Further Adventures in Hawai‘i 2012

N 21° 56' W 159° 21'

Chaos in Kaua‘i

March 07, 2012


After a week in O‘ahu, Mike was keen to visit another islands and Kaua‘i was his selection.  We carefully watched the weather forecasts focusing on suitable conditions to make the northwest, downwind passage and on Thursday (March 1st) things looked ideal.  Had we known what the weather would be like during the following week, maybe we would have turned south instead.


As it was, we left Ala Wai Harbor at noon and although it was rather lumpy with 6 – 8 ft waves (2 – 3 m) coming at us from at least two directions, the wind started off at a steady 15 knots from the east and we made good progress just using the jib.  We did not notice any albatrosses as we sailed along the west coast of O‘ahu but we saw red-footed- and brown-boobies and we did see a few humpback whales surfacing and tail-slapping.


By nighttime the wind had dropped to 10 knots directly behind us so we reduced the size of the jib, hauled it in tightly (but left it up to try to reduce our roll in the waves), and ran the engine at low RPM.  Mike shared the two-hour watches and admiring the stars we had an uneventful night. I had a radio conversation with a tow-boat that was pulling a barge from Honolulu to the same destination as us and who wanted to cross behind us from our starboard side to pass us on the port side because his barge was being pushed to port by the current.  He called to make sure that we were not going to alter our course to port.  We did not want to risk getting between and tow-boat and its barge so I temporarily adjusted our course a few degrees to starboard to make sure that we did not drift into his direction as he passed.


We arrived at Nawiliwili in the early afternoon and received permission from the US Coast Guard to enter the harbor despite the presence of the “Pride of America” (probably not absolutely necessary but these days the security is so tight around cruise ships that is best to be cautious).  Although there was plenty of anchoring room outside the large turning-basin, there were enough moored and anchored boats scatted through the area that it took us a while to select a suitable place.  We set our anchor near the edge of the designated anchorage having looked at the direction of the neighboring boats and the prevailing NE wind but rather disappointingly found ourselves swinging with the out-going tide and river current rather than with the wind so that our stern was creeping into the turning-basin.  Before we had time to decide whether to move, the Pride of America began to leave its dock and by the time it had swung its stern around towards us and clearly was still at a safe distance, we decided not to try moving again.  We were tired, wanted to get to the harbor-master’s office before 4 pm, and expected the winds to swing us back to a better position most of the time.  Otherwise, if there were objections from the harbormaster or Coast Guard, we could move the next day…or so we thought.


We lowered the dinghy and leaving Mike on Tregoning in case there were any concerns about our position, Randall and I headed to shore.  It took quite a while to get the outboard started and it sputtered quite a bit during our short trip to the loading dock.  We had not used it in several months so we were not too concerned but we knew that it would need a good run before we could assume that it was fully reliable.  Sadly, the trip was wasted because the harbormaster’s office (a new building since our last visit) had closed at 3:30 pm, just 10 minutes before we got to it.  Still, the sputtering outboard got us all to the dinghy-dock the next morning and we walked around the north side of the cargo and cruise-ship port to the group of small tourist shops at Anchor Cove, next to Kalapaki Beach.  Due to recent rains, the surf at the beach was an unappealing muddy brown but that did not deter a few hardy souls who were riding paddle boards and swimming in the surf. 


Being a Saturday, in Nawiliwili Park there were several local families setting-up barbecues, including one friendly group who were roasting a whole pig on a spit for a first-birthday party.  In traditional Hawaiian culture, the birth of a baby was celebrated by gift-giving within the family and with rites that often included burying the umbilical cord (piko) in a sacred place.  Big community lu‘aus, were saved for the baby’s first-birthday because the child’s prospects were much better if it had survived the first year.  First-birthday parties are a still a popular custom and on the Big Island we had met a young Hawaiian woman whose piko had been buried on Mauna Kea.  Although Randall and Mike were disappointed not to be invited to return and sample the roast pig, we had lunch at the “Burger Shack” which seemed to satisfy immediate demands.


The weather forecast for the next few days looked a bit unsettled as a cold front stalled over the islands so we decided to postpone renting a car for a few days.  This turned out to be a smart move.  That evening, when were about a third of the way through watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, a thunderstorm developed over us and some of the strikes were closed enough that we felt sure that at least one boat in the bay must have been hit.  We shut down the DVD player, unplugged all the electronics that we could, and shoved cell-phones, computers, and hand-held instruments into the oven (hoping it protected them as a Faraday cage).  We subsequently learned that the mast of a sailboat in the marina was struck and a small hole was blown out in the hull by the exiting bolt of lightning.


