Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Big Island to Maui -- Crossing the Channel

The Alenuihaha Channel (or the “I'll-end-you, ha-ha” channel), between the islands of Hawaii and Maui, is 26 miles wide in its narrowest part and has sometimes been referred to as the most dangerous channel crossing in the world.

Roughly translated, Alenuihaha means “of very large, trough-like waves.” Like most Hawaiian words or phrases there can be several interpretations. Another one breaks down the channel’s name into ale meaning to swallow or engulf, nui meaning large or great, and haha meaning to breathe hard or pant. And a third translation suggests Alenuihaha is "the angry woman.”

The U.S. Coast Guard’s view is that the “channel is generally regarded as one of the most treacherous channels in the world because of strong winds and high seas.” Basically channel travelers are getting blasted by the venturi effect between two of the world's tallest mountains – on Maui, Haleakala and on Hawaii, Mauna Kea. Experts say all of the ocean has to funnel in between the two islands and this creates a pretty strong current. “It’s like the whole Pacific Ocean trying to squeeze through something.” Hawaii Kayaker

Oh, and the channel is also shark infested.

In fact until just last year, there had only been one successful solo swim of the channel ever from the Big Island to Maui. Then, in March 2009, the Australian Penny Palfrey became the second person, and first female, to cross the channel. It took her 14 hours and 51 minutes. And she had to deal with occasional 20-foot ocean swells where her crew lost sight of her. Penny Palfrey

Then in quick succession in September 2009, Linda Kaiser of Hawaii became the third swimmer, at age 59, to do the channel -- in 17 hours. Also, Linda is the only person in the world to swim all eight Hawai’i channels

The first to accomplish this feat was Dr. Harry Huffaker in either 1969 or 1970 (“within a mile of finishing”) according to Hawaiʻi Sports: History, Facts, and Statistics by Dan Cisco, with a time of 20 hours and eight minutes. Not sure why the last mile does not count in solo swimming, but Dr. Huffaker is clearly considered the first to have swum the channel.

Mike Spalding, who was inducted into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame in 2008 for his seven successful channel swims between Hawaiian Islands, said he has only one remaining, “the hardest one,” the 30-mile Alenuihaha channel.

Cookie Cutter Shark Teeth

His first attempt at age 61, was like Penny Palfrey’s in March 2009, but it lasted only 4-1/2 hours when he was bitten by a cookie-cutter shark. It left a three-inch diameter, one-inch deep would on his left leg. This species of shark grows to about 20 inches in length and takes melon-ball sized chunks of flesh from its prey. Spalding said. “I’ll be back in the hunt, back trying to train for the channel again. . . . I’m looking forward to the next time I get out there and finish this channel.” Maui News

An article about the channel in Sports Illustrated back in 1973 (Carlton Fisk was young) had the following title and teaser:

“Olly As In Jolly, Haha As In Crutch”

“The Alenuihaha Channel was no laughing matter; it was miles of thrashing current and biting wind that tossed the ocean racers. And it was only the beginning of the first around-a-state contest ever held.”

The article by Richard W. Johnston went on to say that yachtsmen would do well to memorize the name: “olly as in jolly, nooey as in hooey, and haha as in crutch.” I am certain that the haha part is not haha funny but probably more like haha sad. So the “crutch” part is either “funny as a rubber crutch,” or some nautical term, insider-joke that misses me totally. Richard W. Johnston

If anyone reading this knows, please leave a comment.


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