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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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Turning Back The Years ~ Frogs On Board

Suppose you sailed to Maui to find a safe haven during the coronavirus and realized that four people you knew from college lived on Maui. Suppose the number of COVID cases in Maui was a total of six on the whole island. Suppose the restrictions for gatherings had been lifted and the restrictions for inter-island travel had been lifted.

Would you invite those friends to spend a week with you sailing around some of the Hawaiian Islands? Well, that is exactly what we did last week.

Dave, Dave and Frank were fraternity brothers in college.

Dave, Gloria, Dave and Nikki agreed to pack a few clothes and hop on TTR at Mala Wharf in Lahina. We upped anchor around 10:00 a.m. and initially motor sailed toward Lanai because the wind was very light. Once we turned along the southern side of Lania, we had a bit of wind and finished with a downwind sail to Shark Fin Cove.

Star 1: Mala Wharf. Star 2: Shark Fin Cove. Star 3: Honolua Bay.

Fortunately Frank had the coordinates for a mooring ball at the cove and after a bit of hunting, we spotted the ball and were able to secure Ticket to Ride in a lovely place. Although the area doesn’t look protected, there was a rock outcropping to protect the boat from swells. Plus the weather was very mild.

Shark Fin silhouetted in the sunset.

Shark Fin is a rock that protrudes from the ocean and looks like a shark’s fin. It is an excellent place to snorkel with an interesting rock formation underwater that attracts marine life. Some of us swam from TTR to Shark Fin to get in some exercise as well as check out the fish. Others took the dinghy over to Shark Fin and snorkeled from it.

Crystal clear water with sea caves in the far corner.

We spent two nights at Shark Fin Cove. TTR was moored in about 30 feet of extremely clear water and the fish were so plentiful it was like floating in an aquarium! There was a small sea cave within swimming distance and several rocks that made snorkeling entertaining as well as refreshing. Early mornings were calm enough to explore on the stand up paddle boards.

Coffee in hand, Frank waits to tie TTR to the mooring ball.

Cruisers know that sometimes there are maintenance items that require a quick off-shore motor to clear tanks. This is a picture of Frank enjoying morning java as he waits for us to return in TTR so he can retie us to the mooring ball. Not a bad way to while away some time.

Shark Fin Cove was pretty isolated and we only saw one sailboat that appeared to be doing some day snorkeling tours and one fishing boat. Well, except for the three rock climbers who repelled down the 60′ cliff face, then swam over to say hello…. that was definitely a first! I wish I had a picture of those folks but I was coming back from snorkeling when we saw the climbers.

MaryGrace and Frank watching the sun set at Shark Fin Cove.

Our next stop was Honolua Bay, back on Maui. We figured we should stop back at the home island in case Dave, Nikki, Dave or Gloria decided they wanted to jump ship. Happily, everyone wanted to remain for the whole week!

TTR nestled in Honolua Bay.

Honolua was our first stop on Maui when we arrived back in April and it remains one of my favorite spots. The bay is wonderfully protected from waves and it is a marine preserve so both above and under water it is beautiful!

Another gorgeous sunset in Honolua Bay.

One positive aspect of COVID is that the reduction of tourists to Hawaii has lessened the pressure on the reefs. Locals are saying that the coral and fish life is improving quickly in the absence of large numbers of snorkelers and divers. Even compared to when we were in Honolua Bay two months ago, we saw an increase in the number of fish and turtles around the reefs.

A small turtle surfaced next to TTR.

We spent a lot of time in the water while in Honolua Bay snorkeling, SUPing, lounging on floats and watching dolphins swim through the bay.

Dave, Gloria, Nikki and Mary Grace enjoying some down time.

Perhaps the highlight of our visit to Honolua this time was swimming with the dolphins. We saw them playing in the bay and quickly jumped in the dinghy to get closer. Frank and I had grabbed our masks, but unfortunately not a camera. We took turns using the masks and jumping into the water from the dinghy to see the dolphins.

Frank swimming with dolphins in a different anchorage.

There were probably a dozen dolphins on the surface but underwater there were at least two dozen more. I SO wish I had a photo to share, but at least the memory remains.

