Tag Archives: hawaii

Cruising the Hawaiian Islands

ASA Outstanding Instructor Greg Martin of Sail Hawaii is very familiar with the waters around the Hawaiian Islands and he regularly sails and teaches out of Oahu. Greg has contributed to a three-part story on sailing in Hawaii.

A multi-day sailing adventure in Hawaii starts in Oahu and then takes you across the Kaiwi Channel to the windward neighbor islands of Molokai, Lanai, Maui or possibly the Big Island. Crossing the Kauai channel to the west is a longer blue water passage, but is possible if the conditions are right.

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Ports We Love: Lahaina, Maui

We left the dock in Lahaina and instantly we were on one of the most exhilarating sails we had ever embarked upon. Set on a beam reach cutting across the channel between Maui and Molokai the spray from the ocean descended from all angles. The 18-knot wind seized our thoughts as the bow plunged into swell after swell of pure sailing bliss mixed in with drenched adrenaline. This is sailing in Hawaii. The channels between islands can be brutal while at the same time invigorating. Hawaii is not all hula girls and mai tais, but in some cosmic way, it really is simply about the simple pleasures of sun, sand, wind, and water.
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Voyaging with Velella: The Great Ocean

michener hawaiiContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

“Millions upon millions of years ago when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. It was a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as pacific. . . . How utterly vast it was! How its surges modified the very balance of the earth! How completely lonely it was, hidden in the darkness of night or burning in the dazzling power of a younger sun than ours. . . . Master of life, guardian of shorelines, regulator of temperatures and heaving sculptor of mountains, the great ocean existed.”

So begins James Michener’s Hawaii, an enormous brick of a book that I first saw sitting under our Christmas tree in 1997. I was 14, and had rarely traveled outside of the Midwest at that point in my life; I could hardly imagine what it would feel like, on our family vacation, to reach those lush little islands that stood defiantly in the middle of a map full of blue. Sitting in our cozy snow-piled living room in Minnesota, nothing could have seemed more fun and far away.

When my parents visited us in Banderas Bay last week, they brought me our old yellowed copy of Hawaii, which I’d since forgotten about completely. The printed dedication reads, “To all the people who came to Hawaii,” below which was added in my dad’s familiar handwriting, “including the crew of the good ship Velella—just in case you decide to turn westward. An amazing waypoint, and a novel that will enlighten your journey.”
meghan and nessie contemplating the ocean
At the end of the first chapter, I came near to tears because I know this immense watery road stands before us now. The chapter concludes, “If you are willing to work until the swimming head and the aching arms can stand no more, then you can gain entrance to this miraculous crucible where the units of nature are free to develop according to their own capacities and desires. On these harsh terms the islands waited.” And that is what the prospect of sailing to Hawaii feels like: it is an adventure both completely thrilling and utterly terrifying. . . a dichotomy I fully expect to remain in my psyche all 2600 miles across the Pacific. But Hawaii is an epic, and a place only reached by a sailor’s epic rite of passage—crossing the rolling, windswept Pacific Ocean.

Although it torments me to think of the long and seemingly endless days and nights spent at sea because I fear I’ll mentally crack, I don’t fear much physical danger in sailing to Hawaii and back. Velella is a stout little oceangoing cruiser designed to handle exactly this kind of passage.
prescott steering
We have all the safety gear on the market and then some. We have a comfortable sea berth, two pairs of capable hands, and a Monitor self-steering vane that works for us round the clock without complaint. Really, all we have to do is cook our meals, reef our sails when the weather calls for it, and keep ourselves occupied.

In between working out our own passage preparations lately, I’ve been devouring Michener’s Hawaii; reading about the horrific passages of the peoples who originally emigrated to the islands makes our trip seem all the more benign and fun. Way back in the 9th century, an exiled group of Bora-Borans came a roundabout 6,000 miles to Hawaii in a large canoe sewn together with twine at the joints, with only the lines of an ancient fable to guide their navigation to islands rumored to lie somewhere to the north. A group of missionary New Englanders in the early 1800s spent six horrible months cramped into a communal hold in the belly of a tiny brig named Thetis that sailed from Boston first to the Azores (off the coast of Africa), then around Cape Horn, then finally across the Pacific to Hawaii. Newly-recruited Chinese laborers later in the century endured harsh, inhumane treatment on the Carthaginian, and dozens of sailors since then have braved the Pacific alone in small craft, during the wrong times of the year, or with many other hurdles we will not have to face. In contrast, sailing out to Hawaii from the Pacific Coast, during the fair spring season, is often referred to by sailors as “the happy tack.”
velella sailing
As we sailed out of the calm waters of Banderas Bay last week to make our way north again, I noticed that we both started to say “when” rather than “if” we go to Hawaii—without ever sitting down and deciding on it. We also tacitly regarded our mini-passage up to La Paz as a shakedown for Hawaii, and on the eve of my first night watch I thought about how I’d feel if I was 1200 miles from land instead of 30. I decided I’d probably feel much the same. When Prescott woke me in the middle of the night for my watch, I was shocked that it was 2:30 already, when he should have woken me at 1am. Incredulously I asked him why he let me sleep so long—he’d been on watch for over 7 hours when we had agreed to do shifts of 6! He said he wanted to give me one less hour of dark on my watch, and he didn’t mind staying up on such a beautiful night. With a mate like that and a boat full of love for one another, I thought, we can definitely do this.

