Around Oahu for Dad

                                   by Mark Denzer                                             

Mark Denzer is the well known skipper of Cowabunga, a Sonoma 30 sloop, out of Kaneohe Yacht Club.   Editor



Swells were nudging my sailboat ever closer to the churning surf and sharp rocks. Briny foam swirled in the strong current.  Makapuu’s jagged cliffs towered above. The wind had gone calm.  I suspected dark predators were lurking just under the surface.

Worse yet, I was sitting in an El Toro dinghy.

How, exactly, did I get here?

Well, some of you are fortunate enough to remember my Dad, Jim Denzer.  He definitely shares the blame or credit.

Dad & Mom Denzer

Dad joined Kaneohe Yacht Club back in the mid sixties. Those early days were adventurous times, sailing our tiny Newport 20 in the Midget Ocean Racing Class.  Back then you might find a Cal 20 or two in the Molokai race, and one year George Losey’s 21 foot sloop went down off Kahuku while headed for Haleiwa. Virtually every deserted harbor or isolated coast was visited by my Dad and us kids over the years. But his voyaging days were numbered.

 Shortly after he and our Mom retired to the Big Island, Dad’s coordination and neurological problems emerged. Tremors got more severe, until Parkinson’s Disease was identified as the only possible explanation. Finally, unable to walk or even stand, he passed away in July of this year. 

The nastiness of Parkinson’s seemed to demand a response, and “Dad the Sailor” deserved a fitting commemoration.  Maybe I could combine the two?  The notion of sailing an El Toro dinghy around the island of Oahu had recently caught my imagination, a nutty challenge that nobody had ever tried. Dad would have had a good chuckle. Those were two good enough reasons. Why not do the trip, dedicate it to Dad and create some awareness and raise money to fight Parkinson’s? And so my National Parkinson Foundation fundraiser was born, and the El Toro Around Oahu Expedition was launched.

Once the word got out and the NPF website was set up, my initial goal of $500 was blown away as contributions swelled to nearly $5,000. People’s inherent generosity and concern was humbling.  Dad’s sailing buddies, Parkinson’s sufferers, club members and random sailors around the country all stepped forward…the response was overwhelming. No getting out of it now, I had to complete the trip.


El Toro Modified!

During September I modified my tiny dinghy to meet the challenges of nature and survival. Most sailors had advice, some of it was helpful.  My son Gavin and I installed equipment, from flares and flotation, to a beverage holder. A reef point was sewn in, bowsprit mounted, headsail fitted, oars and oarlocks secured, food compartments, handheld VHF, anchor, GPS. charts, running lights, running backs, running water (not!), mask, fins, snorkel and a cushion were stowed.

Sea trials and practice sessions refined the setup. My wife humored me, but my ever-wary neighbors kept a safe distance.

One day there was nothing left to do but push off the dock and head out into the ocean.  So the voyage commenced from Waikiki to Kaneohe, with a little hiatus at Makapuu, rowing to Rabbit Island. As weather permitted, I worked my way around the island, encountering every possible weather condition and navigational circumstance. I experienced no wind, too much wind, counter currents, darkness, rain, surf, and just being in the middle of nowhere in a tiny boat. We hit eight knots surfing off Kahuku, short tacked Barber’s Point, and rowed most of the West Side. The shortest total distance around Oahu would have been about 110 nautical miles, but with tacking the final distance was about 130 miles taking 45 hours. Bigger boats shadowed me at the dangerous parts. The final leg ended in Haleiwa Harbor, and some fisherman took a break from tail-gating in the harbor to help us load the boat onto the roof of my car.

Mission accomplished! …thanks in part to the influence of Dad. Also, thanks to Lou and Kim Ickler, Bill Meyers, Danny Nichols, and especially Betsy and Gavin. And a warm aloha goes out to the hundreds of contributors who took a stand against Parkinson’s Disease.

Now I know more than ever about weather, the real nature of distances covered on the water, the coast of Oahu, and the performance of the tiny El Toro. Given a little forward movement, and enough time, any destination can be reached.




