Island Circumnavigation

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Marek Lehocky and Steven Minaglia complete a staged, clockwise circumnavigation swim around the island of Oʻahu in Hawaiʻi.  Please enjoy the journal of the first 7 swims written by Steven Minaglia below.

Around Oʻahu- Clockwise


1. March 12, 2022 Kaimana to Sand Island


We met at Sand Island.  The gate to the park does not open until 7 am and the parking on the street is limited and sketchy.   We left a car there with some after swim supplies and made our way over to Kaimana beach.  There was nothing unique about the start except that we wore swim buoys for the first time on such a swim.  Conditions were nice.  The tidal coefficient was low and the winds were 10-15 kts from the east.  The water was flat and there was a mild current in favor out to Magic Island.  We finished the first 4 Km in 65 minutes and were around Magic Island at that time.  The first channel was fairly easy to cross with only a few boats in the distance.  Passing Ala Moana was easy and the next challenge was to swim across the boat channel at Kewalos.  We gunned it once a catamaran passed through and were easy to make it past the green buoy in no time and get over the reef where a few divers were.  We then headed to the next channel- the dreaded Honolulu Harbor.  We had to fight the break a bit but were able to swim to the next red channel marker at the entrance to the harbor.  There we saw a tug towing the Atlantis submarine out for the day- the tug saw us and didn’t let off the horn until we made like we were turning around and swimming the other way.  We didn’t see any other boats heading for the inlet and as the submarine passed us we went for it.  According to Marek, the sprint lasted just 2 minutes.  It was more like 7.  We aimed for the green buoy opposite the channel and quickly noted the Star of Honolulu heading toward us from the harbor.  It at first appeared to be docked but just seconds later it was obvious it was motoring toward us.  There was another large boat preparing to enter the harbor but was somewhat slowed by the departing Atlantis.  The 7 minutes seemed like eternity as we knew any close contact with a large vessel would be disasterous.  The sprint was even and efficient- the pace awesome- the first glimpse of shallow water created a tremendous relief for both of us as we knew the large boats would not come near to it.  Success!  We were past the last section of danger.  We had a brief celebration and then set our sights on the western tip of Sand Island Recreational Area beach.  This last section took longer than we thought because we were getting pushed in, the surf was up, and we still had our buoys inflated.  Progress was slowed by the swimming in and out of the reef line.  Once an access to shore was spotted- we deflated the buoys, stuffed them in our suits, and headed in to a rocky finish.  Official time was 2:27:10 and logged distance was 7.62 Km.  My average heart rate was 113 bpm.  We had a nice long walk to the car.  Marek reminded me that when he first asked if I was interested to swim around Oahu I told him no- I had dreamt it in the past- had a few swim friends interested and then quickly uninterested- and then I gave up on the idea.  I guess it was 30 seconds later on that original call that I then said yes.  Anyway- this is Marek’s idea.

2. April 16, 2022 Sand Island to Puuloa Beach Park


Not for the faint of heart

We didn’t complete any more legs due to work and family obligations that included weeks of travel off island for the both of us.  Once we were back on island and ready to go we took the first opportunity to complete swim #2.  This was the swim we most feared.  Marek contacted the coast guard days before the swim.  We were aware that no boats would be allowed and generally neither of us were enthusiastic about bringing a kayaker into the mix.  So it became obvious that we were about to attempt a 12km swim without any safe landing places and across 3 channels that included commercial and military vehicles.  The winds were high all week in the 20 kt range and from the east.  The weather called for a 40% chance of thunderstorms and was going to be overcast.  Given a strong easterly wind and protection from the clouds we were excited to take the swim on.

Madeleine agreed to help us that morning:  we dropped both of our cars off at Puuloa Beach Park in Ewa and then she drove us to Sand Island for our start.  We were able to park and prepare very close to the swim start.  Marek had found a nice channel to depart from that would negate crawling over any reefs.  The start was 500m behind our finish last time but both of us found this an acceptable compromise for an easier start.  We headed 500 m straight out past the strong breaks that morning and headed west.  After about 80 minutes, we could not see the runway or any details due to the winds and the chop.  The swim buoys kept being blown over our heads, trapping our moving arms, and Marek decided to deflate his and place it in his suit.  We both had bottles of water in our suits and I had my phone in addition.  The only source of navigation at this point was that we could see planes taking off.  Gradually as we pushed west you started to see planes land and eventually planes on approach.  This gave us clear information that we were heading west and that we were nearing the end of the runway.  The west Oahu mountains were covered with clouds and rarely seen due to the chop.  At this point, we stopped to check our status and realized we were near the west end of the runway.  The Pearl Harbor channel buoys were clearly visible.  We arrived at the eastern buoy, checked for boats, and then sprinted across.  This was the scariest part of the swim considering submarines and large ocean bound vessels regularly pass through that channel.  We were across it in less than a minute with an accumulated time of 2 hours 35 minutes.  Success!  It was as if we had finished the swim already.  Both of us calmed at this point and readied ourselves for the last push westward.  We swam far out past the break and watched the shoreline come into view.  First we saw Iriquois point, then the military training range with its strange warning of staying 5200 feet away, and finally Puuloa Beach park.  We arrived at the beach after 3 hours and 58 minutes of swimming.  Both of us had 3 gels and a bottle of water and felt we could swim another hour or two.


