On June 21, 1902, the atmosphere of the Hawaiian Islands was extraordinarily clear — so clear, in fact, that passengers on board the steamer Kinau cruising off Kaunakakai, Molokai, credited its clarity for enabling them to report being able to see all of the Hawaiian Islands simultaneously, except Niihau — a phenomenon previously unheard of in Hawaii.
One prominent passenger, Lorrin A. Thurston — a leader of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 — confirmed that the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai were clearly visible from the steamer’s deck.
Another observer, the Kinau’s purser, Beckley, declared that in all the many years he’d sailed about the Hawaiian Islands he’d never seen anything like it.
The only other report of its kind known to have been made in Hawaii was by inter-island schooner captain Ezra Crane — who some years earlier had reported seeing Kauai while aboard a ship off Lahaina, Maui.
No one made aware of the phenomenon would discredit its eyewitnesses, but there were those who questioned if the unusual clarity of the atmosphere alone would have made it possible for Kinau’s passengers to have seen all the islands, less Niihau.
Maui, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Oahu are visible from Molokai, and although the Big Island is 127 miles away from Molokai, it is possible to see it from a vessel at sea off Molokai on a clear day, since its highest point is 13,802 feet above sea level.
However, Kauai — 174 miles away from Molokai, with its highest elevation being atop 5,148-foot Mount Waialeale — would, under normal circumstances, be impossible to be seen from Molokai, even in the clearest atmosphere.
According to Professor A.B. Lyons, an Oahu College meteorologist at that time, only the highly unlikely appearance of a mirage — a naturally occurring optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky — could have made it possible for Kauai to be viewed from Molokai.