"But harbors are scarce in these islands - open roadsteads are the rule here."Index of slides.
- Mark Twain
Charts, Guides and Useful Publications
ChartsThe NOAA chart agent in Honolulu is:
Pacific Map Center 560 N Nimitz HWY suite 206-A Honolulu, HI 96817 808 545 3600
West Marine also has charts but their selection was poor and disorganized when I visited them.
Most Useful Charts
Weather ForecastsThe NOAA forecasts, on the web at http://www.prh.noaa.gov/hnl/pages/marine.php or via weather radio are reasonably acurate but:
The broadcast of wind and buoy reports from around the state is particularly useful. As most weather moves from west to east, the NOAA buoys 1, 2, and 3 (51001, 51002, 51003, north to south) are excellent indications of what to expect in the near future. Buoy 4 (51004), south of the Big Island is more useful for picking up south swells as is the Christmas Island Buoy (51028).
Certain weather stations are particularly indicative of what is going on in the nearby channel:
On the weather radio broadcasts, the wind reports are generally read north to south. Many of the weather station names are very difficult to remember so it is probably worthwhile writing down the names so you can figure out which ones might be interesting to you.
We found the wind predictions of the experimantal graphical forecast to be quite accurate. For example, on a recent trip from Hilo to Maui, the graphical forcast showed the 5-knot westerly sea breeze north of Hilo, the light conditions along the Hamakua coast, the gradual increase in wind speed across the Alenuihaha Channel and the sharp peak in windspeed along the south coast of Maui. Exactly what we experienced.
TidesVarious tide tables are available. As the total tidal variation (about a meter at leaps) is the same as our usual margin of error we pretty much ignore the tides.
ChannelsAs the islands lie in a line that cuts across the usual E'ly or NE'ly trade winds the channels between become natural wind tunnels with winds usually 30% stronger in the channel than out at sea. Since the higher winds are blowing over a very small area, the sea state never becomes as organized as one would expect. Twenty knots in a channel is much wetter and bumpier than twenty knots out at sea. Alenuihaha, between the Big Island and Maui is by far the worst.
The channels get their own NOAA forecast but the usual rule of thumb is about 130% of the forecast wind in the open ocean. We've only crossed channels with the forecast winds to 20 knots and have found the channel forecasts accurate and those condiitons to be quite manageable.
SwellHawaii is renowned for good surf, primarily because it receives swell from most of the winter storms in the North Pacific. Since a large swell will substantially constrain sailing (er, anchoring) plans you should pay particular attention to the buoy and surf reports on NOAA radio. Unlike weather, surf forecasting is typically accurate to a few hours several days in advance, and exact as soon as it hits the buoys.
A NW'ly swell, will hit Buoy 1 about 6 - 8 hours ahead of Kauai, 8 - 12 hours ahead of Oahu. The period of the swell (amount of time between the crests) is the most indicative of the size of the surf. Anything over 15 seconds is big; 20 seconds is huge. A swell that shows up on the buoys as 3 feet at 20 seconds will create large surf, 8 - 12 feet on the face of the wave depending on what it is breaking on. 10 feet at 20 seconds is very large surf, about the largest that can be ridden on a conventional surf board. 20 feet at 20 seconds is epic and will probably result in low lying roads being closed on north shores.
If you're on a north or west coast in winter, you should listen to the buoy reports at least three times a day and leave immediately as soon as the period of the swell on buoy 1 comes over 15 seconds. The largest waves travel fastest so the ocean can go from dead flat to as big as it gets in minutes. Because the arrival of a swell might force one out of a harbor into unpleasant weather we never went to a N shore anchorage in winter.
HurricanesHurricanes are rare, but they make up for their scarcity by being very difficult to deal with. There are no acknowleged hurricane hole anchorages anywhere in the state. If your vessel is very shoal draft, there may be some river anchorages that could be used.
The commonly recommended hurricane strategy is to put out to sea but the choice of direction is ticklish. Given that hurricanes nearly always move east to west, the logical direction to go would be north or south. If you chose south, you'd have nearly 600 miles to run until attaining the relative safety of 10° north. But going north, up into colder water puts one on the bad side of the storm at lattitudes in which the course of the storm will be at its most unpredictable. As hurricanes never seem to hit the Big Island - it's just too big - another strategy might be to put to sea and try and keep on the other side of the Big Island from the storm. The difficulty with that one is that the Big Island is, well, big and there are few anchorages.
