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A Circuitous Route To Maui In Search Of Humpback Whales

Like most people, our travels and interactions have been severely limited by COVID, and often we are just hanging out and doing routine activities like working out, maintaining Ticket to Ride and eating at home. But Frank and I wanted to make a trip from Oahu to Maui to see the whales that migrate there every year.

We have some college friends who live in Hawaii and they expressed a definite desire to sail with us, so we invited them to join us on our little jaunt. 

Inter-island travel in Hawaii requires COVID-19 testing, so we found an accepted location and scheduled our first ever Coronavirus test to coincide with completion of provisioning and a good weather window. Happily the test wasn’t terrible and the results were negative!

Our route from Oahu to Maui.

Gloria, Dave, Frank and I set out to make a leisurely trip to Maui with a few stops along the way, assuming the weather predictions were accurate. The tentative plan was to stop first on the southwest side of Molokai in Lono Harbor for a night or two, next visit Needles or Shark Fin on Lanai depending on swell and wind. After Lanai we would explore a few spots on Maui and if the weather presented, we would take a day trip to Molokini.

Leaving the calm, protected waters of Kaneohe Bay.

We set off from Kaneohe Bay with one reef in the main sail plus the genoa. The wind was mild even though the channel between Oahu and Molokai (Ka’iwi Channel) can be quite sporty. It was a casual sail of 51nm and we arrived at Lono Harbor in late afternoon.

A glimpse of the calm trip to Molokai.

Lono is a man made harbor with a narrow opening that can close out if the waves build, so we were careful to choose a weather window that promised small swells for an easy entrance and exit. In the picture below, notice how flat the water is in the harbor and the entrance.

This gorgeous sunset also shows the narrow and very calm harbor entrance.

Although Molokai is referred to as The Friendly Island, we have heard that, especially during COVID, the locals want nothing to do with visitors to their island. We saw several individuals and a family fishing from the shore at Lono Harbor and we cheered for them from the boat whenever they landed a fish. There was plenty of waving and smiles and no feelings of ill will. 

We were quite surprised to see this fellow swim from shore to the rocky pier at dusk. We aren’t sure what caused his flight but we heard a dog barking and thought perhaps the dog chased the deer into the water.

Oh deer – you need to get our of the water!

Sunset was an array of vivid colors that we enjoyed while sipping cocktails. We relished the quiet of nature that wreathed this harbor.

Dave and Gloria toasting a beautiful sunset in Lono Harbor.

During the night Frank and I awakened to much greater motion on the boat, but attributed it to increased wind.  However, in the morning, the harbor entrance had a little surprise for us….. the swell forecast must have been wrong or incorrectly timed because we had waves that were 8 to 10 feet instead of the 2-3 predicted. The entrance was by no means closed out, but we needed to time our exit carefully and we wanted to leave sooner than later before the anchorage became uncomfortable.

These waves were not predicted!

After studying the waves for quite a while, preparing TTR as if she were a monohull, and putting on lifejackets, we upped anchor and waited for a break in the waves to motor quickly out of the harbor.

Thankfully our timing worked well and our exit was uneventful.  Frank and I were a bit too busy to get any pictures, but Dave caught some of the excitement on film. Though, as usual, film doesn’t capture the complete feeling.

Leaving Lono Harbor

Sailing from Lono to Lanai was easy enough and included a variety of wind but the sea state was mild. I think the shallow entrance at Lono significantly increased the swell at the entrance because the swell away from the shallows was insignificant.

Winter in Hawaii means the winds can come from any direction and as we moved toward Lanai, we were doubtful that either Needles or Shark Fin would be tenable for an overnight stay.

Approaching Needles.

As we neared Needles, we knew conditions would prevent us from staying overnight, but we enjoyed seeing the unique rock formations. From a distance, the Needles blend with the black rock of the shore behind them, but up close the rock formations define themselves. Originally there were five spires, but today only three remain.  Two are stubby protrusions of black rock but one looks like a large, tall tree stump with dormant grass on top.

