NAWILIWILI — A Matson Navigation tugboat towing two barges may have inadvertently affected the outcome of a fast Aston Hotels & Resorts’ Na Holo Kai sailing canoe race Saturday afternoon when it inadvertently cut off Kaua‘i’s Kamakakoa outrigger sailing canoe at the entrance to Nawiliwili Harbor.
The Kamakakoa, captained and steered across the Kaua‘i Channel by Marvin Otsuji of Sea Sports Divers in Po‘ipu, was in the lead on the south approach to the bay entrance hounded by O‘ahu’s La‘amaomao captained by Trevor Cabell when the tugboat and barge, following the line of La‘amaomao, swung across for its approach to Nawiliwili Harbor.
“They cut us off!” Otsuji said after beaching his crew in second place. “We had the lead, and they cut us off. We had to stop paddling. Hold water.”
That move gave the edge to Cabell’s crew who celebrated their finish at 2:35 p.m., a record-setting finish for the race that started at Haleiwa Harbor on the North Shore of O‘ahu at 7:30 a.m.
“Seven hours in this race? That’s fast!” An exhausted paddler from Kamakakoa said while catching his breath following the exciting, but disappointing finish.
“We’re talking to the rules people about this,” Otsuji said to his disappointed crew members. “We’ll let them rule on this one.”
Otsuji’s crew slipped onto Kalapaki Beach at 2:37, a scant two minutes behind the leader.
The crossing set a record for the race’s Hale‘iwa-Nawiliwili run due to steady tradewinds blowing in the channel. The race has been run for 17 years, with the first one held in 1987 as part of the Year of the Hawaiian festivities. Kaua‘i waterman and native Dr. Carlos Andrade came up with the concept for the first race.
Otsuji later said his canoe led across the channel, after meeting up with Cabell’s canoe about mid-way across the channel. He said his team had about a quarter-mile lead coming into Kaua‘i.
Otsuji said he opted out for safety in stopping his canoe, rather than try to steer in between the barges or head off the tug.
“Everyone was tired, we could have got hurt,” he said of the halt just several hundred yards from the finish line.
Amy Young of the Big Island, paddling for Otsuji, said this was her third Na Holo Kai race, but “it was fun today!”
“It was never hot. We had enough wind to move the canoe, and it was cool enough to keep the crew from fatiguing from the heat.”
Otsuji made excellent course decisions, Young said. Decisions that gave them the lead as well as covered any challenges, until the barge crossed their path with the finish line in sight.
A Kaua‘i team aboard the Kilo Opua, using a canoe from O‘ahu, finished in third place, slipping up the beach at 2:45, with the Ka‘akaua Nalu skippered by Kaua‘i’s Mark “Sharky” Aguilar nailing down the fourth place with a 2:54 p.m. arrival, one exhausted paddler noting, “I have never been so tired in my life!”
Upon beaching their craft, Aguilar, the steersman for Ka‘akaua extracted a beheaded paddle saying, “This is the third one that broke.”
Aguilar said they were near Otsuji when a helicopter flew by for footage after two canoes pulled out of the race off O‘ahu.
About 10 miles beyond Ka‘ena Point, the northwest corner of O‘ahu, a canoe with all men aboard, including Kendall Struxness of Princeville, swamped and left the race. An all-women’s team suffered damage to their rigging serious enough to scratch them from the race.
Right after that, Aguilar said “The paddle just exploded.”
“We weren’t in the race anymore. It was just a matter of finishing.”
Tui Tonga out of O‘ahu finished fifth, and Waipualeilei out of Maui finished sixth.
The race is part of the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association’s annual race series. With his second place finish, Otsuji’s team has a lead in the series following an earlier first place win.