As we backed out of the slip the stiff breeze was already cause for concern. The crew was uneasy and stood at the ready. Captain Rick was at the helm of his newly acquired Columbia 45 Hava’a as we powered out of the harbor at Ko’Olina, bound for a new slip at Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor. About halfway out the channel something told me to scan the gauges on the engine panel. “Hey Captain, check the engine temperature gauge, it looks kind of high, don’t it?”
Captain Rick dashed below to open the seacock and soon smoke was coming up through the hatch and setting off the smoke alarm. Thankfully the temperature gauge dropped nicely, but the smoke was concerning all aboard. The Captain made another check below and all was OK, so he turned on the blower to rid us of the smoke below. We continued out the channel, anxious to get the sails up. The winds were predicted to be 15-25 knots, a little bit on the high side for our liking but Rick needed to get the boat to her new home at the Ala Wai, and at $90 a day to remain at Ko’Olina, the thought of an uncomfortable passage was not a big concern.
When we could swing her into the wind we raised the full main and then the working jib, our only two sails aboard Hava’a. As the sails were set the captain shut down the engine and made another check below. When he came back up he mentioned there was some water below and he had closed the sea cocks again. This did seem to stop the flow of water. He added that there was a small leak from the engine box.
As we made our way toward the fuel farm and the seas began to increase, the small refrigerator rocketed across the cabin sole. Again the captain jumped below to wrestle the refrigerator into submission, and after a fashion it was subdued.
The wind was stiff, 25 to 30+ knots apparent and right on the nose, and the seas were 10-15 ft. We edged along making the best speed we could, about 6 knots, bashing our way toward Diamond Head. It was a long straight leg, east by southeast. Between the smoke and the seas I was feeling a little queasy, and as I was looking to find my sea legs I opted to be a wheel hog and sat at the helm. Leon was relaxing out on the fantail and Capt. Rick was finally settled in the cockpit.
As the boat clawed upwind Leon mentioned we should flatten the sails, so we pulled in the sheets as much as we dared. There was mention of reefing, but since we had never done so on this newly acquired boat the subject was dropped. I would not have wanted to point up into these high winds with sails luffing while we figured out how to do it. As it was we would barely make Ala Wai harbor before dark, so we plowed ahead.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
As the hours passed we nibbled on snacks and tried to be as comfortable as possible. When we finally saw Waikiki off our port beam we were about 6 miles out, so we decided to make a tack toward shore. We had not tacked since getting underway. We prepared to tack and on the best wave we threw the helm over and sheeted in. As we settled into the new course and tightened the jib there was a horrible ripping sound, followed by a sharp cracking like a whip. “Oh my God, the main just ripped” I thought. As we dropped the ruined sail the noise was unbearable. I remember thinking “We might ride better with the main down, the jib may be enough with all this wind blowing. Please hurry so we can get moving toward land soon.”
As Leon and Capt. Rick fought the mainsail down, Leon made a pointing gesture up forward. I scanned the horizon and did not see anything around. In the howling wind I could not hear anything outside the cockpit. But in a moment I found out what he was trying to say. The entire clew of the jib was ripped and the jib started flapping wildly. Again there was the horrible cracking of whips and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; not just one sail but two, gone within minutes. In my mind I said “Please get it down so we can fire up the engine and get under way!” We were already slipping back very quickly in the direction from which we had come.
We attempted to start the engine......nothing happened!
After the jib was tied down we attempted to start the engine...nothing happened. Next we tried the “ALL” position on the battery switch. Again, nothing. We had a small jumper pack on board. The day is saved! But once more, nothing. “I don’t believe this,” I thought. Finally we decided to call my Coast Guard friends for help. “We need a tow” we told them.
Among the comments on the phone were “Did you know the winds are ‘near gale force’ and there is a small craft advisory out today?” I admitted that, yes, we were well aware of the strong winds! Of course they wanted to know where we were and we told them we were approximately 6 miles off Honolulu Harbor. When asked if we had a GPS aboard we were stunned to realize that we did not! (Turns out, we did have one below, but without an antenna. And the crew owned 2 handhelds but had left them ashore.)
There was going to be a long wait. Between the cell phone and two radios we set up a good communication schedule with the Coast Guard. We called a few land folks looking for a tow and the Coast Guard did the same. At long last they contacted the Wave Runner who was returning from a marine parade in Hawaii Kai. They set out to find us and offer a tow.
Dead in the water with no lights, no sails, no engine.
It was getting toward evening and we were starting to get concerned. Wave Runner was trying to find us and we were dead in the water with no lights, no sails, no engine. We drifted in the dark with the strong wind, rolling in the swell and getting sick, wet and cold. We lit a handheld flare but still had no sighting. Finally we fired a flare into the sky. We gave some bearings from the compass and at last we saw Wave Runner coming over the swell. Thank God, they were finally here.
It took a while to get a towline over to us but soon we were moving forward through the heavy swell. It was a slow ride, about three hours to get in. They estimated that we had drifted out to ten miles offshore before we started the tow in.
With spray flying over the boat every few minutes we were all soaked through to the bone, chilled and stiff. We finally slowed down outside the channel entrance to Ala Wai Harbor, shortened the tow line and went in, having permission to tie up at the Magic Island Fuel Dock. As we approached the fuel dock we threw lines to the crew aboard the Catamaran that was tied up alongside and they walked them to the reception committee awaiting our arrival. As we tied up we were giving partial versions of our ordeal to our new and old friends at dockside.
We secured the boat, plugged in to charge up the batteries and headed for a hot meal and dry surroundings. We reviewed the day and debriefed over a hot pizza and cold beer at The Chart House and as time slipped away into the night we drifted and relaxed. It had been a long day and one with many lessons in it. We learn from our experiences and this day will never be forgotten.
The following morning the motor fired right up and we moved Hava’a a few slips down to her permanent home in the Ala Wai. Captain Rick plans to make this his home afloat, a dream he has had for a while. We will continue to encourage him to get new sails and repairs done soon, and as he learns more about his boat Rick will be out there again. This boat is a cruiser. She handled the conditions well, considering that, aside from a couple of short sea trials, she hadn’t been sailed much in two years. In hindsight, perhaps she should not have been out there that day. But I felt her spirit smiling the whole time.