Hawai`i must make room for cruisers

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 12/22/01)
By Ray Pendleton

The reader's question came quickly in response to a statement by Maui sailor Bruce Curtis in last week's Water Ways.

"Why does Curtis say the word is out to sailors worldwide that our state is not cruiser-friendly?" she asked by e-mail.

To begin with an answer, I can offer more of Curtis' thoughts.

After he had been cruising for six months in French Polynesia, he noted that there were hundreds of sailboats from around the world coming through those waters. Yet everyone he talked with were not planning to visit Hawai`i because they had been told it was not cruiser-friendly.

"I have been in the hospitality business in Hawai`i for 20 years," Curtis said. "We welcome those visitors that arrive by air and accept those who arrive by cruise ship, but we give the middle-figure salute to those who arrive by sailboat.

"It bugs me that Hawai`i doesn't go after this market," he added. "Even drops make a bucket full, if you get enough of them."

From my perspective, the answer seems to be a complex issue that involves geography, history, bureaucracy and politics.

To begin with, our island chain is not only very isolated in the North Pacific, but due to its location and geologic age, its major islands don't have the barrier reefs found around many islands in the South Pacific.

Only O`ahu's Kaneohe Bay is similar to the protected lagoons that completely encircle islands like Bora Bora or Moorea. Such lagoons provide sailors with abundant, safe anchorage options.

Consequently, with natural harbors such as Pearl Harbor taken by the military and Honolulu Harbor used by commercial shippers, our state's recreational boaters must depend predominately on man-made protected waters.

Since the end of World War II, until the recent opening of the new private marina at Ko`Olina, all of Hawaii's recreational boat marinas (officially called small boat harbors) have been built and operated by the state.

Most of these marinas were constructed with just the local boaters' needs in mind, so they don't have visitor accommodations or many of the features cruising sailors hope to find in port.

For example, at a popular destination like Lahaina, the marina is filled to capacity, so visitors are expected to pay for the privilege of dropping anchor in the roadstead a quarter-mile off shore.

And, until the Waikiki Yacht Club opens its new Aloha Slips at the end of the year, Hawai`i has never had docking facilities available for yachts longer than 100 feet, except at the commercial wharfs in Honolulu Harbor.

To compound the problem of inadequate facilities in our state-run marinas, there has also been an a perception among cruisers of a lack of aloha from most of those who are running our marinas.

Hardly an issue of Latitude 38 - the cruisers' bible - comes out without at least one letter complaining of the inhospitable treatment a boater has received from one of our harbor masters.

Whether justified or not, such complaints - along with marina operations overall - need to be addressed by the state.

If such a situation existed in a profit-motivated, privately owned business, my guess would be that changes would be made very quickly.

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