                                                                                                                                   Trip Log



Leg 1:  Ala Wai Harbor to Kaneohe Yacht Club. Saturday, October 25. Elapsed Time: 11 hours. Wind speed: 0-12 knots. Depart HYC at 0530 hours. Rowed to Black Point, sailed past Sandy Beach under main and jib, then rowed around the tip of Makapuu Point. Sailed from Rabbit Island to KYC with Main and Jib. Approximate distance: 30 miles. Top Speed, about eight knots surfing the reverb off Koko Head. Escort Boat from Rabbit Island to KYC: Bill Myers on Cyrus. Stopped at KYC due to no wind, thunderstorms, darkness.

Leg 2:  Pokai Bay to Ala Wai Harbor. Saturday, 11/1. 12.5 hours. Wind: 0-18 knots. Depart Pokai 0700 hours. 50% rowing in currents until Ko'olina, then short tacking for hours around Barbers Point in .8 knot counter-current. Short tacking in shallow water to avoid the current around Ewa Beach and the reef runway. Big wind shifts and variability. Jib up and down several times. Some breaking waves in the shallows. Lots of wind in town near sundown, then dropped off at sunset. Pulled into HYC at 730pm. Approximate distance: 25 miles. Top Speed, about four knots. Escort Boat: none

Leg 3:  Haleiwa to Pokai Bay. Tuesday, 11/4.  9.5 hours. Wind: 0-8 knots. Depart Haleiwa at 0700 hours. Rowed and sailed in light conditions and small swell to Kaena Point in about 3.5 hours. Main and jib up all the time. 1 knot counter current on far side of Kaena Point. Hard to round the point. Once around the point, the wind died, so I rowed the next four miles against a one knot current: hot, sweaty, humping it for at least two hours. Finally a west wind kicked in about 8 knots and pushed me the last miles to Pokai Bay.   Top Speed, about 4 knots. Approx distance: 19 miles. Escort boat Haleiwa to Kaena Point: Dan Nichols on Southern Cross out of Haleiwa Harbor.

Leg 4:  KYC to Haleiwa. Wednesday, November 5.  12 hours. The best voyage of all: the classic Haleiwa run. Wind: 0-16 knots.  Depart KYC 0515 hours. Sailed in a 4-7 knot SW land breeze ‘til past Chinaman’s Hat Island. Rowed in sloppy conditions against .8 knot current to Kahana Bay. Took four hours to reach Kahana, averaging barely over two knots. SE wind slowly filled in and reached 12-15 knots by Laie Point. Rendezvous with Ghost and the Icklers at Kahuku Point. Sailed at 5-8 knots on port jibe, surfing the chop, flying around Kahuku Point, main and jib up. Shifty West sea-breeze after Sunset Beach, short-tacking to Haleiwa at 515 pm.  Approximate distance: 32 miles. Top Speed, eight knots off Kahuku Point. Escort Boat to Kahuku: Ghost.

General Comments:

1)      Had to break the trip into legs due to weather (no wind, large waves, too much wind, no moon), short window, and work-schedule problems. I was not confident of being able to handle every possible scenario in the dark with no moon, no chase boat, complicated control lines, oars, safety gear, etc. Resolved to sail 90% in daytime or full moon. Total distance covered with tacking: over 130 miles.

2)      Self Bailing, foam filled cockpit and foam filled chambers were necessary for safety and convenience of not bailing.

3)      Too little wind was more of a threat than too much. I rowed or row/sailed a total of 25 miles, sometimes against 1 knot currents, and lost 10 pounds. I would do this trip with more wind next time.

4)      The El Toro performs better on all points of sail with the jib, in light to medium winds.

5)      It is very difficult to raise and lower sails, eat food, communicate, do repairs, re-rig, and do navigation while steering an El Toro, even in the daylight let alone darkness. Boat does not heave-to or self steer well. Do not attempt this trip unless you are an experienced offshore and dinghy sailor, and have conducted extensive practice in similar conditions with the boat fully rigged and prepared for the ocean, and fully loaded with all gear, PFD, VHF radio, etc. Do not think about doing this without oars. If the wind dies in a current, or if you break your rig, there will be disastrous or fatal consequences for you.

6)      Safety Gear: Oars, Oar locks, foam flotation, VHF, Cell Phone, Flares/whistle, PFD, water, food, jib, running backs/stays, anchor, ditch bag with mask and fins, and for all risky areas: a chase boat.

7)     If you have questions, write or call anytime at 842-3727;