Wednesday Aug 4, 2004
N 21o 17.020’
W 157o 50.586’
Ala Kei Marina, Honolulu
I’ve read more than once that the sighting of birds is a sign that land is near. No doubt this is true if you know your birds. But, just seeing birds in general does not mean land is close, for we have seen birds throughout our voyage, miles and miles from shore. One difference, however, is that within a hundred miles of land birds will occasionally attempt to roost on the boat for the night, with varying degrees of success. Those that attempt to roost high in the rigging have a hard time holding on as the spars rock from side to side. Those that attempt to land on the wind generator above the stern get a nasty surprise when the blades turn in the wind. And those that are bold enough to land close to the cockpit get to spend the night in relative piece. I was quite surprised the other night to have a large, previously undetected large bird step on my foot.
In general, however, for someone who doesn’t know the difference between a land bird and a sea bird, birds are a poor indicator of the distance to land. For us, a more reliable indication that we were approaching Honolulu, Oahu (other than our primary navigation systems) was that the radios were coming to life. We could start to hear the hits of the 70’s, 80’s’ 90’s over AM and FM radio, mixed with reports on the heavy rains that were falling on the islands due to the remnants of hurricane Darby. Commuters were providing eyewitness accounts of road floodings and traffic jams and car salesmen were announcing great truck deals. Meanwhile, over on the marine radio (VHF), which has a range of less than 100 miles, we could hear the US Coast Guard at work, providing information on restricted areas and general operations at sea, such as buoy maintenance. The restricted areas were for naval operations and home land security. “Notice to all vessels. The anchorage outside Honolulu Harbor is a security zone. Maintain 1000 yards clearance around all moored vessels. US Coast Guard station ….” The messages also included a request to all vessels for any information on a 30’ catamaran reported overdue. While concerned about the catamaran, it was comforting to know that the Coast Guard was on duty.
For most of our final approach to Honolulu we sailed close haul into the waves, as the wind and waves had strengthened and were coming out of the northeast. Due to the cloud cover left by the rains, we couldn’t see the island until we got to within 25 miles. Within 15 miles, we lowered the sails and started the engine to enable us to head directly upwind towards our destination. Ten miles out, I called the Coast Guard to let them know who we were and where we were headed. The voice on the other end of the radio took our boat information and came back with a number for us to call as soon as we arrived at our destination, the Ala Kei Marina. We then called the marina to learn that they had three slips available.
Our last 10 miles and subsequent approach into the marina was uneventful, other than having the mini-submarine, Atlantis, surface 100 yards off our bow. Atlantis is small recreational submersible used to take tourist for under-the-sea excursions off the Hilton Hotel in Wakiki. After diverting around that surprise, we negotiated the channel to the marina and pulled up to the fuel dock. Being a rainy Wednesday, there was not much activity. After calling immigrations, checking in with the dock master, and refueling, we pulled into our slip with help from several of hands on the dock. The facility at Ali Kai Marina, located just west of Wakiki beach, and has approximately 1000 boat slips. The majority are reserved for “permanent” boats, including many where the owner lives aboard. At the head of several of these permanent slips were homebuilt patios with grills. Many of the boats have elaborate canopies for shade. Foredecks often have potted plants and other signs of permanent residence. We were in a small section reserved for transient boats.
With our yellow quarantine flag flying from the mast head, we were restricted to staying on board until cleared by immigration, customs, and agriculture. As far as customs was concerned, a phone call was sufficient, since I had officially registered Lillian before departing Florida last February.
Agriculture also noted our arrival and scheduled an appointment to come inspect the boat the next day. They take their job very seriously, unlike some countries that do no more than collect a fee. They would come and provide instructions on how to sanitize the boat. The agricultural agent cautioned us not to remove any garbage from the boat. They would come remove it to make sure we introduced no harmful bugs into the Hawaiian eco system.
Immigration we didn’t hear from until after dark when a loud and authoritative call came over a PA system announcing to the entire marina that the Captain of the Lillian B. was to report to the front gate immediately. Two immigrations officers had been looking for us for over an hour and been unable to pick out Lillian’s name from amongst the thousand boats at the marina. These officers were very professional and very friendly, especially given the fact that it was 8:00 at night and they’d already wasted an hour. They came on board, looked in our closets (literally), checked our passports, asked a few questions, and welcomed us to the United States.
In retrospect, the US check in process was the most professional, efficient and cheapest (no charge, even for after hours) of any country we have encountered during our six months of traveling. But, with respect to homeland security and immigrations, they have a nearly impossible job. Similar to a car on land, a sailboat provides nearly total freedom as to when and where you go. And, we don’t show up on radar very well. Even the big brother approach of putting a transponder on the boat wouldn’t have prevented us from having snuck (sneaked?) someone to the beach before immigration had a chance to check our closets. Interdiction at sea would probably be the only way to prevent such smuggling, but that would require significantly more effort and expense on the part of the Coast Guard. Right or wrong, it would also be intrusive. After having to have officially check in at virtually every island we visited in the South Pacific, I value more the freedom that we can stay in Hawaii, or head for California, without having to notify anyone.