“Look how small we are,” said tugboat captain Mike Kaiwi, as he steered the 79-foot-long harbor tug Eleu through Nawiliwili Harbor, dwarfed by the Matson barge they were assisting to position in front of the 965-foot Norwegian Star on a recent Saturday afternoon.
The 2,800 horsepower craft may be more than 10 times smaller than this largest cruise ship in Hawai‘i, but without the Eleu, Kaua‘i would be without tourists, toilet paper and transport vehicles. The tug is Kaua‘i’s only one, and its operators, including Kaiwi and operator engineer Bradie Medeiros, are often working six and seven days a week and at odd hours not only on Kaua‘i but other islands, to assist all incoming and outgoing vessels from the state’s harbors. There are less than a dozen tug boat captains in the state, Medeiros said, and they all travel around Hawai‘i to make sure the job gets done.
Hawaiian Tug and Barge/Young Brothers Ltd., which owns the Eleu and three other harbor tugs in the state, recently organized a tugboat outing for members of its Kaua‘i Community Advisory Board members and their children. Board members include chairperson Wanda Shibata, and members Jim McDowall, Millie Wellington and Douglas Lindsey.
The Eleu must make sure that each vessel is assisted in and out of harbor safely and securely. “There’s limited space, a big barge, a big ship – that’s the benefit of having a tug like the Eleu,” said Hawaiian Tug & Barge/Young Brothers Maritime Operations Vice President Mark A. Houghton.
That day, the Eleu assisted an incoming Matson barge and docked it precisely in front of the Norwegian Star, then assisted the cruise ship out of Nawiliwili Harbor. Since an installation of buoys in the harbor last winter, the harbor’s passage is less complicated for large ships, yet boat captains belonging to the Hawaiian Pilots Association, experts in the nuances of each harbor’s off-shore winds, path and weather conditions, board each cruise ship and safely steer them in and out of port while the tug “walks” alongside to make sure its path is clear. With what seemed like a hair of room between the barge and the ship, the Eleu assisted the “floating hotel” out of Nawiliwili and into the choppy sea.
The Eleu’s operators do the same for each barge that pulls into Nawiliwili, pushing its weight against one side in a “jackknife” position until it bumps the dock and longshoremen can secure it for containers to be unloaded. It takes a barge about eight hours to get to Kaua‘i from O‘ahu, and about that long for containers to be unloaded. At that point, the Eleu assists it back out onto the sea again.
The 2,800 horsepower Eleu is operated by two propellers that can rotate 360 degrees, meaning the boat can turn in all different directions. It can be facing one direction and travel sideways, and spin in a circle while going backwards. The cruise ship passengers always get a kick out of the “tugboat hula,” and the Eleu is a state champion in the contest, held in Honolulu Harbor. As soon as Kaiwi turned his hand-held propeller controls and maneuvered the Eleu in a wide circle, the eyes of all kids on board – Kea Sullivan, Brandi Kam, Chelsey and Mathew Shibata and Andrew Yasay – got wide as saucers and the young ones started shouting in amazement. As usual, the tugboat hula didn’t disappoint.
Wendell Kam, Young Brothers’ Nawiliwili Port Manager, said that the community board focuses on non-profit groups dealing with health, youth, education, environment and anti-drug programs. The board reviews applications from dozens of nonprofit groups and has donated grants to the Waimea High School peer education program, Kaua‘i Community College Nursing program, Hawai‘i Children’s Theater, Hale ‘Opio, Kaua‘i Christian Fellowship and a learning program at Haraguchi Rice Mill, to name a few. Young Brothers’ community advisory boards have donated $120,000 to 97 non-profit organizations throughout the state since the program was started in 2001.
For more information about the Young Brothers community advisory board or about the company’s operations, access www.htbyb.com, call Wendell Kam at 245-4051 or write to 3020 Waapa Road, Lihu‘e, HI 96766.