Cruising SeasonOne can sail around the islands at any time of the year, however, the weather is most variable in winter and the regular occurence of NW swells from winter storms in the North Pacific places an additional and most unwelcome constraint on the choice of anchorage. In winter there are commonly situations, for example, a large NW swell combined with strong trade winds, in which the only alternative is to go to one of the few all-weather harbors. A storm (kona weather) is similarly problematic as the winds will veer quite rapidly.
The large size of the islands makes boxing the wind problematic as it will take many hours of sailing to get to the other side and you will need daylight to get past the reefs and safely anchored.
Aside from Pearl Harbor which is reserved for the US Navy, Hawaii has few harbors that are pleasant and safe in all weather conditions. Here are the best:
As you can see, caveats start showing up right away.
RadioGenerally, radio is not used much. Some of the local fishermen use CB but most people seem to rely on cell phones for things like contacting the harbor master.
VHFThe Coast Guard VHF station in Honolulu covers the entire state and answers to "Coast Guard Honolulu".
HF/SSBYou're so close to the transmitter (Honolulu) that it is sometimes hard to get weatherfaxes. About the only thing that an HF radio would be useful for.
TelephoneBoth Cingular and Verizon have prepaid plans, and Cingular seems to be adding GSM coverage so international phones may work, possibly with a new simm.
InternetInternet cafes are generally plentiful and cost between $5 and $8 per hour.
Ports & Places
Hawaii - ExpectationsGenerally, mainland yachties love to complain about Hawaii and, to some extent, they're justified. Relative to the mainland the facilities are pretty spartan and Hawaii's DLNR seems little inclined to improve things.
However, before complaining too much you should know that Hawaii is a yachtie paradise relative to the rest of the Pacific islands. In general in the islands, you will find few marinas (probably none) and no services. Anchoring is typically poor and exposed to wind and waves from at least one direction. Tahiti, for example, cost Bougainville 6 anchors in the space of 9 days. The upside to all this adversity is that local boaters are usually friendly and accomodating, quick to make room or offer a raft up.
Hawaii - Coast GuardWhile it varies a bit from station to station, the Coast Guard here seems quite relaxed. Inspections and boardings are rare. They do have "port security zones" in the commercial harbors. You're supposed to call and ask permission to enter. Probably a good idea if you're clearing in from overseas, but the local boaters universally ignore it.
Hawaii - Ship TrafficShip traffic around Hawaii is quite heavy with the inter-island barge services running between the islands on most days. Barges can be a long way behind tugs.
There is a lot of military traffic in and out of Perl Harbor. Submarines are common and quite difficult to see.
Hawaii - CarsGenerally, Hawaii is a car-based society. Outside of Oahu, there's little public transportation and a car is pretty much essential. For the cruising yachtie, the choice boils down to renting cars as needed or buying a car and barging it from island to island. For us, the finances came out about equal, but renting cars as needed gives one a lot more flexibility so that's what we did. For what it is worth we heard that barging a car from Oahu to Kauai and back would cost about $250, about a week's rent for a mid-size car.
Big Island: Radio Bay (Hilo)This is my favorite Hawiian port of call. The city of Hilo is just the right size and very authentically Hawaiian. The weather is not nearly as bad as people make out, rain falls mostly in the evening or at night. Mornings are usually glorious. The harbor is lively, with barges and cruise ships coming and going on most days. There is usually a steady stream of cruising yachts arriving from the West Coast or the South Pacific.
There are plenty of lights both inside and outside the harbor so night time arrival is not a problem. However, it frequently rains at night so you might want to be prepared for a bit of inclemency. If Radio Bay is crowded, it may be easier to anchor in the outer harbor, north of the channel.
Radio Bay itself is tiny, barely 200 meters across. Your choice is to anchor mid bay, or to med-moor to the wall along the southern side of the bay. In either case, holding has to be characterized as mediocre. The bottom is mud and coral rubble over rock. To hold in strong trades, you'll need a substantial scope, we used 10:1 (30 meters of chain in 3 meters of water). You'll get a land breeze at night but it usually won't blow hard enough to straighten out the chain. It may take a couple of tries to get the swinging room figured out, but it really is possible to fit 5 or 6 boats into Radio Bay. Be sure to leave room for the CG cutter to get in and out.
The bay is somewhat sheltered from E'ly winds, not at all from NE'ly. Unless the trades are really howling, there will be a gentle land breeze at night so one needs to be prepared to swing 360° if at anchor.