The deluge of rain and lightning continued on and off all night and by 5 am I got up to sit in the cockpit.  The rain was washing all sorts of logs and debris down the Hule‘ia Stream which dumped into Nawiliwili Bay right through the anchorage.  I had been kept awake not only by the rainfall but by the gentle thumping of logs bouncing down the hull and it was a relief to see in the beam of a flashlight that nothing at the surface had caught on our anchor chain.  As dawn slowly washed the scene from black to grey, I could see that another anchored cruising boat had not been so lucky and “Jazz” had a positive forest of logs and branches caught on its anchor-chain and at its stern.


I watched a tow-boat and large barge enter the harbor against the strong outflow of muddy river water and debris before tying up to the cruise-ship dock.  Just as another tow boat started to move out, I heard some thuds and shouts and looked into the main part of the anchorage to see a 35 ft (11 m) sailboat drifting downstream past Jazz and bouncing off a nearby ketch.  It then drifted towards the breakwater that protects the harbor.  I called the US Coast Guard on the VHF radio to alert them to the problem and after some discussion they asked that we phone their office to provide further details which Randall did while I stayed on the radio.  During this time the boat had passed the breakwater and was being carried out of the harbor in the main channel.  We also noticed four more, smaller sailboats had broken off their anchors or moorings and were drifting slowly towards the breakwater. 


With so much river current and debris in the anchorage we were not inclined to lower the dinghy which, luckily, we had hoisted out of the water for the night.  Even with a fully reliable outboard it was unlikely that we could have done much to stop any of the drifting boats but the idea of trying to go out and then having to drift or row to safety should the outboard fail was not acceptable. Meanwhile, the departing tow-boat was calling the US Coast Guard to report that the first sailboat boat was beyond the breakwater, drifting in the entrance channel blocking the way of the cruise-ship Oosterdam that the tow-boat was going to escort into the harbor. Eventually the tow-boat must have managed to push the sailboat aside because we were soon watching the cruise-ship cautiously make the series of right-angle turns that were needed to get past the breakwater and the long pier at the end of its dock.


As the cruise-ship and escorting tow-boat came into the harbor, one of the two medium-sized (45 ft or 14 m) Coast Guard response-boats stationed at Nawiliwili started to exit the harbor and soon returned with the errant, and apparently undamaged, sailboat in tow.  In the meantime, three of the boats drifting along the breakwater had become entangled with the hull of a huge trimaran that has been moored in the harbor in its unfinished state for many years.  We were afraid that the whole collection would break loose as they appeared to be dragging closer to the end of the breakwater but amazingly they did not.  The fourth boat drifted across the entrance channel and stopped in front of the Kalapaki Beach, presumably because its anchor had snagged or it ran aground on a reef.


In the middle of all this action, we noticed that a large tree trunk had become stuck directly upstream of us.  We were pretty sure that this had not been there the day before and our concern was not only that it might become dislodged and drag down onto us but that in doing so it might bring with it the three moored boats between us.  Needless to say, we found ourselves staring at this tree at frequent intervals trying to gauge whether it was getting any closer to the upstream boat.  We also found ourselves watching Richard (who had introduced himself to us the day before) on his boat Jazz, trying to dislodge the branches on his anchor-chain.  We felt helpless watching him as he tried to pull or cut the debris with a small saw but again we feared that trying to use our unreliable dinghy to help might just add to the chaos.  What did become apparent, however, was that even though we were being swung by the current out into the edge of the turning-basin, we had picked a good spot to anchor because unlike Jazz, Tregoning was outside the fastest and most debris-laden part of the river outflow. 


While the US Coast Guard was towing the first sailboat into the harbor, the Fire and Rescue Service launched their small boat.  They helped move the sailboat to the loading dock and then aided the USCG in rescuing the boat that was stuck off Kalapaki Beach.  They also helped Richard move one particularly large log off his anchor-chain and after that he was able to drag the rest of the debris free himself.  He eventually pulled up his anchor and motored into the inner harbor and tied-up to the loading dock.  About the same time, another sailboat entered the channel and anchored just behind us.  We were not sure if this was an inhabited boat from the harbor that has dragged its anchor or a boat that had newly arrived through the unpleasant and increasingly rough seas but with all the other activity, neither the Coast Guard nor the staff on the recently launched harbormaster’s boat seemed to be too concerned that he was anchored right in the turning-basin.


