Na Pali kayakers escape tragedy

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Fire Department launched an air search Sunday evening after being notified that two kayakers had been separated from their group and were reported missing, according to county officials. The kayakers were reportedly found safe at Kalalau Beach later.

County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said police dispatch notified Rescue 3 Sunday at approximately 6:30 p.m. The U.S. Coast Guard then requested KFD’s assistance to conduct an aerial search of the coastline from Ke‘e Beach to Kalalau Valley, where the kayakers were last seen.

Philadelphia visitor Jennifer McClellan said she and her husband, Tommy, were on a Na Pali Coast tour Sunday, when some people on one of the beaches, probably Kalalau, waved yellow emergency floats at the tour boat.

“The captain and crew got the boat close to shore and were told two women in a yellow tandem kayak were missing,” McClellan said. “They had left earlier that afternoon and were supposed to have met people camping at the beach.”

The tour boat from Kaua‘i Sea Tours spent about an hour and a half searching the coastline where the women were last seen, all the way to the beach where those people were camping, but found nothing, according to McClellan.

“At about 7 p.m., Rescue 3 aboard Air 1 proceeded to Kalalau and located the kayakers on land,” Blane said. “The kayakers had reportedly swamped their kayaks, abandoned them and swam to shore. Both escaped injury and (were) found safe.”

Blane said the kayakers were part of a group that had planned to kayak in and stay overnight in Kalalau Valley.

Kaua‘i Sea Tours confirmed Tuesday that Capt. Brian Kfoury searched the waters along the Na Pali Coast for about an hour and a half, and contacted the U.S. Coast Guard.

Check conditions

An experienced waterman who had a similar fate a week prior but was able to turn the tide on his favor had some advice to offer.

“Check the weather first and make sure the conditions are nice,” said Dustin Timm, a lifetime surfer who works as an engineer for the City and County of Honolulu.

Timm and his girlfriend, Adrienne Baldwin, visited Kaua‘i on Memorial Day weekend with a goal in mind: Kayak to Kalalau Valley, spend the night there and another night in Miloli‘i, then proceed to Polihale Beach Monday morning, where he would be picked up by a friend.

Their plans, however, took a different turn soon after leaving.

Their kayak, designed for the ocean and equipped with a rudder, overturned twice in the open ocean on the way to Kalalau due to extremely windy conditions on the morning of May 26.

The first time the kayak overturned, Timm lost two of his three water bottles. The remaining bottle had cracked while they were tightening bags onto the kayak at Ke‘e Beach, where Timm and Baldwin had launched.

Timm also lost his water camera and half the food they had brought with them.

Timm said he was able to quickly flip the kayak back thanks to his experience as an outrigger canoe paddler. He used to paddle competitively on O‘ahu, and has once completed the dreaded Molokai to O‘ahu canoe race.

Baldwin, a dolphin trainer in Honolulu, was also able to stay calm during the incident due to her acquaintance with the water, Timm said.

No food, no spear,

no problem

Besides the trouble in the ocean, Timm’s kayak also had a hard landing in Kalalau Beach due to windy conditions, and Timm lost a spear that would have helped him catch dinner. But thanks to the generosity of other campers in Kalalau, the couple was able to eat.

By using what was left of the cracked plastic water bottle, they collected water at the waterfall in Kalalau. But even that was a dangerous task, as falling rocks near the water source landed inches away from their heads.

On May 27, they were supposed to proceed to Miloli‘i but were not able to make it past the surf in Kalalau, even though people on the beach tried to help them push their kayak out to sea. After several attempts they decided to stay the night and proceed straight to Polihale on Memorial Day, May 28.

Besides securing camping permits and checking conditions, those kayaking to Kalalau should make sure to be accompanied by someone with experience in the water and bring a Global Positioning Satellite device in case the worst happens, Timm said.

Kayakers also should bring enough food in case they become stranded due to big surf, he said.

A Kaua‘i couple who are longtime friends of Timm once planned to spend one night at Miloli‘i, but their dream getaway nearly turned into a nightmare when the surf picked up and they were unable to make it out of the beach onto the ocean.

Timm’s friends had to spend four additional nights in Miloli‘i. They collected water from a nearby stream, and were only able to eat because someone else who was also stranded there defied the huge surf to spear fish for dinner, Timm said.

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