3. April 21, 2022 Puuloa Beach Park to Kalaeloa Airport


I work at a hospital nearby every Thursday and this was a Thursday.  Marek agreed to meet me at the finish and we both drove to the start.  It was again windy with moderate surf and overcast skies.  We had to start around 4 pm given my work day.  This swim was straightforward with a near neutral current and easterly winds.  The only difficulty was tracking our progress along the shoreline with few landmarks.  At some point we encountered a group of surfers and I asked where the airport was.  The guy pointed west and we kept going.


4. April 24, 2022 Kalaeloa Airport to Koolina Lagoon 1


The surf was 4-6 feet at Barber’s Point.  The jelly fish window had just begun.  The water was rough inside and the winds were about 20 kts.  This was a tough swim.  It was about 5km to the lighthouse and then more all the way to lagoon 1.  You have to stay wide outside as you approach the lighthouse in order to avoid the strong surf.  Once you clear the lighthouse the conditions markedly change.  There is less of a break although the winds can still be strong.  The resorts become clearly in view and even the lagoons can be easily seen from the water.  At about 9 km we arrived at the southern part of Barber’s Point Harbor.  Its 200m across to the green buoy and inside the harbor can be readily seen.  After this point the swim to the lagoon is only about 1.6km.


5. April 28, 2022 Koolina Lagoon 1 to Depot Beach Park, Nanakuli


Today sucked, literally.  It took 1:57 to swim 5.63 km.  At first we rounded Koolina and saw Electric Beach immediately.  But the winds were strong and heading south and there was plenty of chop.  It was difficult to get a rhythm.  Both of our heart rates were way above where we normally swim at.  The line was great however.  I felt Marek trying to push toward shore but I had spent a good amount of time studying the topography of the coast and figuring out the shortest distance.  I drew a line on google earth of 5.45 km and we ended up with 5.63 km.  Generally speaking we would cover this distance in 1.6 hours.  The landing was sandy but the current was strong and it was difficult to finish in the break.


6. May 1, 2022 Depot Beach Park to Lahilahi Point


Today was windy!  We knew it was a long haul with a harbor along the route and only a few good beaches to land on if we got into trouble.  Gear included 4 gels and 1 bottle of water each.  I kept a whistle and a swim buoy deflated in my suit to be used when we neared the harbor.  We started off in overcast around 640 am.  The first 3-4 km were really nice along the long beach in Nanakuli.  Once we rounded a hill around 4 km the winds and chop really picked up.  Breathing right I could not see the shore.  We stayed far out in order to draw the shortest straight line.  We fed every hour.  Currents were supposed to be with us but overall it felt neutral. The chop created by the side-to-side sway of the water and the west bound wind made it difficult to get into a rhythm.  We got stung bad in the first hour but kept going.  We sighted on Lahilahi point as soon as we rounded the hill separating Waianae and Nanakuli.  This was an easy target with a large building just to the right of the hill.  Behind this hill we knew to be a nice sandy beach for our finish.  We swam about 8.5 km in 3 hours.  When we fed we realized we were lined up with the harbor entrance.  This became a quick feed so we could start swimming again and get out of harms way.  About 30 minutes later we encountered a small fishing boat.  There were two people on board and the captain stopped next to Marek to talk.  He said he was a lifeguard.  Marek told him what we were up to and he was very impressed.  He said he liked Marek’s pink cap but suggested we swim with a “floatie” or something.  I quickly pulled my swim buoy out to show him and inflated it.  He said a prayer for us and then motored off to the north.  This was a great exchange and motivated us to keep cranking.  At this point the shoreline started to come closer and the sun came out.  The point was well lit and really started to look closer.  Marek had asked if we could land on the beach in front of the point.  I cautioned that it would be very similar in distance to land at that beach versus get to the point.  Also, it was a mere 500m behind the point to land on the beach where our car was parked.  He gave the signal and we headed for the point.  At this time he went far out as I attempted to hug the point.  We got separated by about 300m only to meet at the point.  There was a swell there and some breaking waves and shallow reef.  We headed out again for a moment until the point was behind us.  We then aimed at the middle of the beach and landed.  This was a tough segment because of the conditions, the harbor, the distance from shore, and the super long haul from one navigable point to the next.  All in all it was rewarding because there was no change in the plan and the time of 4:01 was respectable for the 11.7 km swim in rough conditions.


7. May 3, 2022 Lahilahi point to Yokohama Bay


The nice thing about this swim is you can see the mountain peaks as they touch the shore and gauge the distance accurately between each peak.  The valleys end up being at 3km, 4km, and 3km as the swim progresses.  The water was a nice temperature and quality.  The views were amazing including underwater due to clarity.  We started around 6 am and easily swam above 10km in 3 hours.  We were greeted on the shore by a group of lifeguards.  The lifeguards had been radioing each other with updates about 2 swimmers swimming north far off shore.  One of the guards told the Yokohama guards to expect us at Yokohama Bay.  This was the coolest part of the swim.  We were cranking through the bay.  My goal was the far north end- always to shorten the next swim- but Marek knew better and insisted we stop mid bay.  A surfer paddled out to tell us where to land safely.