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April 28, 2010

Destination 3 Degrees: Blown Away



By Guest Blogger
04/28/2010

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Destination 3 degrees
SMOOTH SAILING: Calm winds and water give the team an easy jaunt (Chris Aguilar)

Editor's Note: Jennifer Holcomb is an adventure writer and paddler who will accompany the Destination 3 Degrees team on their stand-up paddle adventure across Hawaii's legendary channels. The journey will benefit Algalita Marine Research Foundation, helping to protect the oceans from plastics contamination. This is the second in a series recounting their journeys. Catch up on the previous post here.  

After only about two weeks, 55 paddled miles, three islands, dozens of creature encounters, and 35-knot winds, we've been blown away.

Our original start date was Monday, April 5, from the Big Island. No real reason—we knew that nature would tell us when—we just needed a date to start and Monday seemed like a good choice. The gale-force winds whipping across the leeward side of the island were our first clue that we weren't going anywhere for awhile. Leeward on the Big Island is in the shadow of the volcano Mauna Kea, and normally quite calm as a result. The winds were cranking.

That first channel for the doomed April 5 start was the Alenuihaha, which links the Big Island to Maui. Mauna Kea (the tallest mountain in the world at 13,796 feet above sea level, and 33,000 feet from base to summit) is on one side, and Haleakala, another volcano, at 10,023 feet above sea level, is on Maui. The wind is funneled through the channel between the volcanoes and accelerates to nearly double the wind speed on shore. If we were experiencing 25 or so knot winds, the channel was pushing 50. So we waited. Every morning we'd check NOAA sites, and naval sites, buoy readings, and weather stations; we'd check in with a Professor Caldwell at the University of Hawaii and boat captains who made their livings in these channels, all in the hope that something or someone would tell us "go." By Monday we were sure (pretty sure) that the high-pressure system demolishing our channel was going to break down, giving us about a 24-hour window to make our move. And it did.

Less than ten minutes after leaving shore at Keokea, just around 7 a.m., on Wednesday, April 7, a baby humpback slapped its tail on the water in front of Jenny. Satisfied, he found Morgan and did the same. Before swimming off with his mother, the whale swam toward the front of the escort boat, rolled just enough to look up at everyone on the bow and swam away. A blessing, we decided, for sure. We were blown away.

The conditions for the infamous Alenuihaha, the research-vessel sinking, sailboat-splintering mariner's nightmare, were as gentle as they possibly ever could be there. Fifteen knot winds blew three- to four-foot swells in cobalt seas all day long. From point to point, the channel is about 32 nautical miles. All in all with the pull of the currents and finding a safe place to land, Jenny and Morgan each paddled some 40 miles in about nine hours.

Landing on Maui, the adventure began: we didn't have a ride. Five boards, six people, eight cases of camera equipment, and we won't even mention the luggage that sat on the dock like so much wasted plastic as the sky faded to dusk. Cabs wouldn't take us, rental car companies were closed. But here's the thing about stand-up paddlers: the sport is new and the community close. A couple of paddlers were loading up for the day and noticed our plight, or maybe the state-of-the-art race boards. Before we knew it, our gear was loaded and the two surfboards were on their way to the hotel. That left the race boards. Even after nine hours and 40 miles of paddling across one of the world's most notorious stretches of water, Jenny was able to convince fishermen to transport the boards. Imagine the scene as an old truck towing a 18-foot fishing boat, loaded with gear, and with race boards hanging out over the engines pulled around the sweeping drive of the Hilton Grand Wailea. We were blown away.

We spent our days on Maui resting and exploring, exploring and resting. And then resting some more, getting ready both mentally and physically for what was next. Alenuihaha may have been gentle, but it was clear that it took its toll on both Jenny and Morgan as they pushed themselves beyond what they knew they were capable of before. They paddled to Molokini for a short day trip, paddling around and freediving along the walls of the partially submerged crater. The next crossing was the Au'au, linking Maui to Lanai.

Monday, April 12 brought waist- to chest-high swells following to Lanai under ten to 20 knot winds. Slater Trout, a Bark team rider from Maui, joined in for a fun ten-mile downwind paddle that had the trio riding swells all the way. Landing at what used to be known as "Club Lanai," a popular tour-boat landing spot, they were greeted with trash. Lots and lots of plastic trash. The beach has been abandoned for years. Once the tour boats stopped, there wasn't any other easy access to the beach. But deflated pool toys, five-gallon water containers, rope, lids, jugs, water bottles, balloons, unidentifiable plastic grate-like things, and shards of every shape, size, and hue littered the beach. Though there were no footprints or no trails, humans were all over that beach. We were blown away.

Up next is the crossing from Maui to Molokai and a paddle along Molokai's 3,000-foot sea cliffs (weather permitting).


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