A strong northerly swell will break over the breakwater and create a huge surge in Radio Bay. Irksome if you're anchored mid bay, but damaging if you're med moored. If such a swell is expected, the harbor master recommends that boats leave Radio Bay and anchor in Kuhio Bay (the outer harbor) north of the channel and south of the Blonde Reef breakwater. Anchoring south of the channel in Reed's Bay is discouraged because the holding is poor. Boats are routinely lost there.
If a cruise ship is in port, there will be shuttle busses to downtown or Kuhio Plaza, the local shopping mall. If not, the walk to either place is just a couple of miles. Cab fare back to Radio Bay was about $7.
If clearing in to the US from a foreign country, Hilo is the place to do it. Dave Longacre, the local customs officer is a great guy, very friendly and helpful. Customs shares an office with the Coast Guard, just down the street from the harbor gate.
The harbor master is friendly and helpful and, unlike many other places in Hawaii, the harbor master's office will receive mail for you.
your name vessel name Port of Hilo 80 Kuhio Street Hilo, HI 96720
Big Island: West CoastWe saw this by car and what we saw left me little inclined to visit it on a boat.
Oahu: Ala WaiThis is the only place in the islands where it is really feasible to get by without a car. Groceries and chandlery are within walking distance and nearly all of The Busses stop at the Ala Moana center just across the canal.
The channel is lighted so night time arrival is possible but it might be hard to find your way around the harbor once inside. If you're trying to find the "loading dock" (it is usually used for drinking beer and fishing), you come straight into the harbor, take the last possible starboard before the bridge (leaving the boatyard to port) and then proceed all the way to the end finding the loading dock to port.
I'd avoid clearing in at Honolulu because you'll be dealing with larger bureaucracies and instead of sleeping for a couple of days you'll have immediate pressure to find a slip. However, the drill for clearing in there seems to be to tie up to the afore mentioned loading dock and to call Customs as soon as possible thereafter.
The best grocery shopping within a walk of Ala Wai is at Daiei (one of the a Japanese chain), just north of the Ala Moana Center. Fabulous sushi. In fact, don't waste your money on sushi anywere else.
There are three possibilites for berthing the boat:
Oahu: Ke'ehi LagoonThere are two private marinas in addition to the large state run facility here. There's nearly always space available in the mooring field. But: it is noisy (airport), filthy with dust from the nearby industrial area, dilapidated, and a long walk and bus ride from anywhere.
On the plus side, there's a West Marine nearby and a boat yard.
Oahu: Ko'OlinaThis is the only "real" marina in Hawaii. It has:
Get your wallet ready. Short term rates were $1.50 per foot per night.
The marina listens on VHF 71 and likes to clear traffic in and out as there is very little manoeuvering room in the chanel. Commercial traffic (ie. barges) in and out of Barber's Point commercial harbour will announce itself on VHF 16. If the trades are up, you can expect plenty of wind in the marina and the concomitant manuvering problems. The usual E'ly breeze blows diagonally through the slips.
Aside from a convenience store at the marina and the restaurants in the resorts, there are no services at Ko'Olina. But, assuming you have a car or are inured to vagaries of public transportation, it is a very pleasant place to stay. Excellent swimming in the lagoons and good snorkling in the ocean.
The bus stop is on the highway about a mile due north of the marina. The 40 or 40a busses run into Honolulu (Ala Moana). During the day it is quicker to transfer to the C express at the Kapolei transit station. In Kapolei, one stop past the eponymous transfer station, you'll find groceries and the usual strip mall amenities.
Oahu: Kahe Point (Hawiian Electric)The prominent smoke stcks of the Hawiian Electric power plant are an obvious landmark.
The Mehaffy guide claims that the trade winds are "reduced to a whisper". Bob and Carolyn must be getting a little deaf. With a 15 - 20 knot E'ly we had gusty winds to 25 knots. Perhaps NE'ly winds are reduced to a whisper.
We anchored in about 9 meters of water so clear that ripples on the sand were easily discernable. While there's not much in the way of coral, snorkling is fun just because of the water's clarity. We got to swim with the local pod of spinner dolphins and I was relieved to see them spin without the aid of mai tais.
Our experience may have been atypical, but in light trade wind conditions, and perhaps with the help of a local squall, winds may turn around completely.
Oahu: Poka'i BayAfter two nights bouncing around off Kahe Point, a small south swell chased us up to Poka'i Bay where we found millpond conditions behind the breakwater. We anchored in about 3 meters, sand bottom, more-or-less clear of the canoe course.
According to the lifeguard we spoke with there is usually a sea breeze/land breeze here. We did swing 180°.
