55 foot Fleming Trawler similar to the boat in the story
E-MAIL IN A BOTTLE
By Thomas Takao
The following story of a voyage to Hawaii happened after the Worldwide Computer Crash Scare of 2000. After the non-eventful disruption to everyone's computer on the first of January, the rest of the month was like any other January. There were three individuals for this trip: Captain Ron, First mate Dave, and Myself, the crew (Skipper/Owner Johan will join the boat in Hawaii). We were aboard a fifty-five foot Fleming powerboat that was well equipped for this passage.
Captain Ron and Dave's main purpose was to deliver the boat to the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor on Oahu before February 13, 2000. My reason for going was to gain experience in making a crossing to Hawaii in a boat, as well as to surf. The February 13th deadline wasn't because of Valentine's Day, but for the reason of obtaining a boat-slip. Johan had been on a waiting list for a slip in the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor for some time. His name came up when the slip became available and was given a time period for his boat to occupy the slip. If the boat wasn't in the assigned slip before the designated date, then someone else would be given the opportunity. Since mid-January was the earliest for the boat to be overhauled and refitted. The departure date was set for the 22nd of January. A cushion of one week was placed into the delivery schedule, but the sense of urgency was still in place. The process for this trip started two months before the departure date in late January.
After an evening sail in November with a group of sailing enthusiasts in search of the green flash, we secured our lines at the docks of the Jolly Roger at Dana Point Harbor. Somewhat wind-blown with a hairstyle to match I pulled up a chair and started to discuss the day's sail. The conversation drifted towards Hawaii and the voyage that Captain Ron was about to make. He needed an additional member to fill the watch rotation to three. Since the original crew member that was supposed to go, couldn't, due to an unexpected circumstance. I listen and contemplated the possibility of going like some of the other adventurous souls at the table. Nobody spoke up, so I indicated that I would go and Captain Ron had a smile of one less thing to think about going into the holiday season. After committing, I took a drink from my glass of beer, and the rest became the story.
The voyage began at Oceanside Harbor on a Saturday afternoon the 22nd of January. I was taking with me a 9'4" Eberly roundpin longboard that I had just picked up one hour before leaving on this trip. The boat had been in Oceanside Harbor for a few days after leaving a San Diego boatyard after an overhaul. We motored over to the fuel docks on this day and began taking on 1300 gallons of fuel into the fuel bladders that were on either side of the cabin along the walkway, the forward bow section, and the stern fantail. The boat's tanks had been filled in San Diego and filling the bladders was the last thing on the list. The boat had 2200 gallons of fuel for the trip. The forward fuel bladder which contained 300 gallons of fuel was held in place with a 6' X 6' cradle made with 2x 6s and lashed down with rope.
All fueled up after an hour, we left slowly out of the harbor, looking over the breakwater from the flybridge as we motored out, there were a few surfers out at the north jetty. The waves were 2 to 3 feet, glassy, with the water temperature being 54 degrees. Having been so for some time, the thought of surfing in trunks made the departure somewhat more inviting. Captain Ron has done his homework over the Christmas break took into consideration the fuel consumption of the twin Catapillar engines, when the refueling from the bladders should take place. The course and the amount of time it would take to get there, give or take so many days and hours.
Once passed the breakwater the throttle was pressed forward and we began cruising at 8 knots. Looking back at our wake of the boat, as the white foam returned to the color of greenish blue-gray of the coastal waters. So we were off as land disappeared behind us. A few hours out, we came across a life ring from the Viking Serenade, if it had any meaning, it was probably a hint of the low-pressure systems that awaited us and the possibilities of having to use the life ring. We motored the afternoon away with Navy ships in our path. We crisscrossed our course to avoid being in their path as we headed west. With nightfall approaching, San Clemente Island was to our starboard beam while we enjoyed dinner in the lounge. Our watches were 3 hours on and 6 hours off. We passed by the Cortes Bank by about 6 miles on my 0300 to 0600 watch. It is a submerged pinnacle with deep water all around. This is where the USS Enterprise scraped its hull awhile back and caused some damage. A buoy has been placed to warn other ships of it's whereabouts. The location has become a Big Wave spot with surfers riding 50 ft.+ waves.
