Come sail away

Editor’s note: Kauai resident, educator and sailor Steve Soltysik was recently aboard Gershon II, escort for Hokulea. This is his second account of the journey.

Setting sail just offshore in the calm waters of the Caribbean, with the new crew from Hawaii, the Hokulea soon joined up with the escort sailboat Gershon II.

I had the good fortune to be invited into the classrooms of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, with three crew members of the Hokulea.

For me, to be part of the education outreach crew was such an honor, and the highlight of the whole voyage.

Excited young students by the hundreds came down to the Hokulea, curious to see, step aboard and learn about the most rare of sailing craft to ever visit St. John.

Returning to Kauai, I am often asked: So how was it? Any storms? Drama offshore?

Sailing on the 50-foot, 30-ton, steel sailboat Gershon II could hardly be more different than the Hokulea a few miles ahead. Hokulea is a double-hulled 62-foot traditional designed voyaging canoe, stable in confused seas, and swift with just a few sails set. Even in 20 knots of wind you can easily walk on deck with the gentle ride of the swift and proven design.

Struggling to keep up, Gershon II would roll from side to side, even with sails set, 10, 35, 15, and again as much as 40 degrees, on a broad reach sail (wind on the beam 90 degrees), this would take a full week to adjust to. Fortunately, most of our crew did not get seasick, and with a healthy diet and sleep, it is amazing how we could adjust to a totally different environment.

Most of the time sailing the 2,400 miles from Natal Brazil, to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, the wind was in our favor, with a 6 to 10 foot north swell, and very confused seas. Much like our channel between Kauai and Oahu, small craft warnings, whitecaps and “washing machine confused waves” — the ride on the escort boat was a big challenge the entire way. We would look ahead at the wonderful sailing canoe Hokulea with envy as we would hang on with braced feet and hand holds while cooking and slowly moving on deck and down below.

Gershon II has proven to be a very strong towboat when needed in extended calm conditions, and entering port. The 130 hp diesel purring below, Gershon II had no problem towing Hokulea even with wind and current working against the two vessels. Now, in the shallow waters of the Caribbean, Gershon II has an 8-foot draft (the depth of the keel) this is a significant concern, limiting the anchorages and ports of call.

Hokulea has no problem, with about 3 feet of draft.

I think the biggest challenge for crew on Hokulea is exposure to wind and rain, and the tropical sun. When sails are adjusted , and the canoe is balanced properly, the Hokulea sails like a dream.

Parting ways with Captain Steve Kornberg, First Mate Cynthia Kornberg, and crew aboard Gershon II and the Hokulea has stirred many deep feelings, the bonding of a crew, still able to smile and communicate, shared tough days off-shore, no injuries, no illness, a good solid passage, tired, but happy to return to our special islands in Hawaii. It is always good to return to Kauai, our ohana, our family and friends.

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