Oahu - WaikikiThe plan was to anchor here for the night prior to jumping off to Molokai. A large south swell and the fetch (offshore wind) that came with anchoring in 10 meters (about a mile off the public baths) made for uncomfortable, conditions. Could have spent the night, but it HYC said we could raft up for the night so we did that instead.
The bottom is sand with patches of rock or coral.
Oahu - Koko HeadWe haven't anchored here, but did hear from a reliable source that there is some room to anchor inside the reef. Anchorage outside the reef is similar to Waikiki.
Oahu - Kanehoe BayWe anchored in the north end of the bay. This is not described in the Mehaffy guide but was suggested to us by some friends from HYC.
To get in, you follow an S-shaped channel which meanders due west of the western end of first leg of the ship channel (228° true) into Kaneohe. We turned off of the ship channel about halfway between the pair of stakes (port and starboard) and the range mark at the end of the channel. The southern edge of the channel is haphazzadly marked with stakes but the reef is so shallow that visual navigation is relatively easy in spite of somewhat cloudy water. The northern edge of the channel is less distinct and seems to be mostly sandbank.
At the end of the channel is a large basin of 4-meter deep water with a mud bottom. Holding isn't very good, but this can be compensated for with extra scope. The sand banks at the northern side of the basin appear to be 2 meters deep in some places and might offer better holding than the basin proper.
Cold showers and trash disposal can be found at Kualoa Point state park, opposite Mokolii (Chinaman's hat).
KauaiOur general strategy for Kauai (in winter) was to stop in at Nawiliwili during weak trades or westerlies and take care of provisioning and whatever land-based activities we were interested in. For strong trades, we'd run down to Wahiawa and for strong Kona winds we'd aim for Hanamaulu.
Kauai - NawiliwiliNawiliwili is the main harbour on Kauai. There's usually at least one barge coming or going per day and cruise ships seem to visit a couple of times per week. As usual, there was no space in the marina for Endless Summer.
Holding in the outer harbour anchorage (south of the green buoys) is quite good, but anchorage is complicated by a number of factors:
We anchored in about 2 meters, right in the mouth of the stream, setting the our delta for a northwesterly pull, thus favoring the trades but not 180° to the current. This anchorage was ideal, being close to the dock in the inner harbour, but became unacceptably bouncy in strong trades due to swell wrapping around the outer breakwater. For those conditions, we moved further into the outer harbour where 4-meter depths kept the swell small. The boat was more comfortable but the dingy ride was longer and wetter.
The harbor masters office is just past the Coast Guard base. He covers the south and east coasts, so you'll need to check in with him for Waihawa or Hanamaulu too.
As the shopping is best at nearby Lihue, our Kauai strategy evolved into spending light trade wind or westerly weather in Nawiliwili, renting a car and reprovisioning, and then going elsewhere (Wahiawa or Hanamaulu according to the weather) for a week or so. In the summer, yachts usually move around to Hanalei Bay on the north shore.
For car rental, we'd recommend Island Cars, just above the harbor. They're the most economical and they're an easy walk from Nawiliwili. There's a Rent-a-Wreck in Nawiliwili, but they're rude and no cheaper than the big national chains at the airport.
The Nawiliwili Yacht Club is very friendly. They sponsor round-the-buoys racing every Thursday night and a longer offshore race once a month. A couple of nice catamarans are in residence, one of the newest and fanciest being Kalewa designed and built by a local builder. She's about the same length as Endless Summer, but a couple of feet wider center to center and much wider overall as the hulls are sharply flared. Much like the Seawinds, the bridgedeck is an open shelter with only the two hulls being fully enclosed.
Kauai: Hanamaulu BayJust 3 miles north of Nawiliwili is Hanamaulu Bay, an excellent anchorage in westerlies. With no nearby mountains, the winds blow steadily at about the same speed as out at sea. The bay shoals gradually and predictably to a nice beach park with showers and picnic tables. On the south shore, semi-protected by a breakwater, is an old warf which was once used for offloading sugar. Now it serves as a place to fish and drink beer.
The campground along the beach is mostly a homeless encampment. However, it was very well kept, and everyone we met seemed friendly.
In westerly conditions, we anchored at a couple of different spots in about 3.5 meters of water. Each time, we found rocks on the first try, but got a confidence inspiring sandy set on the second.
We looked at the bay with trade winds and it looked plausible to find some shelter just west of the old warf, but the situation wasn't attractive.
There's no secure place to leave the dingy.
Noise from the airport was generally less than in Nawiliwili but still noticable.
