20-Oct-2004 -- When my wife and I were planning our vacation to Kauai (or Kaua'i, pronounced
kuh-why-ee), we considered the two nearby confluences. This confluence, which is
near Niihau and Lehua, looked more interesting than 22°N 159°W, which is
just in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I learned that it's easy to charter a
big tourist catamaran if you have lots of money, but that it's much harder to
find locals who own smaller boats if you want something more affordable. It
wasn't until we were on Kauai that we finally managed to arrange a trip.
We met Ken Sakai at 5 a.m. at the Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor, near Kekaha on
the southwest coast of Kauai. It was still dark when we left on Ken's
twenty-foot Radon. Away from any city lights, the view of the stars was amazing.
We were also fascinated by the bioluminescent algae glowing in the boat's wake.
We arrived in the vicinity of the confluence shortly after sunrise. Trying to
get all zeros when you are on solid ground is much different than trying to get
all zeros when you are floating and being pushed by wind and waves. Ken
patiently made many slow passes while we took pictures of our GPS unit. The
closest approach in our pictures was 19 feet (5.8 meters) with an estimated
position error of ±17 feet (5.2 meters) for a total accuracy of 36 feet
(11.0 meters). We probably got closer than that, but I accidentally cleared the
track log before I could analyze it. After we finished our confluence visit, Ken
headed towards Niihau and Lehua.
Niihau (or Ni'ihau, pronounced nee-ee-how), the smallest of the inhabited
Hawaiian Islands, is just 3.4 miles (5.5 km) from the confluence. In 1864, the
Sinclair family purchased Niihau from King Kamehameha V for $10,000 in gold.
Today, the island continues to be privately owned by Sinclair
descendants—the Robinson family. Niihau is home to about 150 native
Hawaiians, who still speak Hawaiian as their primary language. They fish, hunt,
and farm the land. They also earn money by gathering the tiny shells on Niihau
to make highly treasured shell leis. The island is undeveloped, with no paved
roads and no telephones. Access to the island has been restricted for over a
century, but the Robinsons now allow a limited number of helicopter tours and
As we proceeded through the channel between Niihau and Lehua, Meg shouted
with glee and pointed out several dolphins jumping in our wake. When we got
closer to Lehua, we saw bright yellow fish swimming just below the surface of
the extremely clear blue water. Ken maneuvered the boat close to shore and we
jumped off onto Lehua.
Lehua (pronounced leh-hoo-ah) is a little island only 0.7 miles (1.1 km)
north of Niihau. The crescent-shaped island is a tuff cone that is part of the
extinct Niihau volcano. Lehua Island is a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary so some
activities are prohibited there, but entry is not prohibited.
We climbed up the steep incline to the top of Lehua. Along the way, we saw
many birds and a few rabbits. Looking down from the top, we spotted a pod of
dolphins jumping and frolicking inside the crescent. We also saw a tour boat
next to the island. When the ocean isn't too rough, Lehua is a common stop for
snorkeling and scuba diving. But there was only one person in the water swimming
around the boat. Ken said it was probably one of the crew members checking for
sharks before the paying customers took the plunge.
On top of Lehua, we hunted for National Geodetic Survey marker
which was placed in 1926. As expected, the survey marker apparently has been
destroyed. However, we were able to find a reference mark and a previously
unreported marker. Ken probably was wondering what we were doing on top of a
barren island for so long. We slowly and carefully climbed back down the steep
slope and jumped in the ocean for a quick swim back to the boat.
Ken parked in a relatively calm spot. We all ate lunch while Ken talked story
about his adventures riding a motorcycle in Europe, free diving, spearfishing,
scuba diving, and climbing Lehua. I asked him stupid questions like if anyone
ever ate the wild chickens roaming around Kauai. (Sometimes, but they are very
tough.) He told us stuff like how he once saw a tiger shark as long as his boat.
Ken put his trolling lines back in the water and we headed back to Kauai.
After only a few minutes, he hooked a fish! We got out of the way and watched as
he reeled it in. When Ken hauled the fish into the boat, we were stunned into
silence. He had caught a 60 pound (27 kg) ulua!
Ulua (pronounced oo-loo-ah) is the generic Hawaiian name for several species
of fish from the Jack family. When these fish are young, Hawaiians call them
papio (pronounced pah-pee-oh). The ulua that Ken caught is a Giant Trevally
(Caranx ignobilis). The current state record is a 191 pound (86 kg) Giant
Trevally caught off Maui.
The crossing back was slower because the waves were higher than in the
morning. It was like riding a baby roller coaster. We said good-bye to Ken at
the harbor and thanked him for a great trip. Although we had no idea what this
confluence trip would be like beforehand, my wife and I agree that it turned out
to be a fantastic adventure.