Record falls in Na Holo Kai race

Two canoes in the annual Na Holo Kai race broke a long-standing record Saturday.

Marvin Otsuji, skippering the “Olukai,” slipped onto Kalapaki Beach with a new record time of 7 hours, 9 minutes in the 21st Na Holo Kai sailing canoe race.

“Cappy Sheely set the record of seven hours and 16 or 17 minutes about 10 or 12 years ago,” Otsuji said. “All I know is that it’s been a long record, and I think when the record was set, the starting point was Pokai Bay.”

That may have made a difference as Saturday’s race started from Haleiwa on O‘ahu’s North Shore and following 82 miles of what Alan Faye described as “wild and wooly channel crossing,” the boats beached at Kalapaki.

With the win, Otsuji’s crew leads the overall points standings in the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association with just one more race remaining in the 2008 calendar.

That final race rounds out the five-race series on Sept. 13 when canoes leave Kalapaki Beach to end at the beach fronting the Waimea Plantation Cottages.

“If we just enter, we’ll probably win the standings for the year,” Otsuji said. “We only have one second place finish. All the other races have been first place finishes.”

According to the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association Web site, the calendar started with the Big Island to Maui race April 19 to 20 and worked its way up the Hawaiian Island chain, finishing with the Nawiliwili to Waimea race Sept. 13. The Na Holo Kai race, which started from Haleiwa, bridged O‘ahu to Kaua‘i and is the longest race on the calendar.

The HSCA Web site, in its recap of the 2005 Na Holo Kai race, states that Otsuji is the only HSCA member who has competed in all 19 Na Holo Kai races and has won more Na Holo Kai races than any other captain.

In the 2005 race, Otsuji captained “Kamakakoa” to a first finish in seven hours, 50 minutes after battling Matt Buckman’s crew for the lead through the first seven hours of that race.

Similarly, the 2008 race got off to an even start with Otsuji’s crew and Buckman’s crew jockeying for the lead through the first third of the race.

“Our plan was to be the lowest boat so we could see other boats,” Otsuji said. “But with the strong easterlies, we were higher than we wanted to be. But we were still the lowest boat in the field and that worked.”

Otsuji said the crew stuck to that plan until they could see Kaua‘i from about 50 miles out and made adjustments from that point.

Buckman, second to finish at seven hours, 16 minutes, also broke the record of seven hours, 17 minutes.

Third place went to Donnie Jones in “Tui Tonga” who beached at seven hours, 21 minutes. Kendall Struxness, home from his recent paddle up the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, was the only Kaua‘i crewmember aboard that boat.

According to Faye, a New Zealander and Maui crew rounded out the six-man field.

Faye added that this year’s race featured a three-man Holopuni crewed by Nick Beck, Steve Baker and Steve Long.

Normally, a race this long gives the advantage to the six-man canoe which has a length of 45 feet as compared to the three-man canoe which measures 30 feet, Faye said.

“The long water lines allows the six-man to go faster,” Faye said.

“Beck and Baker alternated as the captains for the small boat and when they landed, I had to help them get their gloves off because their hands were so clenched from seven hours of hard steering.”

Joining Otsuji, Jason Dameron, Scott Wagner, Maui Kjeldesen, Jody Simpson and Butch Keahiolalo made up the winning “Olukai” team.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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