Perhaps like many of you, I had big plans for 2020. Unfortunately, very few of those plans materialized. Last year was difficult for many of us to say the least. A year filled with uncertainty and frustration. A year that is burned into our psyche forever; but a year that we so desperately want to forget. But, surely despite the drama and the hardships there were memorable moments, and personal achievements. Those are the memories we should cherish from 2020, as we look forward into the dawn of 2021.
The 2020 Plan
I sailed from San Francisco in October and arrived on Oahu, Hawaii in November 4, 2019. A month later I went back home to celebrate Christmas and New Years with my family. I returned to Oahu late January with plans to head down to Tabuaeran, Kiribati (Fanning Island). I planned to stay 1 month and head back to Oahu then return to Seattle for my daughter's High School graduation (she graduated magna cum laude) and send her off to Reed College in Oregon. Then once again back to Oahu to sail to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Central Kiribati, then up to Guam. That was the plan....reality turned out to be very different.
The 2020 Reality
I returned to Oahu in January to prepare my boat for Tabuaeran. But by mid-February the CDC began issuing travel warnings, and on March 11th, the WHO declared the SARS-Cov2 outbreak a global pandemic. Countries were closing their borders. Many US flagged vessels in French Polynesia wisely fled to Hawaii knowing that a global pandemic is not going to be resolved within a few months. Some hoped the pandemic would be over by the summer months, but we slowly discovered everything we (including the experts) thought we knew was mere speculation. After the quarantines, business closures, and mask mandates many people settled in for the long haul. Life as we knew it was fundamentally changed. I surrendered to the fact that I wasn't going anywhere for a while, so planned on how to make the most of situation in which I found myself.
Sailing During a Pandemic
There were a handful of boats that made long passages during the pandemic. But, many of us took a wiser path and either stayed in port, or plied the local waters. I have itchy feet, and S/V Discovery likes to feel the water rush past her rudder. So, between my flights back to the mainland, the mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions between islands I still managed to get in a few days of sailing. It was not nearly as many days or sea miles as I wanted. In fact, I have not had less sailing days or logged miles since 1990. In 2020 I had a mere 23 sailing days with a total of 117.5 hours underway and covering 602.5 nautical miles, a little more than half of the days, hours, nautical miles was single-handed sailing.
Sailing in Hawaii is excellent! Cruising in Hawaii sucks!
It's been a little more than a year since arriving in Hawaii. And I want to say that day sailing in Hawaii is excellent! The trade winds are predictable and almost constantly blowing 10-20 knots. I sail out of Ko Olina Marina on the dry side of the island of Oahu. Ko Olina is also on the southwest side of the island (lee shore) where the beautiful sunsets are easily viewed from the beach, or the boat. The waters are numerous shades of blue, warm, and teaming with marine life.
Unfortunately, the downside is there are very few protected anchorages, and there are draconian regulations regarding where and for how long you can anchor. (There also seem to be unwritten rules that may or may not be enforced, and nobody really seems to know about for certain. As one person told me, "Everything is legal until someone tells you it's not.") I understand the state wants to protect it's marine environment. I also understand there are some chowderheads who really don't care where they drop the hook. It's a tricky balance. Bill Leary compiled a detailed free cruising guide of the Hawaiian Islands called "Noodles Notes" that lists about 30 anchorages and a handful of marinas. He also updates his guide regularly. Unfortunately many of the "approved" anchorages are not completely protected (Nualolo), and some are seasonal (like Waimea Bay). Also, there are 2 places on Oahu that overnight anchorage is possible. Both are on the lee side of the island, but they are open to swells. One is just off Electric Beach, and the other is Makaha Beach. Bottom line, there are limited protected anchorages around the islands where cruisers can drop the hook overnight.
This doesn't mean that I have not enjoyed my year in Hawaii; quite the contrary. And my perspective may be jaded coming from the PNW where there are numerous very protected anchorages and you can drop a hook virtually anywhere. And of course, inter-island travel was restricted this past year due to the pandemic. Sure...you could sail to another island, but you weren't allowed to go ashore. If you did, you were supposed to quarantine for another 14 days.
My favorite anchorage is Po Kai Bay and I go there as often as I can. It is protected by a seawall from swells, has a beautiful beach, and hardly a day goes by where I don't see endangered monk seals, spinner dolphins, sea turtles, and an occasional manta ray. It is not a secluded anchorage, and Po Kai Bay used to have a bad reputation, but now the beaches filled with families and children playing. It is a "locals" beach and some people have told me that I should be careful. But, everyone has been very kind towards me and I always have friendly conversations with everyone I meet. I felt lucky to befriend one family in particular, and the kids love playing on my paddleboard and jumping off the side of my boat.
2020 wasn't all bad
Despite the lack of sailing time, despite the lack of anchorages, and despite the quarantines and closures 2020 was forced many people to slow down, learn new things, try new things, and catch up on all those projects that we have been procrastinating. I got several projects done on the boat including, reconfiguring my inside steering station into a navigation console, removing the carpet in the cabin salon and installing a Plasteak flooring, numerous canvas projects, and some other little details to make life aboard safer and more comfortable.
It was also a good time for self-reflection. A time to think about the things in life we often take for granted, such as time with family and friends. A time to think about what is really important, and to free ourselves from the trivialities that so often consume our time without meaningful benefit. Now we are at the dawn of a new year and I am looking forward to this new year! I have had to adjust my plans a bit, but that something we sailors should be used to...