Throughout this period, the USCG was providing regular “Pan-Pan” reports (which were downgraded to “Securité” once it was established that no-one was aboard the drifting vessels) over VHF channel 16, warning of the dangerous flows and debris in Nawiliwili Harbor and recommending boaters to avoid transiting the area.   We noticed that numerous new waterfall had sprouted all over the cliffs of Kalanipu‘u hill on the south side of the harbor and around 9 am the SW winds swung around and strengthened from the NE.  With the wind direction opposing the current, small standing waves developed in the harbor adding to the general state of confusion and our certainty that launching our dinghy to go ashore would be a bad idea.


So we spent the day aboard Tregoning watching as several dinghies and the harbormaster’s boat went out to examine the three sailboats trapped by the catamaran.  Gradually, the boats were disentangled and only one seemed to have sustained damage with a crushed bow rail.  All except one of the boats were towed to the now-crowded loading dock.  Strangely, the other boat was re-anchored not far from shore, right back in the worst of the outflow of Hule‘ia Stream.  The flow had seemed to be receding slightly but by the late afternoon the rain became heavier again.


Earlier in the afternoon than usual (probably because there was nothing very appealing for the passengers to do ashore in the rain), the Oosterdam left port.  On returning from escorting the ship out of the harbor, the US Coast Guard response-boat returned to its station via the edge of the turning basin.  They told the boat anchored behind us to move into the anchorage and they came over to require us to do the same because at the time our stern was in the basin.  In perhaps a rather frustrated tone, I asked them where exactly they would recommend us to move to given the chaos that the river outflow and debris had already caused in the rest of the anchorage.  Unable to give us a good suggestion they decided to let us stay where we were but told us to “be aware”, presumably that we were encroaching into the turning basin.


We finally settled-down to try to watch the end of “Saving Private Ryan” but before we could finish it a strong wind started to blow from the NE.  By itself this would not have been a problem, in fact, it blew us nicely forward on our anchor out of the turning-basin but we found our bow sailing uncomfortably close to a moored catamaran.  Between the opposing effects of the wind and the river current, the catamaran was describing wild circles around and across its mooring.  So instead of both boats lying well separated and in the same direction they were swinging (us) and circling (the catamaran) in patterns that frequently brought us very close to colliding.  Not that the impact would have been particularly hard but if anything became entangled on the boats something would undoubtedly be scratched or broken.


Given the unpleasant conditions and without any obviously better place to anchor, we really did not want to try moving so we established two hour anchor watches and throughout the night one of the three of us was sitting in the cockpit keeping a lookout for the catamaran or any large debris.  The hard rain continued all night so we were still afraid that the upstream tree and/or boats might yet drag down upon us.


By dawn on Monday, although the wind and rain had calmed down, the flow of water and debris around us was still rapid so we called the harbormaster’s office to ask if they had any slips available only to be told that the marina was full.   Richard on Jazz had been able to secure the last vacant slip.  So we did not rush to the office but at 9:30 am Randall and I cruised in to pay the nominal fee for anchoring.  Surprisingly, when I walked into the office and said which boat I was from and that we only wanted to stay for a week or so, there was much flurry and discussion and the next thing I knew was that we were going to be able to use slip 112.  This slip was available to us until the current permit-holder, Craig, was ready to move his boat there from another, less satisfactory slip.  While I was completing the paperwork for our stay (and kindly we were excused paying for our miserable three nights in the anchorage), Randall met Craig and we were able to profusely thank him for his delay in moving.


When we returned to Tregoning, Mike was also very pleased because he had not looked forward to feeling trapped on the boat or having to trust the dodgy outboard to keep shuttling us to shore.  We quickly pulled up the anchor and in relatively pleasant conditions I eased us into the slip where we firmly secured Tregoning.  It was extremely fortunate that we moved when we did because a few hours later the rain had returned and the wind started howling again from the NW.  If we had still been in the anchorage, we would have undoubtedly been doing the tango with the catamaran again…or worse.


