Nine Days In Salt

Sailing the seas of the Hawaiian Islands turns into a nine-day adventure of storms, surf, and relaxation.

Text and Images by Jeff Hawe

It was lunchtime on a Wednesday. I was taking a break from woodshop work when the call from my friend Quintin Ciszek came: “Can you make it to Maui tonight? The winds are looking favorable to set sail tomorrow morning. We should be back to O‘ahu by Sunday evening.”

Quintin and his wife, Macy, had arrived in the Hawaiian Islands just a week prior, having sailed from Mexico on their open-ocean-outfitted 30-foot sloop, The Moondog. I was dying to jump aboard and spend a few days cruising with them, listening to tales of their travels. I called our mutual friend Doug, who told me he’d booked his flight already. It was going to be a voyage not to be missed.

Initial plans were to make it from Maui to O‘ahu in four days. But as our crew unplugged from everyday rigors, the only thing we cast aside was any set plans. Day one brought a rough sail into headwinds and choppy seas. We arrived to Manele Bay on Lana‘i feeling like salty Maui-style potato chips. Abandoning ship, I dove over the side. As my body slid into the deep cerulean blue water, tranquility overtook my senses. Underwater, I could hear the mesmerizing songs of whales, like mythical Sirens coaxing me to stay under forever. From that moment forth, I had no care for any sort of schedule.

Day two was spent exploring the splendors of Lana‘i. We dove the vibrant reefs and caves off Leinohaunui Point and hitchhiked around Lana‘i City with locals. The slow pace of the country lifestyle put us at ease. By day three, we were itching to surf, and set course for Maui’s famed Honolua Bay. After a fun six-hour sail, we arrived on the shores of the Valley Isle in time to catch the end of a fading swell. After two days of surfing Honolua’s glassy point break, it was time to move on. It was Sunday, and O‘ahu was miles away. Why not head back to Lana‘i? We were cruising, after all.

Provisions were low, which meant restocking the galley was essential. A visit to land—in this case, the nearest town of Ka‘anapali—was in order. It was a Team Zissou-style grocery run. We beached our zodiac and made quick moves to the store, leaving nearby tourists staring in bewilderment. Once supplied, we raced the setting sun for Lana‘i on favorable winds, arriving just as that bright star dropped behind Mt. Lana‘ihale, the island’s highest scenic peak. We barbecued and toasted vigorously to our new anchorage. Post-dinner card-game wagers resulted in losers jumping overboard sans clothing. This escalated to a dance-like-no-one’s-watching frenzy and skinny-dipping into the wee hours of the night. We were wild and free on the high seas.

Nine Days in Salt

Washing off the previous night’s exuberance, we set out early to explore our surroundings on sunny day six. The reef beneath our boat was brilliant, the beaches deserted and rife with palm trees filled with tasty coconuts. We passed three days at our leeward anchorage on the east side of Lana‘i, sheltered from the howling west winds. There was never a dull moment. We spent our days swimming, spearfishing, diving, walking along the shoreline, climbing coconut palms, and barbecuing on the beach. Humpback whale sightings became so commonplace that excitement only ensued when they were close enough for us to slip into the water and watch the lumbering beauties glide by. We reveled in being amongst the wild in our backyard. This ethereal sea spot was only a handful of nautical miles from major populations, yet it felt more like a million.

The roaring westerly winds finally let up. It was time to head home to O‘ahu. The wind seemed to have blown itself out, leaving the seas dead calm. It was going to be a long, lazy motor cruise to O‘ahu, an unceremonious ending to a trip deserving a trilling crescendo. Then, Quintin spotted it off the shores of Moloka‘i, just a stone’s throw away from Lana‘i: an empty wave peaking on a reef and peeling down the right. An hour later, we were on our surfboards and in the lineup, elated over the fortune of finding an empty wave to serve as the oh-so-sweet ending to our sailing adventure. Finally, when our limbs tired, we paddled back to the boat, where a feast of freshly caught skipjack tuna awaited us. Here was high living on the high seas.

The final day delivered heavy winds. Our Moloka‘i surf delay resulted in us sailing headlong into the beginning of a fierce storm that eventually hit O‘ahu. For 10 hours, we beat a course through rolling, wind-chopped seas, The Moondog pitching to and fro amid 20-knot sidewinds.

Briny, bruised, cut, tired, and disheveled, I set my wobbly feet back on solid ground at the Ala Wai Harbor. We’d been gone just nine days, but already the buzz of Honolulu felt foreign. We had unplugged from the grind of daily city life in order to plug in to the thrill of open-ended adventure. For a short while, we had engaged in nothing other than the world that existed within The Moondog’s reach. While staggering down the dock, memories began whirring through my mind like a fuzzy eight-millimeter home movie that my uncle used to play when I was a kid. Smiling, I shook my head and vowed to acquire my own Moondog someday soon.