The next day was a peaceful Sunday with glassy seas until mid-morning. The weather fax indicated a low-pressure system in place 850 miles to the Northwest of our position and increasing in size. The weather changed from it sure was nice to what the F- - k?. So that afternoon the seas became bumpy and the weather change from clear to cloudy. Monday had the same taste of stormy conditions from the previous afternoon, except for the seas had become bumpier. Things started falling off the galley tabletop and if it was a real good bump, things came from the upper shelves. You had to brace yourself while walking through the hallway.
Tuesday there was a break in the cold front and a day of its not so bad, kind of. During a designated time in the mid-morning, the transfer of fuel was done using a shorten garden hose and an electric water pump. Our speed was reduced to a couple of knots and the bow pointed into the wind while the refueling from the bladders to the boat's fuel tank took place. The rear fuel bladder was first to be depleted followed by the bow bladder and then the two side bladders. The crew quarters were on the port side in front of the engine compartment. Captain Ron's quarters was the V-berth in the forward bow section. The lounge had an L shaped sofa with a dining table located on the port side of the lounge, a stereo system cabinet, a color T.V., and a VCR on the starboard side of the lounge. The rear door located in the middle of the windowed bulkhead led onto the fantail section of the boat.
During the night watch, the stars came out and the Milky Way was insight. You could see clusters after clusters of stars pouring over the horizon. Compared to seeing just a trickle of a few stars in the city. Wednesday morning, the weather fax indicated another low-pressure system to the Northwest again. This system was quite big, Dave mentioned it was a mother of a low. Captain Ron said you mean Molow with a laugh that was on the borderline of a cough. I didn't care what they called it, it looked pretty bad compared to the last system we just went through.
Sure enough, Wednesday and the seas were rougher than before. With confused seas and an occasional elevator drop. That is where the boat's bow would plow through a wave and the entire boat would drop straight down about 4 to 6 feet. At night when you are sleeping there would be a space in between you and your bunk when that happened. The noise from the engine room was more pronounced during this time period, but since sleep was at a premium, the noise didn't matter. The 0000 to 0300 and the 0300 to 0600 watches were the difficult times during the storms. Taking a pounding during the day and waking up to the pounding of your early morning watch for 3 straight days made for a tired frame of mind.
During the second night of the second low, the cradle holding the forward fuel bladder fell apart. In the morning I went forward to check on things and saw the boards were to the side of the bladder with the nails pointing straight up. We were pretty lucky considering there were still about 50 gallons of fuel left in the bladder and no punctures.
Saturday and the seas started to calm down with the trades appearing. I started to eat meals again instead of the water and crackers that suited my appetite during the stormy weather. The sun was out with Cumulus clouds softening the sky. There were rolling swells of 20 ft. going south and we were going west, I wondered how it would be if we were to surf them. The boat with its stabilizers out cruised down the back of the swell into the trough and back up the face of another swell. By the afternoon the swells had diminished and were half the size. It was quite pleasant for a change and with these types of conditions, the mood changed to let's send a message in a bottle.
Having a few empty wine bottles available, Dave began melting the paraffin wax to seal the bottle with. Captain Ron placed his message into his bottle, had it sealed, and went to the flybridge. He was the first to toss his bottle overboard followed by Dave and his toss. Then it was my turn to do the same. I used my poetic license to describe the events leading to the toss. With the abbreviated paragraphs, due to being in a hurry, it was concluded with an email address. With that written, I let it go at that and the e-mail in a bottle floated away. Super Bowl Sunday and the atmosphere felt like a bet was going to happen. During the changing of the watch, Captain Ron wanted to make a bet for the Super Bowl. Since we were out in the middle of the ocean and nothing else was happening, it sounded reasonable to me. Captain Ron bet on the Rams and I took the Titans. The wager of five dollars was made. The only way we could keep track of the game was an old radio with bad reception. We heard the kickoff before it started to sound scratchy and after a few minutes, nothing at all. The reception was hit or miss being so far out. (about 900 miles from Hawaii)
For the next couple of days during the night watches looking overboard, you could see the phosphorescence sea life going on as the bow's wake made its way to the stern. They looked like fronts of miniature flashlights spaced out about every foot within the wake, disappearing into the night as we traveled on. The swells became smaller in the days to follow and the water temperature was rising to 70 degrees one day before reaching Hawaii. It was Wednesday and still traveling at 8 knots that day. We estimated our time of arrival into Hilo of the Big Island around 1 or 2 the next morning. Since this would be Captain Ron's first time into Hilo Bay, he thought it best to approach a new harbor by Day's light. So we reduce our speed to 5 knots as we continued our routines. The following morning at 0530 hours we approached Hilo Bay from the northeast slowly as the morning light climbed the slopes of Mauna Kea to bring in the new day. The breakwater of Hilo Bay was to our port as we followed the marker buoys leading into our anchorage space at Radio Bay. A cruise ship was close behind with its guests ready to embark on the town of Hilo. There on the docks was Johan waiting to greet us. He had taken a flight the day before and had kept a watch from his hotel window for our arrival. Captain Ron med-moored the boat (the bow pointing away from the docks) and the longest leg of the voyage complete, it took 13 days from Oceanside Harbor, Calif. to Hilo Bay, Hawaii.