By mid-afternoon, the winds were a steady 25 knots with reported gusts of 30 to 35 knots and we were so thankful to be just buffeted around within the safe confines our slip.  Out in the bay, however, I noticed that the sailboat that had been re-anchored the previous day after it was rescued from the embrace of the trimaran, was now dangerously close to the rocks along the southern shore of the anchorage.  I ran through the rain to alert the staff in the harbormaster’s office while Randall called the US Coast Guard.  The latter issued warnings on VHF channel 16 about a drifting boat in Nawiliwili harbor but we were surprised to see that once it was established that no-one was aboard and in peril no aid was sent out to rescue the boat before it smashed on the rocks.  We were subsequently told that the area was too shallow for the Coast Guard response-boats but we wondered by the smaller inflatable had not been launched.


By Tuesday morning, when we finally saw some sunshine, the sailboat was hard on the rocks but remarkably, since it had been rolled all night by the wind and waves, it was still upright and the hull appeared to be intact.  Making the most of the fine weather, we walked to Anchor Cove and caught a bus into Lihu‘e.  We were particularly lucky to have hit a promotional period when the usual $2 bus fare was being waived for a week.  Mike and I visited the Kaua‘i Museum while Randall investigated whether he could exchange a broken fishing rod at Walmart despite not having the receipt (yes, but only if they had the same model in stock which they did not).  We then walked along a road that crossed the Nawiliwili Stream next to the ruins of a huge sugar mill and visited the supermarket in the Kukui Grove shopping center.


After catching the bus back to Anchor Cove we started to walk back to the small-boat harbor along the road next to the commercial port.  We soon discovered that the road was closed to traffic because a tree-and-landslide off the face of the adjacent cliff had knocked down a couple of power-poles.  Needless to say, being at the end of the line, there was no power in the marina but with fully charged batteries this did not bother us.  What was a problem was that we discovered that our refrigerator had stopped working.  It was unlikely that this had anything to do with the local power-outage because the fridge ran off the 12 volt batteries.  After Randall unsuccessfully tried to fix it, I set-off to find some ice and small car-fuses.  In the end, I walked and jogged to an auto-parts shop near the supermarket and between the two stores I got what I needed.   With 20 lbs (9 kg) of ice in my back-pack, I could not jog on the 2 mile (3 km) return trip but at least the last part was downhill.  Sadly, the fuses did not solve the problem with the fridge.  However, the power was restored later that evening and it was amazing how quickly the utility company had been able to replace the two broken poles.


While in town, we had bought a couple of newspapers and learned that during the 24 hour period starting at 5 pm on Sunday, more than 6 inches of rain (18 cm) had fallen in Lihu‘e. Hanalei, at the north end of the island, received more than a staggering 17 inches (44 cm) of rain during 27 hours so it was not surprising that the headlines referred to the Garden Isle (Kaua‘i) being under water.  As we had heard on the local radio, many other landslides had occurred all over the island and combined with flooded roads and washed-out bridges, many schools and businesses were closed for several days while a state of emergency was declared to facilitate funding for repairs.


The following morning, Mike and I decided that the Hule‘ia Stream had calmed down enough that we could take a ride up it in the dinghy while leaving poor Randall to work out what needed to be replaced in the fridge.  Unfortunately, we could never get the outboard running smoothly enough consider it trustworthy for the expedition and instead we had just added another project to Randall’s expanding list.  We suspected that the gasoline was contaminated by water and various oily deposits.  The subsequent addition of a fuel treatment did nothing to resolve the problem so we concluded that we would have to get a clean fuel-tank and new gasoline in Honolulu, where we could clean the carburetor and spark-plugs.


So ignoring a few light showers, Mike and I walked along the road west of the harbor to the overlook for the ‘Alekoko Fishpond.  This was the ancient Hawaiian fishpond that Randall and I had explored by kayak on our previous visit to Kaua‘i and which was supposedly built overnight by the Menehune or “little people”.  When we returned, Randall had worked out that he needed to order a new control panel for the fridge which we requested to have express shipped to us from the mainland.  We also saw that the effort to rescue the sailboat on the rocks had sadly ended in failure.  The keel of the upright boat had been tightly wedged between two rocks and when the owner had tried to pull it out using another vessel the sailboat ended up on its side and was half-submerged.  Although not obvious whether this was a consequence of holes ground into the hull or some other misfortune, the net result was that the boat could not be salvaged for repair and all of the equipment and belongings aboard were lost. It was a sad conclusion to the chaos that had enveloped Nawiliwili harbor for the five preceding days.  While we were very relieved that Tregoning had come through the debacle without sustaining any damage, we really hoped that the weather would finally improve so that Mike would have an opportunity to see the beauty of Kaua‘i rather than feel constrained by the vagaries of what winter can offer in Hawai‘i.

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