Day 1: Kalohi
The original plan for this trip to Maui was just to vacation. Then I had an idea to add a swim and reached out to Steve Minaglia, who puts together Maui Triangle swims. Steve said we could do one of the channels while I was in Maui. One became two, and soon we were planning to do all three sides of the triangle made by the islands of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.
About a week before I flew from LA, Steve told me that the weather did not look good enough for the Pailolo Channel between Maui and Molokai, but that we could definitely do the Kalohi Channel from Molokai to Lanai and maybe the Auau Channel from Lanai to Maui. We decided to go for Kalohi and then decide at the end of that day whether we would swim Auau the next day. The reason for swimming Kalohi first was two-fold; partly because we knew that winds were going to be high ( this crossing can benefit from high winds), and also because it was a channel that ¾ of us had not yet done, while we had all completed Auau.
We met at Mala Wharf at 8am on Saturday morning and boarded the boat Pualele. I drove from my hotel while Steve, Quinn, and Marek flew into Maui from Honolulu. I was worried about the relatively late start because the winds get higher the later it gets, but when we left the dock the water was still pretty flat. The trip out to Molokai took about 90 minutes and right around the halfway point, we started hitting bigger swells and I just focused on not getting seasick. Soon the boat was idling just outside the reef off of Molokai and we were smearing our skin with sun protection and grease. Steve and Quinn jumped off the wooden swim step first and then I jumped next and Marek jumped after me. We swam the 200ish yards to the shore and went up the beach to start on dry sand. There were a few people on the beach “welcoming” us. We quickly walked into the water, the guys started their watches and we left Molokai behind.
I swam next to Marek and slightly behind and off to the side of Quinn, with Steve just behind us. The water was super super blue and also quite swelly, but it felt like all of the swell was breaking over my left shoulder and pushing me toward Lanai. The first interval between the start and the first feed always feels really long to me but having people to swim with helped, and soon we were stopping for our first feed. The guys on the boat tossed us each a bottle and we tossed them back and when we missed, they fished them out of the water with a net. After the feed, I asked Marek whether we were feeding every 30 minutes or every 45 minutes and he told me that he thought we were feeding every 45. The three guys had watches on but I did not. I wished I had known that ahead because I usually feed every 30 and I would have put more calories in each feed. I just decided to add a gel to my feed every few feeds and hope that that would be ok. The next few intervals passed quickly, and I began to thoroughly enjoy myself in the blue, warm water. The 45-minute intervals were flying by and I wondered if I should consider switching to 45 minute feeds regularly.
We were making steady progress and around what I calculated was 3 hours (I was not wearing a watch) we seemed to be about halfway across. By this point, I was having a total blast and had pretty much decided to tell Steve that I wanted to swim Auau the next day. The swell was massive, but it was doing a great job of pushing us along and it was really fun swimming. By this point, Quinn was leading the pack and I was just behind him with Marek and Steve backing us up. When Quinn got too far ahead, he would swim some backstroke until the rest of us caught up.
I was still feeling really strong, and Lanai just kept getting closer. By my calculations, we would finish right around 6 hours (reminder that I was not wearing a watch). We could see the ghost container ship off to the left-hand side and the guys on the boat soon told us that we were approaching the reef and we would have to swim in together without the boat, while they waited beyond the reef. We took some pictures and headed toward the island where we could see large breaking waves. I was starting to feel nervous because I really don’t like swimming through surf especially over a shallow reef, but the guys said that they would lookout for me and I knew that they would.
Steve and I swam next to each other, and Marek and Quinn were together off to our left. As we approached the back of the break I got more nervous and turned back to where Quinn and Marek were, while Steve made it through the break. Quinn and Marek suggested that we swim to the left and try to find a channel through the reef where the waves were not breaking. Quinn stopped and said that he had just been stung around the neck. A minute later I got stung and the jellyfish got stuck in my mouth. I screamed from the sting, and Marek stopped to check on me (later he told me that he thought I had seen a shark). I wondered where Steve was. We kept going and I hit a few more jellies, but we finally found a way through the reef and were soon climbing out on to the beach, where Steve was waiting for us. I heard Steve say that we had finished around 4:46. I couldn’t understand how that could be possible until I realized that we had been feeding every 30 minutes rather than 45 so my math had been off the whole time. No wonder I felt so good! All in all, it was a beautiful day of swimming. We swam back to the boat, and I asked Steve if we could do it all again the next day.
Day 2: Auau
The plan for the second day was to meet earlier and try to leave the dock by 6am to capitalize on better conditions. After a slight delay, we were all loaded on the boat and heading out to Lanai. The plan was for just me and Steve to swim this channel, as Marek and Quinn had returned to Oahu. The water was super glassy leaving the harbor, but soon we hit the rolling water in the mid-channel, and I knew it was going to be a bumpy swim. We pulled up to the beach at Club Lanai and I hopped into the water after Steve. He had warned me that the shallow water would be muddy, and I nearly tripped over a buried root as we climbed up onto the beach. We walked up to dry sand, turned to face Maui and began our swim.