Stepping onto land my legs felt like it was still rocking away on the boat. While making a phone call I held on to the side of a phone booth to steady the rocking sensation, it lasted for a few hours before feeling normal again. It was Thursday and the day began with a breakfast at Ken's, and asking who won the Super Bowl game. Just think when someone comes up to you asking who won the Super Bowl a week later? A local bro told us of the results and finished the conversation with a smile. I lost the bet and found out that the game wasn't decided until the final play, oh well. Captain Ron bought two coffee cups to take home. We went back to the boat to take care of various chores of cleaning up the boat and the carpets. Next on the list was to get side fins for my board at a surf shop, we went into the Mall and after I got the fins, it was off to do some sight-seeing around Hilo.
We headed north on Hwy 19 past the towns of Paukaa, Papaikou, and Pepe'ekeo, a quick decision was made by Johann who was doing the driving. We made a left turn onto Akaka Falls Rd into the town of Honomu. We continued on the road that led to Akaka Falls. We parked in the parking lot and took in the scenery. We followed the path that led to the waterfall and around the area. From the upper falls the water travels down the base of Mauna Kea to the lower falls and out to the sea. After leaving Akaka falls we headed back to Hwy 19, once on the highway we headed north for a short while before making a U-turn and began the return ride back. Turning off into old town Hilo, we had a late lunch, and after our minds were off food, we drove back down to Kalanianaole Ave and parked it at Carlsmith Park. The freshwater/saltwater lagoon was a refreshing way to end the day. Once back on board at Radio Bay, sleeping on the flybridge was quite nice, except for the early morning activities of the forklifts on the docks.
The next morning, Friday the 4th of February Captain Ron departed back to the mainland at 0530 and Johan the new skipper took over the duties. We departed for Hana Bay on Maui at 0630. With the sun shining its tropical warmth and the clouds drifting with the light trade winds. Captain Johan had two poles out with jigs for some fishing while on our way to Maui. About 15 minutes later about a mile off of Onomea Bay, the drag from both reels sounded off. I grab one pole, while Johann took the other. Holding the base and neck of the butt of the rod with the shaft curving in an elliptical shape. I leaned back and adjusted the drag slightly and begin reeling in the fish. The fish took another run as I lean back again letting the reel's drag do its job as I held on, taking in the slack by spontaneously leaning forward and then back while reeling in the line.
Once again the fish took off for another run. The fight lasted for about 10 minutes and after landing my Aku, also known as a Skipjack tuna, Johann landed his Aku. Both tuna was flapping around on the fantail for about 5 minutes before being out of the water took its toll. The two Aku being of the same school were of the same size, around 10 lbs.
After the brief encounter with the Akus things became quiet, so we put the poles and feathers away and just watched the coastline of the Big Island for another hour before entering the Aleineuhaha Channel. The Channel was calm and glassy for most of the way to Maui with Bottlenose Dolphins showing up occasionally along the crossing, these guys were a pretty good size, way bigger than the type you would see on T.V. or a Marine Show.
Playing in front of the bow, crisscrossing, under than over as more joined in. There were 3 to 5 of them at a time racing side by side next to the bow of the boat. Gradually one by one they slipped back into their day's routine and after a while, more would show up doing the same routine as their brothers and sisters had done. Lying by the bowsprit watching them swim near the bow was relaxing. The morning soon became afternoon and Maui became larger as the day progressed. There wasn't much boating on the channel this day. Actually, we didn't see another boat during the entire crossing until we approached Maui.
