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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Marine debris proves to be real threat to voyage

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

PEARL AND HERMES ATOLL, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — The voyaging canoe Hokule'a sailed to an anchorage for a brief stop here yesterday morning, but during the middle of the previous night it had not been clear the canoe would make it.

Hokule'a crew member Kana Uchino sits on the deck after a dive at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The tails of five fish caught yesterday morning are visible in the red bucket in background.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

A little after 11 p.m., the crew of the escort boat Kama Hele reported "a problem with the engine." The problem: It had stopped abruptly.

Engineer Steve Garrett at first suspected a transmission problem. Someone finally jumped into the water and diagnosed the problem: a twisted mess of drifting ropes had wrapped around the single propeller — another threat of marine debris.

Near midnight, with no moon and with the dark, deep ocean below, crewmen Kiyoshi Amimoto and Tim Gilliom went over the side with lights and knives. Hokule'a took down its sails and drifted in wait two miles ahead.

The two cut through rope after rope, stopping occasionally to scan the waters around them with lights for predators. They got it free, and by midnight, both Kama Hele and Hokule'a were again under way.

Hokule'a's crew applauded Amimoto and Gilliom when the two boats anchored at Pearl and Hermes.

Shortly after dawn, the canoe had its biggest day of fishing to date. Four handlines were trolling behind the vessel. Suddenly one hit, then another, and as they were being hauled in, a third, and then the fourth. The crew hauled in two kawakawa and two small 'ahi.

One of the lines was fed back out to aid in untangling it, and another fish hit, got loose, hit again, got loose again and then hit hard a third time. It was another small 'ahi.

The crew had a fish chowder and teriyaki fried fish on Sunday night with that day's catch, made by sailing master Bruce Blankenfeld. Yesterday, Russell Amimoto and Tava Taupu made a heaping platter of sashimi and fried fish at lunch, and the crew was arguing over whether to have 'ahi spaghetti or more sashimi for dinner.

The sashimi was served on cabbage. The canoe's cabbages were still usable, but only after several layers of blackened and rotted leaves are removed from the outside, and black spots are cut out of the inside.

The only fruits left were shriveled lemons and limes. Onions were OK. Potatoes were soft and turning green. Squashes and sweet potatoes still looked good, but hadn't been tried.

The canoe has done well with eggs. The voyage is into its third week without refrigeration, and each egg is float tested — if it sinks it's deemed OK. If it floats, it's assumed to be bad. As of yesterday, all eggs had been good.

"Last voyage, they lasted 27 days," said watch captain Russell Amimoto, the younger brother of Kiyoshi Amimoto, who helped clear the escort boat's propellor.

The ship's doctor, Cherie Shehata, has been busy with one or more medical issues daily. Captain Nainoa Thompson appears to be doing well after injuring his ribs a week ago off French Frigate Shoals, although he had some soreness after snorkeling yesterday.

Shehata has also stitched a gashed finger, taped a possible broken toe, worked on a jellyfish sting, dealt with seasickness, and responded to leg rashes and abrasions.

She's a triple threat who also works the sails and steers, and in recent mornings has cooked crew breakfasts.

Pearl and Hermes is the second-largest atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago. These low coral islands are difficult to spot, even though we were using satellite navigation techniques and knew where Pearl and Hermes was. Three miles from it we could see no sign of it.

At about two miles, from the deck of Hokule'a, an occasional spot of white on the horizon suggested surf breaking on a reef and at 1.6 miles we could pick out a narrow line of cream-colored sand, distinct from the bright white of the surf. It was Southeast Island, the largest of the sandbars here.

We'd been looking for the green clouds we'd seen at French Frigate Shoals — white clouds that turn chartreuse from the reflection of the shallow lagoon water. We didn't see them on our approach, because there weren't any low clouds at all over the lagoon — although we spotted the green wonders later.

Next we could pick out the hump of swells, rising up before they broke on the fringing reef, and then we could see a line of pale bluish green on top of white breakers. It was the inside of the lagoon. Sooty terns came screeching by, and we spotted a turtle swimming. The water under the boat was getting paler as it shallowed.

About a third of a mile out, we could pick out the steady roar of the breakers. The sand island we were approaching grew thicker with closeness, and what at first looked like greenery on its 10-foot highest point turned out to be a cluster of green tents occupied by a NOAA Fisheries seal monitoring team. There isn't much land vegetation on Pearl and Hermes.

A few hundred yards off the reef, we could pick up detail. We could see the pale blue patches of sandy bottom on the outside of the reef, the pale green shallower sandy patches inside and the darker green areas inside where coral and algae reefs were. Beyond that, there was darker blue water of the deeper areas inside the lagoon.

After our brief diving stop, we sailed on for Kure Atoll, the end of the Hawaiian Archipelago. We hoped to walk on Green Island there and dive its reefs before sailing to Midway, where this crew would leave the canoe and a new crew is waiting to take Hokule'a back home.

Advertiser Science Writer Jan TenBruggencate is serving as a crewmember on Hokule'a as it sails through the 1,200 miles of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. His dispatches are sent back via satellite telephone.