The water clarity was not fabulous, but I still enjoyed swimming over the reef and saw a turtle gliding along below us. At this point, the water only had a slight bump to it, and I focused on shaking out my stroke and falling into a rhythm next to Steve. We stopped for our first feed and on this day the boat guys had our feeds on a rope rather than just throwing them at us . This worked really well and let us have faster feeds. We continued with our swim, and while I was not having a bad time , I was certainly not enjoying myself like I had the day before. Suddenly, I saw something swimming below me and at first, I thought it was a fish of some kind but soon it became clear that it was a shark, just like I had seen on my other Auau crossing. “Here we go again…” I thought. It was far below us and looked small, but I knew it was probably much bigger in reality. I pointed it out to Steve and he suggested that we swim over to the back of the boat and make a decision. He called the boat over and I kept my eyes in the water but the shark had disappeared. Steve told the guys that it was probably just curious and not showing aggression, so we decided to continue, but stayed closer together.
I was feeling very nervous about the shark, but I trusted Steve and he seemed okay. I stuck close to his side and tried to calm down. Steve reminded me to keep a steady pace despite my anxiety and not start sprinting because of the shark. We didn’t see it again and I eventually calmed down. During the swim the day before, I had only been stung by jellies right at the end, but on this swim, I kept hitting patches of stingers. The guys on the boat said it was because we were in a current and it would get better, but it never really did.
The water had been consistently choppy, but about an hour after we saw the shark, the water glassed over and conditions were basically perfect. I guessed that the beautiful conditions wouldn’t last long in this temperamental channel, so I tried to take advantage of it and finally found my rhythm. At a feed, I joked to Steve that I had preordered these conditions! Soon however, the swell picked up and we were once again being hit by chop coming over our left sides. I like swimming in chop (to a point) and was having fun even though the glass was nicer.
The swell was so big that when I was in a trough, I sometimes couldn’t see Steve or the boat. This made it really tough to stay together, and I found myself getting ahead of Steve and treading water to try to stay together. Despite the deteriorating conditions, Steve and I both felt like we were making steady progress and as it did seem like Maui was getting closer. However, at the 3.5 hour feed, Steve asked the guys on the boat how much farther we had to go and they said something like “5 nautical miles,” meaning we were still less than halfway across the channel. That was a tough thing to hear but I was still feeling pretty good at that point and just decided to keep swimming feed to feed. Steve and I kept getting separated and at the next feed he said that he didn’t want to do a 7 hour Auau and was thinking of getting out. I tried to encourage him to stay in but it was also clear that we were getting too separated by the conditions. I convinced him to stay in for one more half hour, but ultimately he decided to get out. I felt really bad because I didn’t want to stay in without Steve but I also felt strong and wanted to see how far I could push it.
So now I was alone. I reminded myself that the guys on the boat were looking out for me and Steve was still around even if he was now on the boat instead of in the water. I picked up my pace a bit and finally felt like I was starting to make some progress. The next few half hour intervals passed rather uneventfully, even as the swell continued to get larger, but I just tried to roll with it. We were definitely making progress towards Maui, albeit not as quickly as I had hoped. At the same time, the island seemed to be slipping by and I started to get nervous about missing it all together. It was weird because the swell was coming from the left, but the current was pushing me from the right. I was having flash backs to the coast of Dover sliding by during my English Channel crossing. At around 6 hours, I asked the guys how much farther we had to go. They told me about and a hour and a half (they were lying, but it didn’t matter at the time). I told them that I only had enough feeds for eight hours so we needed to get there soon.
I kept pushing toward Maui and I was still feeling pretty good muscularly, even though I could tell I was getting pretty sunburned and my skin was angry from all the jellies. I was so sick of my gels by this point and knew that that was pretty much all I had left so I asked if I could have one of his gels. I don’t usually like brands other than Honey Stinger, but man was that strawberry banana Gu a nice change.
The hotels were getting clearer on the shore and even though I knew the plan was to finish on the right (south) side of Black Rock (when facing the beach from the water) but due to the current, we were already far to the left of the rock. At this point, we were looking for any sandy spot. I felt like the boat captain was making me swim head on into the current rather than straight into shore but I trusted them to lead me well. Soon I could see the sail boats on Kaanapali and knew that I was getting close. I picked up my tempo and could see the sand passing below me. I passed a couple of snorkelers and laughed to myself that this was going to be a longer than 8 hour swim, when it was meant to be redemption from my 7:30 swim of several years ago. I climbed up onto the sand and saw my mom running down the beach to see me finish! I was so happy to be finished and looked back at the channel that I had just crossed. I turned and swam back to the boat (Steve joked that I looked ready to go back to Lanai). My final time was just under 8 hours 30 minutes.
Overall, I am really happy with this swim. It was not the quick crossing I was hoping for but despite being an hour longer than my previous Auau, this was a much stronger swim and I am really proud of myself for sticking with it. I am so grateful for Steve for putting these two days of swimming together and the guys on the boat for keeping us safe, fed, and on course. I predict more Hawaiian channels are in my future!