It took us 10 hours to make the crossing to Hana Bay. It was around 1630 in the afternoon when we enter the bay slowly, I happen to look back and see a couple of kayakers returning from their day of whale watching. (Robin told us that after we met them) The wharf on the south end of the bay was old and rusty but still maintaining its heritage of doing its job when the boats come in. A local bro came by while we were laying anchor on the sandy bottom of the bay and offered to cleat the stern line. The wharf was 7 ft. higher than the fantail of the boat and it would have been tricky getting close enough for one of us to jump onto the wharf beam. We tossed him a line and he tied us onto the wharf cleat. He told us that the ladder was on the other side of the wharf to climb upon, and where not to step. We thanked him for his advice and his helping hand, both were very helpful.
Once on land, we took a walk past the boat ramp that was next to the wharf, about a couple of minutes later we passed the buildings that were on the opposite side of the beach, and another five minutes and we reached the road leading up to the main road. The walk up to Hasagawa General Store for supplies for dinner took about half an hour.
On the way back from the store, we ran into the kayakers. They were schoolteachers in Hana, Robin a kindergarten teacher, and Marie a middle school teacher. They were kind enough to give us a ride back to the boat in Robin's truck. Robin waved to a local police officer parked along the side of the road, and he waved back. When we got back to the wharf, 'we talk story'. The wharf became our chat room while the sunset changed to nightfall. They had to go home and we returned to the boat.
At dinner that evening, it was decided that we would depart at 2200 hours that night for Honolua Bay on the other end of the island. At around 2220 hours the Harbor Master shows up to tell us we could not tie to the wharf and must move on. We thanked him for his advice and told him we were just about to leave. With the look of being at the right place for the wrong reason, he untied the stern line with a smile, we thanked him for his help and we were off. With the radar indicating the bay's entrance, we proceeded slowly into the black of night. After leaving the wharf, I went to the bow to keep a watch for fishermen in small boats. While Johan was at the helm as Dave was monitoring the radar screen. Without notice, a streak of light lit up the sky to our port bow. At first, it seemed like lightning, but the entire area in front of me, from water level to the clouds lit up for about 10 seconds. I could see to the horizon and there weren't any fishermen. As the light eventually faded back to black, I started to wonder about the magnitude of the light.
While reading an article in the Sunday paper on Oahu, things became clearer that Friday night. The article By Edwin Tanji of the Advertiser Maui County Bureau read:
Haiku, Maui – A Haiku astronomer, Mike Linnolt, reported an extremely bright meteor swept across the sky northeast of Hana late Friday night. A Hana police officer said he noticed a bright light, like lightning, at about 10:33 p.m. when Linnolt said the meteor lit up the night. Linnolt said at least one other astronomer observing the sky from Oahu's North Shore reported seeing the meteor, allowing him to gauge that the light occurred about 20 miles northeast of Hana. "It was so bright, it cast a shadow from me to the ground," he said. While meteors, commonly known as shooting stars when they occur at night, are relatively common events, a meteor as bright as Linnolt described would be seen only rarely, said Jim Bedient of the Hawaii Astronomical Society. "There's only a slight chance that you'll be out there looking in the right direction when it happens," he added.
After leaving Hana Bay and the meteor experience of a lifetime, we headed for the northern end of Maui. Johann and Dave were at the helm during the seven hours that it took to get to Honolua Bay. As they made their approach to the Honolua Bay at 0530 hours, a sailboat was anchored in the middle of the Bay. After a couple of tries to hook the stern anchor we settle in and had breakfast. The sailboat that was there was weighing anchor and headed west after leaving the Bay. The surf was small this day breaking inside along the shore at 1 to 3 ft. I paddle from the boat, which was anchored in the middle of the bay. It took about ten minutes to line-up, the paddle over was interesting considering the usual procedure is from shore. While surfing the inside section, a mother humpback whale and her calf came into the Bay. One of the bros said to go underwater and listen to the whales communicate, so the few guys that were there and I went under. And sure enough just like in the documentaries. After a couple of hours of getting used to my board, I paddle back to the boat. Hot and cold fresh water to wash off with on the fantail was right on after a surf session.
After lunch, Dave took the dingy and went exploring the shoreline. I got some fins, a mask, and a snorkel and went swimming around near the shoreline as well. Dave came out with his mask, fins, and snorkel. Swimming around the bay with your head down and diving, here and there, viewing the small reef fishes as they swim in and out of the reef. It was a nice Saturday, da kine you always want to last longer. That afternoon we weighed anchor and headed for Lahaina, time slipped away with Humpback whales spewing air through their blow holes in the distance while looking for shade on the flybridge as the tropical sun shined from the west. Passing Mala Wharf and the clear water beneath our way, we approach our mooring for the night.