Even the texture of this formation resembles tree bark.

Although it was a long shot, we sailed over to Shark Fin to see if somehow we could grab a mooring ball there to stay overnight. Once again the swell and wind were not in our favor so we pointed our bows toward Olowalu on Maui.

Olowalu has bunches of coral heads that are fun to snorkel. We don’t ever want to damage coral, so we hooked up to a mooring ball and enjoyed the steady breezes that flow between the mountains into the anchorage. 

Frank and Dave enjoying a breakfast burrito while watching for whales.

The next morning we awakened early, prepared coffee and breakfast burritos.  Then we launched our dinghy, Day Tripper, and motored into the channel for breakfast in the dinghy while searching for whales. We saw many whales and had one incredible encounter. We turned off the engine and were floating near two or three kayaks when we spotted a whale and baby heading our way. Turns out it was four whales and soon they swam inside the loose circle we created with the kayaks. The whales came much closer than expected but we never felt threatened. Up close it is amazing how gently and gracefully these whales moved through us. Though we have seen some breaching that I wouldn’t want to be near!

Whales from our dinghy.

We spent the remainder of the day in and out of the water, spying on the fish and looking at the coral.

Next we decided to find a mooring ball in a little spot called Coral Guardens. We had never been there, but we knew there were mooring balls and we wanted to explore the coral there. Since Coral Gardens is so close to Olowalu, we motored over and hooked up in less than an hour. After scouting the swing room from the mooring ball, we decided TTR would be safe there overnight and once again we spent the day relaxing and getting in and out of the water to look at the marine life. It was great to be back on Maui where the water was clear and warm enough for us to swim!

Fortuitously we had an excellent weather window to sail to Molokini, a small crescent shaped island about 10 miles southeast of Olowalu.  Molokini is a favorite stop for day cruise boats but it is often too windy to stay there in the afternoons when the winds kick up.  We had a pleasant sail to Molokini then spent most of a day tied to a mooring ball. 

We snorkeled along the interior of the crescent and saw a nice variety of fish. Then we enjoyed lunch on the front of TTR and watched others snorkel the path we had already taken.  It was a really nice change to see day cruises in operation and visitors enjoying the delights of Hawaii. Though the day charter boats are not carrying full capacity, they are making a go of things and showing a few visitors the beauty of Hawaii.

Clear weather allowed us to see the details of Maui’s mountains from far away.

About 3 pm we released the mooring ball and had a truly delightful sail to Mala Wharf on Maui. Of these five days of sailing, this one was the best one.  The winds were consistently 12-15 knots at a 120 degree true wind angle. We enjoyed champagne sailing at 8-10 knots as we moved along and searched for whales. We spotted many whale spouts as we sailed but we didn’t get close to any of them. 

It was fun just to see the whales surface and watch the clouds created by their exhales.

Bouncy weather was predicted so we dropped anchor near Mala Wharf and enjoyed a final dinner with Dave and Gloria aboard TTR.

The forecast showed we were in for a day of rain and wind, so we dropped our friends off early, spent a quiet, rainy day on Ticket to Ride and planned our next move to Honolua Bay, just a few miles up the Maui coast.

****Special thanks to Dave and Gloria for allowing me to use some of their photos!

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FIRE on the beach – Christmas Tree Burning

**UPDATE: I have received a message from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources explaining that fires of any type on the sandbar are illegal. In addition, the message states that most of the trees are shipped in from the mainland and they have pesticides and chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Please look at the full response from DLNR in the comments on this blog to understand the extent of law concerning this event.**

Once a year, in January, on an evening when the tide gets particularly low, an unofficial event takes place at The Sandbar in Kaneoha Bay. Quite by accident we were able to witness this event because we had decided to anchor at the sandbar and enjoy a quiet evening or two on the hook.

Saturdays are often crowded at this local hangout, but this time there were quite a few boats and people making the trek to the edges of the shallows.

