Wilderness Dive Adventure
Maui, Lanai and Molokai
By Bill Beadle
Having my commercial boat captain’s license pays dividends. My friend Matt Zimmerman is the owner of Island Divers and occasionally calls on me to supplement his usual captains. That was the case when he called in early February, “Want to be the backup captain on an interisland dive trip?” A resounding, “Hell, yes!” was my reply.
The plan was to fly to Maui on a Tuesday, take a shuttle to Lahaina and meet the Sea Fox the next morning in a slip at Lahaina Harbor. First Captain Joe and “Sea Foxes” Maxine and Lorin would deliver the 48’ former lobster boat from its home slip in Hawaii Kai on Oahu. The two day adventure consisted of six dives and whale watching, with a return to Oahu along the North Shore of Molokai.
I joined Joe and crew before sunrise for the Lahaina Harbor goat rope which occurs when a cruise ship is hanging offshore. Airport security is a dream compared to Marsec (maritime security) conditions in this small harbor. First off, Sea Fox is in the wrong slip, so we have to exit the harbor. The scene is chaotic with multiple cruise ship tenders entering the harbor, ferries, fishing charters, whale watching tours and dive operators all leaving at the same time. Lahaina Harbor has a narrow channel with a hard 90 degree turn into the basin. The Sea Fox exits amidst the pandemonium and waits for its opportunity to re-enter the harbor to pick up divers. During the wait I spot four whales from just outside the harbor channel!
Divers and gear loaded, we head for the Carthaginian, an old whaling vessel that was sunk to be a submarine and diver’s destination. The conditions are calm and a mother and calf humpback swim by within a few hundred yards. This dive goes smoothly, everyone goes down and comes up without a hitch, except me! The antique regulator I tried to use malfunctioned on the surface so I had to abort the dive….bummer.
Off to the island of Lanai for the next two dives. The area between Maui, Lanai and Molokai is the primary gathering spot for the humpbacks that migrate from Alaska for the winter. Everywhere we look there are whales, some of which come very close. One mother and calf put on a tail slapping and pectoral fin waving competition within a few hundred yards of the Sea Fox. Everyone on board was thrilled to witness these magnificent creatures.
The next dive was at “Cathedrals”, a lava cavern just outside Manele Harbor on Lanai. This cavern has lots of swim throughs and surrounding coral structures. Equipped with a functioning regulator, I joined Matt and newly certified diver Bart on the dive. We spotted eels, a turtle and hundreds of reef fish, the highlight was a pair of parrot fish doing some type of mating or territorial synchronized dance. Amazing what you will see in the ocean.
We traveled around the southwest corner of Lanai to a popular dive and snorkel spot. Motoring around trying to find a mooring ball we were surprised to see a manta ray swim under the boat. Four of our divers grabbed masks and jumped over in time to get up close and personal with this “devil fish” before it swam off into the deep. The dive was typical Western Lanai coast, pristine coral gardens leading to a nice 50’ wall with lots of critters to see. Matt and I found a nice specimen of soft coral waving in the current, don’t see that very often.
After the last dive we hustled back to Lahaina through pods of frolicking humpbacks. Breaches, tail slaps, fin waves, by whales huge and small entertained us on the way back to the dock. After dropping off the paying customers, we traveled to Mala Harbor to drop off 50 dive tanks for refilling. Backing away from the small boat ramp we sucked up a wad of debris into the prop, creating several tense moments until we were able to limp back and tie up. Matt and Maxine did the only “night dive” of the trip and freed up the prop within a few minutes. Luckily, Sea Fox was not damaged. Just another adventure….
Dark and early the next morning we loaded passengers and head across the Pailolo Channel to Molokai. On the East end of Molokai are two small islets, Mokuho’oniki and Kamaha Rock, which make for an “epic” dive site. Hardly anyone ever dives here due to the remote site and the ever present swells. This is wilderness diving with the possibility of seeing hammerheads! I was designated as primary captain and passed up all diving for the day, maybe that is why the hammerheads were a no show…
Leaving the islets, everyone was busy changing out tanks and stripping off wetsuits. Maxine was on the foredeck and I was on the helm and as such were the only ones to witness a manta ray do a back flip out of the water about fifty feet from the boat. We screamed and yelled, but, unfortunately this “devil fish” was a “uniflipper”. Passing the end of the road in Halawa Valley we had to dodge another mother and calf humpback. Wow, what an experience!
The North Shore of Molokai is one of the most stunning venues on the face of the earth. The sea cliffs covered in lush vegetation tower over the lava strewn shoreline. Shallow coves with surf breaking on rocky beaches tempt the foolhardy. We cruised as near to shore as safety allowed to enjoy this visual feast.
After a few hours cruising we came to our next dive site just before the Kalaupapa Peninsula. This pinnacle lies about 100 feet off of Molokai has a huge cavern just under the water. Unfortunately, we had been fighting an unusual North swell as we headed west along the coast which created less than optimum dive conditions with visibility of only 10’, good for California, but a far cry from our normal Hawaii conditions. After a brief dive, everyone clambered aboard for quick lunch before we rounded the Kalaupapa Peninsula and continued to beat our way down the coast.
Every time I view the Kalaupapa shore I am struck by its austere beauty and tragic history. Hansen’s Disease victims (lepers) were torn from their families and relocated to this remote and inaccessible spot. For over a century from 1865, patients were sent here in an effort to control the spread of the disease until a cure was found. It is a story of both hardship and human charity as missionaries tended the ill and became victims themselves. The most famous of which are Saints Damien and Marianne Cope, who bravely served the afflicted in the face of personal risk, Damien eventually succumbed to the disease.
Coming around the turbulent West end of Molokai, we entered Ilio Bay. This is the final dive site prior to crossing the Kaiwi Channel for Oahu. This is a relatively shallow dive spot (20’ to 45’) with lots of underwater structures, coral and sea life. Ilio Point provided protection from the North swells so the visibility was a respectable 40’ or so. The divers came back to the boat with lots of shells, a rarity is most dive spots. We battened down the hatches, secured the gear and had everyone settle in for the crossing.
Three hours later at 9 p.m., we pulled into the dock at Island Divers in Hawaii Kai, another adventure for the memory books.