Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rounding scarey South Point

Leaving Hilo. You can just make out the observatories on Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth.
While we weren't exactly dreading rounding South Point, we were both looking forward to it with trepidation. This passage is infamous for its difficulty because of the strong winds and currents that are usually present. The winds are so consistently strong that the trees grow sideways away from the prevailing winds.

A wind-blown tree at South Point, Ka Lae in Hawaiian.
Virginia watched the weather reports closely and it looked favorable on July 13 so we decided to make a run for it. We wanted to pass the volcano in the dark so we could see the lava flow at night. We figured leaving at around 11 a.m. would be about right. The total passage to Honomalino Bay looked to be about a 23-hours. We decided to do our watch schedule of four-hours on, four-hours off. The wind was almost perfect the minute we got outside the breakwater. Off with the engine and up with the sails.

Smoke and steam mark the path of lava down the Kilauea Volcano to the sea.
We always underestimate how fast Oceanus goes. We wanted to be at the Kilauea lava flow after dark, but sailed past late in the afternoon, good for seeing the steam, but not for viewing glowing hot lava. What was beautiful, was the reflection of red from the lava on the underside of the clouds.

The interesting part was the smell. A month earlier, when we were out in the middle of the ocean, we talked about other people's experience of smelling the land before you could see it. We were looking forward to smelling Hawaii because everyone knows how wonderful Hawaii smells. Imagine our disappointment when all we could smell was, what we thought was, petroleum. We never could figure it out until we passed the spewing volcano. There was the smell: an odd petroleum, sulfur-like smell. Lava.

The winds were holding up. We were going about 7 knots and it was pleasant sailing. Virginia had the watch from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., which put her at South Point near the end of her watch. She was a little nervous because of the horror stories, but she said it was the easiest passage ever. In fact at 1 a.m., while approaching the point, she was so bored she considered calling her night shift nurse friends at North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City. Then she realized it was 4 a.m. in Oregon—a really busy time for night shift.

She woke me up around 1:30 a.m. because she needed help changing tacks as we rounded the point. I took over since I was already up.

The 14 wind turbines of the Pakini Nui wind generation project on South Point are each topped by a bright red light, which all blink in unison. Those lights, combined with the blinking white light from the Ka Lae (Hawaiian for the point) lighthouse, made for an enjoyable, ever-changing light show and stayed visible from the boat for almost an hour.

The winds got lighter and Oceanus slowed down, which was a good thing since we won't enter a strange anchorage—any anchorage, really—in the dark. The sky was clear and the ocean fairly smooth. In the waning darkness I saw a green navigation light dead ahead. It didn't seem to be moving, but Oceanus' speed was only about 2 knots by this time. I wasn't worried, but I also kept close tabs on the vessel. I figured it was a fishing boat waiting for daybreak. I was right; at first light she began moving and set a course south and out of my path.

Virginia relieved me a short time later. I dropped into my bunk and seemed to fall instantly to sleep. It didn't last long. About an hour later I felt Virginia shake me awake. She had started the engine, which usually gets me on deck as quick as I can pull on my pants, but not this morning. I came on deck groggy as she peppered me with questions. Finally I had to beg for a moment to get my bearings. According to the GPS, we were outside our planned anchorage, but where exactly it was wasn't clear.

Virginia at Honomalino Bay.
We consulted the cruising guide, but still weren't sure. Finally, after searching the shoreline with binoculars, the instructions made sense. We slowly motored past the rocky reefs and carefully felt our way into Honomalino Bay about 7:30 in the morning.

From the bow of the boat I could see the bottom nearly 80 feet below us. By the time we reached a good anchoring depth of 25 feet I could clearly see the ripples in the sand patch in the middle of the bay. We dropped anchor and set it. I slipped on my mask and fins and dove into the clear, warm water to check the anchor, which was buried deep in the sand.

Beautiful palm trees, black sand beach, sandy bottom perfect for holding an anchor, protected from wind and waves: it was a perfect anchorage and we were the only boat and people in sight.
Oceanus anchored in Honomalino Bay.