Frank and I are very comfortable in the water and didn’t think twice about jumping in to swim with the dolphins, but our friends were slightly hesitant. The look of wonder and excitement on their faces after they did jump in and see the dolphins was priceless. What a joy to share this experience with friends!

Frank attempts a running start on the SUP.
Star 3: Honolua Bay. Star 4: Kaneohe Bay.

After three nights in Honolua Bay, we awakened at first light and sailed to Kaneohe Bay. We sailed along the north side of Molokai Island because the views of the island are very pretty. The wind was lighter than expected and the direction wasn’t quite what was forecasted so we ended up further away from the island than we would have preferred.

Molokai’s shores are lush and dramatic.

The sail from Maui to Oahu took about eight hours in winds of 14-20 knots so it was a very relaxed sail. Unfortunately two of our friends battle sea sickness so they slept most of the way, which is a good way to avoid feeling ill.

Kaneohe Bay is very large and we spent our first night at the Sand Bar. Our time at the Sand Bar included SUPing, swimming, hiking and generally relaxing.

TTR anchored off the shallow Sand Bar in Oahu’s Kaneohe Bay.

Chinaman’s Hat is a small, sharp rock close to the entrance to Kaneohe Bay which can be “hiked.” However, the hike is really more of a scramble up the side of this steep little island and Dave, Nikki, Frank and I decided to try it. The view was great, but the hike up volcanic rock and dirt is extremely steep and becomes very slippery when it rains.

Chinaman’s Hat was a scramble not a hike.
Frank peeking from the top of Chinaman’s Hat.
Nikki working her way down Chinaman’s Hat before the rain started.
Beer-30 in the afternoon.
Star 4: first stop in Kaneohe Bay. Star 5: last stop in Kaneohe Bay.

After just one night at the Sand Bar, we moved TTR to the southwest portion of Kaneohe Bay near the Kaneohe Yacht Club and rented a car so we could take a driving tour of Oahu Island.

Shallow reef break along the North Shore.
North Shore of Oahu.

We managed to drive most of the island and made a few stops at beaches and scenic overlooks with a stop for lunch sandwiched in between. (See what I did there?)

A sign of the times: with COVID masks and without.

After eating all of our meals on Ticket to Ride, it was a nice change to eat out while visiting Haleiwa on the North Shore. This week on Ticket to Ride, everyone helped with meal prep and clean up so providing meals on the boat was not difficult. In fact, I would wager the food we ate on board TTR was as good as anything we eat in restaurants; and the view from the boat is unbeatable!

Frat brothers cleaning the galley after dinner.
Grill master, Frank, in Honolua Bay.

Here are a few more pictures from our day spent driving around Oahu.

Rescue helicopter near Diamond Head Lighthouse…. hope it was just practice!
The blow hole near Eternity Beach.
Looking down on Eternity Beach used in the final scenes of “From Here to Eternity.

I was a little concerned that this lifestyle would be too restrictive or odd and that Dave, Dave, Gloria and Nikki would feel really confined, but happily I didn’t sense that and no one seemed too tired of boat life.

Several times Dave, Gloria, Dave and Nikki mentioned that seeing the islands from the water was a unique experience for them and gave them a new perspective for the islands. Frank and I enjoyed sharing our floating home and perhaps demonstrating that we aren’t completely crazy for choosing to live on a boat.

Even though it has been decades since we have spent time together, these friendships, forged at Texas Christian University, melded as if no time had passed. We never broke stride and everyone interacted as if we had been spending time together consistently for years. Thanks for a great week y’all! TTR seems a bit quiet today without you.

GO FROGS!!

Side Note: Unfortunately, Hawaii is beginning to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and once again restrictions are being put in place to stem the spread. In just a few days, the 14 day quarantine for inter-island travel will be reinstated; at least for air traffic. Luckily, Dave, Nikki, Dave and Gloria returned home before these restrictions were reinstated. We sincerely hope the virus is curtailed in Hawaii before it becomes rampant. In the mean time, Frank and I will exercise greater caution in our social interactions.

Several of the photos in this post were taken by our friends, and Dave S. was especially good at capturing fun shots during the week. Thank you for the pictures.

As always, thank you for stopping by to read our blog. We would love to hear your thoughts about the places we are visiting should you care to make comments below. If you would like to hear from us more often, please check out our FB page or our Instagram.

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