frequently about the boat.  

The anchorage near the sand bar at Kane'ohe Bay

A view of the Pali highway and of downtown Kane'ohe

Unfortunately, it started blowing after our second day there, and we didn’t get to take full advantage of our setting. Regretfully, I never got in my last snorkel on Oahu. We also didn’t get to visit the popular sand bar in Kane'ohe Bay. Local sailors we met in Honolulu told us you could “belly up to the bar” and drop your anchor in the sand bar. It has a steep drop off, and your keel would not touch bottom. Of course, it was necessary to set a stern anchor in case the wind shifted so you didn’t get blown around onto the bar. The bar is a popular snorkeling and dive site, and hammerhead sharks can be seen there.

I did get in the water at Kane'ohe while it was still calm enough to get our prop clean, which required an hour and a half of hard labor. After three months in Ala Wai Marina, some kind of crystalline marine growth had completely encased the hub and blades of the prop. I had to use a metal putty knife to scrape it off. There were very few barnacles though, which was a surprise, given the state of our dinghy when I’d cleaned it. Patrick also reconnected our drogue, which we had stowed when we arrived in Honolulu to protect the bridle from UV damage.   

From Kane'ohe, I took the bus to Kailua to spend Mother’s Day with my mom’s best friend, Linda, and her daughter, Donna, a childhood friend of mine. Linda had taken Patrick and I to brunch shortly after we arrived in Honolulu. Linda’s son Scott works on the popular T.V. show Hawaii-Five-O, and on the way back from brunch to show Linda the boat, we ran into Scott and the rest of the film crew filming a stunt right at the Ala Wai Marina. The episode had just aired the Friday before Mother’s Day, so Linda played the stunt scene back for me.   
In the anchorage at Kane'ohe Bay, we also reunited with Richard from SV Fire Water, whom we had first met in Radio Bay. Richard’s wife, Doris, had recently passed away, so we did what we could to offer sympathy. Richard departed Kane'ohe Bay one day before us, headed for the west coast of Vancouver Island. SV Saliander, who had been anchored over by the yacht club, also departed a day before Silhouette, planning on making landfall in the Shumagin Islands. Meanwhile, we topped up our water, made a last trip to the farmer’s market for produce for the voyage, and stowed our dinghy yet again. All of us had been waiting for a lull in the northeast trades and for some more easterly winds to make our offing from the islands.

Finally, our day came. With our sheets and jacklines run, and our sail cover stowed, we picked up the anchor and quietly slipped out of Kane'ohe Bay. In the spirit of Jack London, we headed north:  North, to Alaska!

On the right is the Chinaman's Hat, Mokoli'i in Hawaiian

North shore pali

A modern voyaging canoe
The Hawaiian word “aloha” has multiple meanings:  It encompasses hello, goodbye, and a certain generosity of spirit that is found among the islands. As we leave Hawai'i in our wake, we say both, “Aloha, Hawai'i,” and “Thanks for the aloha!” 

Silhouette leaving Kane'ohe Bay


  1. If only I had your talent as a writer! Great post with awesome photos. Nice to relieve Hawaii through your eyes. Glad that I was apart of your adventure! Cheerio

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Lisa, and thanks for letting me be a part of your adventure with your mother and your sister.