A run into town for dinner was on the agenda. We got into the dingy and made our way to the harbor. The mooring of where we were at was at least a half a mile from the harbor, passing other boats that were moored. The water level was just under a foot and a half from the top of the inflatable dingy, the ride was fun. Finding a space with the other 12 dingys on a common post was typical, so we proceeded to squeeze our way near the dock and secured a spot. We had dinner at a restaurant along Front St, with the sun setting and the tide slapping the seawall as the crowds were ebbing to and fro into the various shops. The day in Lahaina came to an end and we were back on board before 2100 hours.
Sunday morning and awakening from a peaceful sleep with the ocean surface being calm without much rocking. After having breakfast we untied our mooring and were off to Oahu, the final island of this trip. The view of a shipwreck on the northern shores of Lanai made me wonder about the day she went aground. We had just left the Auuu Channel that separated Lanai from Maui. Whale sighting on this day were many as well as course changes to avoid a possible collision with these magnificent creatures. If you were on a helicopter above us it would have looked like we were on a large slalom course on the Kalohi Channel that separated Lanai from Molokai.
Waves were breaking within the binoculars at Lauu Point on the west end of Molokai. While the mountain ranges of Molokai disappeared behind us, 100 yards to our port beam a Humpback almost goes ballistic with just it tail in the water. All that is left from a megaton belly flop is a fifty-foot elliptical white foam liquid crater of a few seconds. We continued on in the Kaiwi Channel with an ocean freighter crossing our path, about a half a mile away. It must have been traveling around 20 knots because in no time they were gone from our sight. Two hours later we were in sight of Diamond Head and the body to go with it. We rounded Diamond Head into Mamala Bay with racing canoes paddling near Waikiki. We approached the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor as a few boats were leaving the Ala Wai channel. Ala Moana (Bowls) was breaking 2 to 3 ft. and it looked like fun. Making the turn around the dock, we began looking for our slip to tie up to. There it was, the reason we made the trip.
After an hour of getting things taken care of, I got my trunks on, my bar of wax, and my board. I was paddling across the boat channel before the breakwater looking for the sandy spot to climb up on, I made it over the breakwater and was paddling again. The paddle out was very refreshing and catching a wave was fun. It was a Sunday crowd, but it was cool. After catching a few medium length rides, I paddled back in. Taking it easy, while waiting for the evening tide, I had a late lunch and was back out once more before nightfall. Monday was a little bigger in the morning but started to drop and the crowds grew somewhat.
By Tuesday the size dropped and I make a call to my friend Captain Rusty out in the North Shore. He says the surf is coming up and he'll be by that afternoon to pick me up. So around 3 p.m. Rusty and Dino showed up for the trip out to the country. Loading my board onto the back of his pickup truck, I thanked Johan for the opportunity to crew for him and telling Dave we will meet again, I was off. We headed out of town, passing Pearl City and out to the country. Rusty and Dino talked story, as we passed the reddish-brown open fields outside of Wahiawa. The North Shore appears with its white water background and its tropical breeze. The drive down to Haleiwa and the three-quarter spin around Weed Circle before getting situated. I had dinner at Cholo's with friends that evening. I described my trip from Oceanside Harbor to Hilo, Hana, over to Honolua, then docking it at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor.
It was Wednesday morning and I was checking the surf with Rusty. We parked it at Chun's with the waves breaking 6 to 8 ft. After a minute of deliberation we were paddling out. There were about six people out, so the crowd wasn't an issue. Still getting used to my board, I was cautious in my turns after catching the waves. The thought of not getting picked off by a close outset was always in the back of my mind. Thursday and the surf were getting bigger, surf check and the decision was Haleiwa. It was 10 to 12 ft. and had fair to good shape. Rusty decided to video the waves as I proceeded to paddle out through the Toilet bowl and into the channel. I made it out into the lineup and caught a couple of waves.
Thursday arrived and it was time to leave Hawaii and return to the mainland. I was in my assigned airline seat with the rumbling of the wheels rolling across the runway, then the sound of the landing gear being locked into place after the rubber left the road. I looked out the window of the plane and reflected on the events that had occurred. The evening sail when the trip was in the early stage. The trades with its blue water days after the storms, the trip between the islands and surfing good size waves. We entered the clouds towards our cruising altitude.
Tom Takao Ala Moana "Bowls" on a 6' 0" shortboard tube ride 1971.