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Hawaiian Catamaran Cruise
Tom Koppel - Click to Enlarge
Tom Koppel

“Upwind from Oahu to Maui, you’re looking at anywhere from 18 to 24 hours,” said Krash, the small, bronze-skinned captain of the sleek, 45-foot catamaran.  “We take the cats up to Maui each year and return in a fun race.  Coming back it’s all downwind, and you’re racing, so you’re looking at about 6 hours, flying along on the trade winds.  They blow about 75 or 80% of the time, usually from 15 to 20 knots.  That’s just perfect!”  Even after almost 30 years as a professional skipper, Krash still has a passion for open ocean sailing.

The cat slipped along at about 10 knots, reaching on a gentle but steady northerly breeze.  In the distance, the rosy glow of the descending sun bathed the upper crags of spectacular Diamond Head, the trademark volcanic peak to the east of Honolulu.  The highrise hotels and condos of Waikiki reflected those late rays and stood out against the sculpted green mountains of Oahu and a brooding, threatening sky.

My wife and I were out for a sunset cruise on the Outrigger Catamaran, which launches from a palm-studded beach several times a day to sail the usually sheltered waters of Mamala Bay along the southern shore of Hawaii’s most populous island.  Back home, I had only sailed in monohull boats, so the effortless speed and lack of heel were a novel experience.  We had neither the time nor money to charter an offshore sailboat of our own, but the cruise was a real bargain.  Drinks were included, and the deal was that with room bookings of at least five days at the local chain of Outrigger or Ohana hotels, one passenger went for free.  The other paid $30.

After pushing off in front of the Outrigger Reef hotel, Krash motored out warily through coral heads and reefs.  Dave, our young tousle-haired deckhand, hoisted the mainsail and set it up tight with a downhaul.  Then he raised the medium sized jib and we were off and running.  The two dozen guests, mainly in shorts and aloha shirts, fit easily onto the boat’s cockpit seats or sprawled on the comfortable netting.  Since there was no heel or corkscrew motion, we did not have to brace ourselves or worry about spilling our mai tais or margaritas.  We just leaned back and enjoyed the slap of the waves and the taped music of Van Morrison and Bob Marley.

Krash, whose real name is Clint Nishimura, explained that our boat had a very respectable pedigree that included winning a Trans-Pac race from southern California to Hawaii (in the 1970s) in seven days, eleven hours.  “She clocked 30 knots when they used to race her at Newport Beach,” he added.  “We could do 20 to 25 knots with the current rig.”

A native Islander with long black hair, he grew up on Oahu and got into catamaran sailing while hanging around on the beach as a teenager.  The first boat he skippered was a 40-foot cat with no engine.  “That was very different.  I had to actually sail out of the harbor and up to the beach.  So I used to bump into everything.  Other boats.  The buoys and channel markers.  Hence the name Krash.”  He also honed his sailing skills in Australian waters.  His one regret as an offshore sailor concerns a missed opportunity back in 1975.  At that time, Hokule’a, a replica of the ancient canoes that first carried the Polynesians to Hawaii, was about to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti and around the South Pacific.  Krash was invited along to crew or help on board an escort boat.  He was employed on the tourist cats at Waikiki and preparing for his captain’s exam.  “If I go for these six months, I’ll learn so much,” he begged his boss.  “Then I’ll come back and work the beach.”  But the boss needed him and refused.

We sailed eastward toward Diamond Head, passing clusters of bobbing surfers who were waiting to catch their waves at favored spots with names like Fords, Trees and Pops.  A smaller cat without passengers zipped in close.  Its crew bantered with Krash and cadged some cold beers.  “Aloha,” they shouted when Dave tossed them a couple of cans.  A big Coast Guard cutter plowed past us.  A little later, we were heading back toward the west and the cutter passed us again.   An Air Force helicopter clattered by low overhead, apparently checking out the charter boats and pleasure craft.  All to ensure that no Al-Qaeda suicide speedboat could reach downtown Honolulu or Pearl Harbor.

The lights had come on in the hotels and condos by the time we threaded in through the coral and ran our bows up on the beach.  Our cruise was over much too soon.  But it was a great way to get a tantalizing taste of sailing in the tropics the way the ancient Polynesians used to do it.

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Email: (TOM KOPPEL) 

Tom Koppel is Canadian freelance writer and author with more than 15 years of travel writing experience, including features in Travel Holiday, Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, Historic Traveler, Beautiful B.C., Western Living, Country Inns, Reader's Digest, Georgia Straight, Porthole, Islands etc. Tom is now working on his third book as well. (More about this writer.)


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