December 15, 1979
Curlew Sails to Hawaii
After extensive preparations and the collecting of innumerable spares we were finally ready to depart Marina del Rey for the Hawaiian Islands. A little bit late in the season but we had the confidence that Curlew was built to sail heavy weather, had proven this point in the 1960’s sailing through a Hurricane after being abandoned at sea while in questionable condition and she had just had an extensive refit in New Zealand in 1975. All in all we felt confident she would carry us through the trades to Hawaii.
We gained the trades soon after leaving the coast and began enjoying the broad reaching with the wind at 110 to 150 degrees off the starboard quarter. This was fine sailing and it only got better around Christmas, sailing day and night under all working sails plus the Gollywobbler and Spinnaker making 170 to 200 mile days. On New Years eve still under full working sail the barometer began to drop, the wind freshened and we began to shorten sail. As the wind continued to rise we were making eight to ten knots under main staysl’ and fore staysl’ with 30 to 40 knots apparent and gusting higher but Curlew was loving it surfing down the now building swells…the barometer still dropping. By late afternoon we had quite big ocean swells and the crew were enjoying the thrills of standing at the end of our 12’10” bowsprit as we dropped into these quite large open ocean swells…at this point perhaps 20 to 30 feet.
As the wind continued to build we had to shorten sail and were were now sailing under only reefed main stay’sl and fore stay’sl with the wind now gusting up to 70 knots. Just after sunset the wind dropped away and we atempted to make way under our engine. This was impossible but not long after this wind died and not long after came up again but now at 180 degrees to the previous direction. Now we were in a very confused sea with huge waves crashing together sometimes right under the hull. We tried to heave to but somehow the angle of wind and duel opposing swell direction was creating crashing concussions under the boat leaving us falling into the troughs shaking the hull tremendously…this seemed like a formula for disaster. This shaking and crashing of the hull seemed too dangerous to continue so we decided to try lying ahull the last heavy weather tactic. As you can well imagine, letting your vessel lie unattended in these huge breaking seas requires a fair leap of faith in the old salts that did this at times off the Newfoundland Shoals. Being surfers and knowing the forces of even 8 footers breaking on us we shuddered at the thought but knew Curlew had done it before. My old crewman Christopher and I scrambled around the deck double lashing all booms and spinnaker pole, dropped the forestay’sl, lashed the helm amidships and tied ourselves into the cockpit well to observe the storm. The waves by this point looked 5 or 6 times taller than our main mast. Within minutes of lying ahull we were blessed with peace as the boat would rise on a swell, the fierce wind would hold the masts down wind, the swell top would break and wash over us with no shock. Curlews deep keel and low freeboard gave minimum resistance, all went relatively quiet so we went below, joined the crew who were all on the cabin sole braced against the bulkheads, watched the white water fly over the skylights and fell asleep. When we awoke in the morning the trades were back, the swell more organized and we raised sail and cruised into Hilo Harbor, Hawaii the following morning.
Upon inspection we had lost our fine teak gratings from the bowsprit and boomkin but otherwise all was well aboard.
After taking on fuel and supplies and enjoying wonderful Aloha hospitality we headed off to Maui across the dreaded Alenuihaha Channel. The Hawaiian spirits were friendly and the channel was smooth and we dropped anchor in the roads off Lahaina around midday and as the waves were breaking nicely on the reef we paddled over and rode our first Hawaiian waves. Soon the wind switched to onshore, made the water to choppy to surf so we paddled back to the boat. On boarding we checked the wind velocity. It was already blowing 40 knots. The anchorage was a bit crowded so we had anchored in 65 feet on hard sand and rock. As the sun set the wind had risen to 50 knots and the waves began breaking in the shallower water. There were 27 boats of all descriptions anchored inside us when we arrived then a big fishing boat arrived and by midnight we had a coastguard vessel lying next to us. Now the wind was howling and the waves were big enough that our entire boat fit on the faces. The coastguard came on the radio and advised us to keep our engine running in gear to lessen the pressure on our anchor. We had let out 300 feet of ½ inch chain plus another 100 feet of 1 ½ inch 3 strand nylon anchor rode. During the night the wind rose to 95 knots and in the morning only the coastguard, the fishing boat and Curlew remained afloat. All the others had been driven ashore, across the reef and smashed against the rocks of the seawall. Only one, a beautiful 50’ steel sloop had surfed over the reef and carried onto the lawn of a waterfront property, Not a dent in the hull or missing piece of rigging. Lucky sailors.
The coastguard told us to get to the other side of the island as the wind would return later and would perhaps be more violent. We had a little trouble breaking our anchor loose as it was well set by this time but with the help of the swell it broke free and we sailed around Maui to the commercial port of Kahului and tied up at the Young bros. dock. 7 feet above our deck. We used our dock lines, sheet lines and rigged all our fenders for safety. Again by sunset the wind was howling at 80 knots. Roofs had been blown off homes and hotels, the airport at Princeville, Kaui had blown away! Red Cross was helping out and we decided to go investigate the harbor. We had to crawl around to keep from blowing away but nearby a pallet of plywood burst its metal bands and took off like a deck of cards…not safe, we went back to the boat. This wind was making a horrendous screeching in the rigging but we all managed to get to sleep. At 0230 we were blown almost over and the vibration was so intense I believed the screws might unscrew themselves. This lasted for it seemed a long time but after the coastguard came on channel 16 and announced the sustained gust at 120 knots! We were only in Hawaii for a few days at this point and were wondering how everyone handled such weather. Very rare, almost unheard of they said.
For the following 4 years of extensive sailing throughout the island chain we had only favorable or what anyone could call idyllic island sailing and very fine surfing. Aloha