Kauai: Wahiawa BayWahiawa Bay, just a mile or so east of Port Allen, is an excellent anchorage in strong trades. The NE trade wind blows down the bay but the fetch is so short that no chop can develop and waves do not wrap in. We anchored near the mouth of the bay in 3 meters of water and moved closer to the beach in about 2.5 meters a couple of days later after a bit of surveying revealed the water to be deep until quite close to the beach. Holding is excellent in sand.
It is about a mile through coffee fields to the town of Ele'ele (Port Allen).
Swell will wrap in if the winds are between SE and WNW so a winter storm will chase you out.
Kauai: Port AllenWe never stayed here. Anchoring outside the marina is not recommended. There's an actual surf break in the bay and the harbor master reported that boats routinely drag here. The marina is troubled by surge and had no space for us anyway. The walk from the harbor to Eleele, the town/shopping center is only marginally shorter than from Wahiawa Bay.
Molokai - KalaupapaThis anchorage is supposed to be vile and generally lived up to its reputation. It does, however, make a nice stop between Honolua Bay and Oahu. We spent one night there and the wind blew harder in the anchorage than out at sea. With strong trades, the swell will wrap around the point and the wind will hold you beam to it.
Molokai - Lono HarborObvious range marks have been added so there's no confusion about the harbor entrance. Inside, there's room for one or two boats to swing at anchor, but you may need to med-moor stern to the old pier if lots of other boats are there.
No facilities. None.
Lanai - KaumalapauA tiny bay with room for just one or two boats. We anchored in the southern half of the bay: 7 meters, black sand bottom.
We had trade wind conditions and had a sea breeze/land breeze situation.
Good (colorful) snorkling around the southern shore of the bay.
Maui - Honolua BayProbably the nicest anchorage on Maui. Good snorkling albeit crowded with tour groups during the day. Snorkling tours typically anchor close inshore, so you'll have much more privacy farther out. We anchored fairly far out in the bay with a sand bottom in 9 meters of water.
The beach just west is nice for swimming.
Maui - LahainaNot an ancorage but you can pick up one of the LHYC moorings. Check the pennant. Ours was two thirds cut through so we used one of our own lines. If you want to anchor yourself, Mala Warf a couple of miles north is supposed to be much better.
You can leave a dingy at the boat harbor. Usually there is a fee but the harbor master waived it because we were only going to be there three days.
Maui - MakenaAnchorage is in one of several sand patches anywhere along the coast. We found the best looking of the bunch just off the southern end of the golf course and anchored in about 5 meters. The set felt OK, but snorkling revealed a marginal situation with what looked like sand and coral rubble over a rock bottom. OK for light weather but you'd probably drag in anything over 15 knots.
Afternoons frequently see a bit of a W'ly sea breeze, sometimes NW, and NE'ly trades can cause a N'ly sea breeze. It seems to die off at night leaving you beam to the seas.
Snorkling of Pu'u Ola'i, the cinder cone south of Makena beach is quite good, better than Molokini for interesting bottom structure. The fish aren't quite as good.
MolokiniMolokini is a tiny crescent-shaped island about three miles east of Makena, Maui. The island is a wildlife refuge so no landing is allowed. Anchoring is forbidden. All boats are required to pick up one of the moorings provided by the state. The mooring floats are 3 meters beneath the surface so someone will need to dive down to retrieve the pennant. One is allowed three hours on a mooring.
The Coast Guard seems to drop by frequently.
Most of the boats visiting the island seem to be half-day snorkling charters out of Maalea or Lahaina. Showing up around 11am will give you the island to yourself.
Formalities and Officials
Harbor MastersTechnically, all anchorages in Hawaii are under the control of a harbor master. Every one we delt with was friendly, very helpful, and quick to share local knowlege. It is not legal to anchor for longer than three days without checking with the local harbor master, but if you're on the harbor master's good side you can usually manage to stay longer.
DNLR sometimes patrols in light aircraft and phones up the local harbor master with questions like: "Who's that big boat in Wahiawa Bay?" When he can reply, "Oh, that's Endless Summer, they've been there a couple of days" he looks good. When he doesn't know anything about you, he doesn't look so good and maybe needs to launch his boat and actually see what is going on with that big boat. So introduce yourself, talk story for a bit, collect some free advice, and make life easy.
Quarantine Customs ImmigrationIn Hilo all three functions were handled by Customs. In Honolulu I believe you get a separate quarantine (agriculture) inspector. At any rate, your best bet is probably to radio the Coast Guard on the way in.