Walking to the burn site as the tide continues to fall.

Well, it turns out that every year, after Christmas, an underground communication takes place and discarded Christmas trees are gathered for a huge bonfire. I don’t know how many years this has taken place, but the news travels quickly and quietly. Friends, families neighbors and pets gather early in the day and play in the water until dusk begins to settle and the tide has rolled most of the water off of the sand.

Tommy and Frank stake claim to their “islands.” Apparently Frank needs more land than Tommy.

It is in the twilight, just before dusk truly begins that one or two pontoon boats, piled high with discarded Christmas trees, arrives at the sandbar. With jovial hellos, folks grab the trees and one by one carry them to a dry spot on the sandbar. Volunteers toss the trees haphazardly in a pile, as others form a loose circle around the trees.

Circling the trees before the lighting.

As we approached the the pile and saw groups of people were gathering in the circle, Dr. Seuss’ song, “Welcome Christmas” which the Who people sing on Christmas morning, was playing in my head as I watched the smiling people. (The lyrics are quite nice if you take a listen.)

Can you see TTR way in the background far from any possible ashes?

One minute before the lighting of the tree, a single Roman Candle firecracker was shot into the air.

Sending up the one minute warning firecracker.

One quick flame to the tree pile sparked a huge bonfire. It literally took only moments for the trees to become a heatwave of fire. The speed of the combustion made me realize how Christmas tree fires cause such destruction in homes!

The trees have been lit!
Just minutes after the trees were set on fire.

In this contained and safe environment, the fire was beautiful and enchanting as it danced and devoured the branches. Though we were standing in only ankle deep water, the night air was chilly and the blaze dispersed warmth and light that were welcome.

The fire was itself was pretty and created beautiful reflections on the water.

I was truly amazed by how quickly the fire burned through the trees! I would estimate that an hour after the fire started, the majority of the trees were gone. The remaining debris was washed away as the tide rose and today there is no evidence that the secret burning ever occurred.

Flames created controversy.

In the days after the tree burning, there were complaints on-line about the event as some believe the fire creates mess and debris in the water. For myself, I thought the event was very safe and I saw no mess created. We walked the sandbar the next day and found no trace of the trees. Plus, if any branches do drift off, they are natural and can decompose in the water.

What does surprise me is that people were complaining about the mess of the Christmas Tree burning while not complaining about the mess created by the fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve. I posted a video of midnight fireworks in Kaneohe Bay which were beautiful and more abundant than I have ever seen! I absolutely cannot imagine all the bits of trash left on the streets from that event!

But everyone has his own “hot” button. (See what I did there? hehe) I’m a visitor in Hawaii and we are simply fortunate to see both the New Year’s celebratory fireworks and the Christmas Tree burn.

FYI, those of us on TTR tried to keep a 6′ distance from the others on the sandbar. Even though we were outside and standing upwind most of the time, we did our best to keep distances. We also had our face masks with us if needed.

Thank you for visiting our blog. We hope 2021 has begun in a positive way for all of you. If you have comments or questions, we would love to hear from you. Be sure to visit us on Instagram or Facebook if you want to hear from us more often.

Day Tripper Video ~ Possible With A Little Help From Our Friends

We have had several people send us photos and videos of Ticket to Ride and we are always very appreciative of the effort they make to reach out to us.

Recently, Tim sent us a video he had taken of TTR as we were sailing out of Kaneohe Bay. The video was great and we definitely wanted to share his excellent video, so we asked Mae and Tommy to help us. Fortunately they were willing to teach us about editing video and contribute some of their own shots.

The resulting video if a compilation of Tim’s video, Mae’s videos, Tommy’s videos and maybe just a tiny bit of our own.

Tommy and Mae, thanks for patiently sharing your knowledge with us!

I hope you enjoyed seeing this glimpse of life aboard TTR. Our normal, non-COVID travel locations limit our uploading ability so we rarely share video. We would like to hear what you think of this one.

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