We reached toward Mazatlan under a hot sunset this evening, sea birds dove from dozens of feet aloft and plunged into the water. A pair of whales blew clouds of breath and curved their great backs out of the water off to our port, and our rail dipped into that same salty sea with each gust. We’re headed up to the Sea of Cortez now to explore some awesomely remote anchorages that we breezed by on the way down. But by April we’ll be back out in this big Pacific, headed directly for that setting sun.

Here’s where Velella is cruising tonight, probably digging into a hefty book:

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Voyaging with Velella: The Grand Detour

paddling in bajaContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

It’s spring, and our wedding is less than 5 months away! We’ve loved slowing down on the Mexican coast, and this cruising pace has allowed us to host many family members and close friends—visits that afford us amazing quality time with the people we love. What a perfect way to spend our engagement. (Though I have to admit, craft shopping for wedding stuff at Quinceanera shops is SUB-PAR. But anyway…)

Visiting with family in this “removed” little disarming sphere of Velella’s world convinces us even more that the decision to move home to Portland is the right one. As we start our married lives together, proximity to our close friends and family makes a lot of sense to us.

There’s just one small hurdle.

There are three ways to get a boat back to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico:

1. Sail straight back up the coast the way we came down. This is often suggested by our well-meaning non-sailor friends and family, but it’s the option that is most out of the question. Heading north from here means bucking both the strong steady Northwesterly trade winds AND the south-setting California current for a couple thousand miles. The same reason why coming down was such a nice run is precisely why heading back up the same way would be going uphill against the wind. There are very popular books written about the notorious “Baja Bash,” and couples are cautioned to read these before embarking on such a trip, because many instances have ended in divorce. No joke. Not the way to prepare for our wedding.

2. Put Velella on a ship or truck in Mexico and fly home to meet her in Portland. This is a good option for several reasons, not the least of which is that it would be easiest on the crew! It would involve a lot of work “decommissioning” the boat for trucking (i.e. taking off all gear on deck—including having the mast pulled and laid alongside her), but most importantly it would involve a huge layout of cash we don’t really have. How much is the ease and convenience of having the boat trucked home worth to us? We choked when we received quotes for $9,000.
coast of big island
3. Take the Grand Detour. Otherwise known as “the happy tack,” the third viable return option is sailing from La Paz out to Hawaii, then back to the Pacific Northwest. There’s this wonderful high pressure system called the North Pacific High that sits somewhere in the middle of the ocean (it moves around a bit with the seasons); the consistency of this high pressure system is what produces the reliable trade winds. Think of a big circular high sitting in the ocean: Along the Pacific Coast all the way down to where we are now, the trade winds come out from the high from the northwest. Sailing AROUND this circular high allows you to basically have a downwind run the entire time, all the way back to the Pacific Northwest. Plus, there’s this great stopover in the middle called the Hawaiian Islands. Counter-intuitively, sailing the Grand Detour to Hawaii and back is a far more preferable option than the Baja Bash—both for wear and tear on the boat and the crew.

So, having ruled out the Baja Bash from day one, we are left with two options. A truckful of debt heading into our marriage, or the intrepid Grand Detour. If we did the detour, we would probably spend the month of April on passage to Hawaii. When we got there in early May, we’d fly home for the wedding, and return to the islands in early July. After “honeymooning” on our own boat in and around the Hawaiian Islands, we’d stock up and sail back to the Pacific Northwest during the month of August. We’d be home just in time to enjoy cruising a bit in the colorful autumn colors of the Columbia River with mugs of cider and flannel blankets.
approaching coast under sail
It’s easy to sit at home and say, “Do the Grand Detour, duh!” and it’s easy for us to think that sometimes too. But there are heavy factors to weigh for the ocean passage route home as well.

The risks are relatively low, but a lot higher than having the boat trucked home. Being isolated from one another (by our watch rotation) for almost two months would be awful. Is it totally crazy to spend the month before your wedding completely out of touch with the world and with each other on an emotional rollercoaster in the middle of the ocean? Yes. And then go back and do it again during the first few months of your marriage? Absolutely. But it might be just crazy enough to work.

We are so close to settling down and eagerly getting back to our careers. We’re excited to “nest.” We’re talking about buying land and saving up to build our own home. The thought of sailing to Hawaii and back makes me want to go straight to bed instead. But we both find it hard to turn our backs on the irresistible pull of life’s awesome challenges. It’s a crippling decision. But it’s one that we’re turning over slowly in our minds.

Got any thoughts or advice on this big decision? Leave a comment below.

Here’s where the crew of Velella are pondering their options:

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