3 buoys installed in Nawiliwili Harbor

Nawiliwili Harbor, Kaua’i’s only one capable of supporting large cruise ships, had three buoys installed Monday Nov. 25 to make navigation of the channel easier.

The placement of buoys comes after requests from the Hawaii Pilots Association and ship captains and as part of the Coast Guard’s continuing harbor services. The Hawaii Pilots Association is made up of those most experienced with channels and conditions statewide and board incoming ships to safely steer them into Nawiliwili Harbor.

“It’s marking the channel a lot better. It’s helped a lot,” said Dave Lyman, Hawaii Pilot Association president. Lyman brought two ships into port Tuesday afternoon, and said he noticed a difference.

“I think it gives the pilots more guidance, more points of direction,” said Department of Land and Natural Resources Harbormaster Bob Crowell.

Men aboard the USCGC Kukui installed three Aids to Navigation (buoys) Monday, two green ones placed on starboard side (left), a red one on the port side (right), and also relocated two buoys in the channel.

In the 1950s, the harbor was designed for ships about 450 feet long. With time, the size of vessels grew. In 1972, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that dredging and other alterations would be needed to support the 600-foot vessels that were then routinely transiting the harbor, Coast Guard officials said. Ships that now stop here are often more than 900 feet long, including the 965-foot Norwegian Star, which comes to Kaua’i every Saturday.

The channel was dredged in April 1999 by the Army Corps of Engineers, Crowell said. But thirty years after the Army Corps of Engineers’ study, no substantial alterations have been made, said Lieutenant Junior Grade Christopher L. Wright.

Wright, the public affairs officer aboard the Kukui, said that these buoys will make it easier for pilots to navigate the channel with new technologies that allow those giant cruise ships to enter and exit the narrow channel without help from tugboats.

Pilothouses on large ships are located at the front of the vessels, and the stern is about 800 feet back. Lieutenant Bryan Bender said ships’ personnel aim laser pointers at the metal toppers for radar detectors to show a precise distance from the ship to the buoys. The added buoys will make navigation easier, Bender said.

This project will also benefit Kaua’i’s tourism industry, with many shops in the Nawiliwili area depending upon money spent by cruise ship visitors to stay afloat. The nearly 2,000 passengers per ship spent about $90 per day last year, according to tourism statistics from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The Coast Guard uses GPS (global positioning system) technology to show precisely where to position a buoy, based on the depth of shoalwater and location of the reef. Tides and currents are also taken into account.

The channel is about 30 feet deep. Because of malfunctioning navigational computers last Monday, the Kukui was forced to stay in port. Otherwise, the ship would have crossed the harbor and a crane would lower the equipment to the right spots. Buoys are attached to 1 1/8″ chains, which are clamped to 4,000-pound cement sinkers. “Lift bags” were inflated with enough air to float the sinkers and then was towed out to the mapped locations using an inflatable motorboat.

The USCGC Kukui is a 225-foot “Juniper” class buoy tender, based in Honolulu. All ships in this class are named after trees or shrubs. The ship is one of the newest in the Coast Guard fleet, and belongs to the newest class of ship being constructed by the Coast Guard.

— Also- Thanks to Cmdr. Marc Stegman and crew of the Kukui for the wonderful tour, and best wishes to BMC Michael Ward on his retirement.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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