Superferry, unedited

I rode the Hawai’i Superferry on Dec. 13, 2007, the resumption of service to Maui. I was aboard as press, documenting the voyage for Ka Wai Ola, the newspaper of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. My article was assigned a full page in the January edition of KWO, with photos, 600 words, max. I didn’t stop writing until 1,800 words, so the article that appears in print was considerably edited from what I originally wrote.

I posted a gallery of photos from the trip at the bottom of the post.  And below follows my original article:

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Guarding the Superferry

Guarding the Superferry in Kahului, no photos! Photo by Blaine Fergerstrom

AT THE first light of dawn, the captain ordered his crew to cast off all lines from the pier. A harbor tug pulled the vehicle loading ramp barge off to the side while another tug assisted in pulling the vessel away from the pier. Once in the channel, the tug disengaged and the ship got underway under its own power.

Aloha Tower and a large cruise ship, The Pride of Aloha, floated past the windows on the port side as the ship made its way out of the harbor. After it passed the harbor entrance at Sand Island and cleared the reef, the captain brought the vessel up to speed and set a course following the south coast of O’ahu.

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The Hawai’i Superferry resumed operations on Thurs., Dec. 13, 2007 after a protracted court battle which pitted environmentalists on Maui largely against the progress represented by the new mode of inter-island transportation.

A Maui judge ultimately issued a temporary restraining order against the Hawai’i Superferry, ordering it not to sail to the island while he considered the case.

Following the injunction, Hawai’i Superferry decided to sail to Kaua’i. While no court battle had taken place on Kaua’i and no judge had issued an order prohibiting operations to that island, a contingent of Kaua’i residents took this as a slight and put up an at-times contentious series of protests against the sailing ship. At one point, protesters physically blocked it from entering Nawiliwili Harbor. After attempts to dock at Nawiliwili failed, the company suspended operations and considered its options.

In early October, following a ruling that continued the prohibition on sailing to Maui, Hawai’i Superferry laid off most of its workforce, idling nearly 250 residents.

The Hawai’i Legislature convened a special session and passed legislation which allowed the Superferry to continue operations. In light of the Legislature’s new rules, the Maui judge lifted his previous injunction on November 14 and the company made plans to resume operations, rehiring idled workers and performing a test run to Maui on December 12.

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In the early morning darkness, a tight knot of 12 to 15 people stood silently on a traffic island near the entrance to Pier 19 at Honolulu Harbor. Many clung to signs which were nearly indecipherable to the people in passing cars. Approximately 70 cars and small trucks made their way to the Pier 19 Superferry vehicle entrance, through inspection and up the ramp to the vessel.

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Passengers without vehicles made their way to a Pier 20 drop-off area and went through check-in procedures. Crew members asked each passenger if they were carrying any of many hazardous plants, animals or materials aboard. Picture ID was required and carefully checked against the boarding list. Passengers then walked along the pier to the stairs leading to the Superferry Alakai’s passenger deck.

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On board Alakai, Patty Hustace, wearing a bright yellow “Support Superferry” t-shirt, stopped to chat with president and CEO John Garibaldi near the gift shop. Hustace, recounting her ancestry as “Hawaiian-Chinese-Scottish-Irish-English” said she rode the ship to support the Superferry, as she had been “waiting for a long time” for it to sail. She views the Superferry as just another transportation option between the islands and doesn’t understand “what all the hubbub is about” with those who oppose the ship.

“I even went down to the Capitol to testify–twice!” said Hustace, a member of a longtime kama’aina family.

“I took the first voyage on Alakai, to Nawiliwili Harbor, with my uncle. We were able to dock.”

“We sat there for a long time. They had to send the Coast Guard from Honolulu! Can you believe that?”

“Then my uncle said, ‘Why are we leaving?'” She said, apparently, “some jerk” had tried to board the vessel and the captain had decided to return to Honolulu.

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In order to avoid areas of whale concentrations, the Alakai followed a route north of Moloka’i into a high wind with 6- to 12-foot swells and a small-craft warning in effect. It was rough on the passengers, though the crew seemed largely unaffected. Many passengers availed themselves of the plentiful airsick bags provided throughout the ship. Many passengers slept through the worst of the voyage.

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While the Dec. 13 Honolulu departure was remarkably quiet, the opposite was true of the Maui stop.

Maui was a zoo, with protesters in the water; protesters on the beach; protesters on the highway fronting the gate to the dock area; and protesters in cars circulating on the highway in front of the gate, attempting to create the impression of a massive traffic jam.

As the Alakai approached Kahului Harbor, a Coast Guard vessel came alongside and escorted the large catamaran toward the harbor.

Nearer the harbor, smaller Coast Guard launches kept tabs on small groups of protesters in the water on surfboards and in kayaks behind a 100-yard cordon set up around the pier where Alakai was to dock. More security was apparent on the pier itself, with armed Coast Guard personnel watching key points in the harbor and on the dock. A black helicopter hovered nearby, apparently providing reconnaissance from above.

Protesters in the water carried hand-made and  commercial signs which read, “Impeach Lingle,” and “Cuz, No Take Superferry.”

Protesters on North Pu’unene Ave. waved signs saying, “EIS First,” “A’ole Supaferry Go Home!” and “Malama Hawaii Nei.” Protesters yelled, “Go home!” at vehicles and pedestrians exiting the pier area.

One driver, on the green light, slowly pulled his late-model truck forward, stopped in the middle of the intersection, opened his doors and hood and walked around his vehicle in an apparent attempt to block cars exiting from the Superferry lot. The vehicle was pushed out of the way by nearby police officers.

There were also three protesters on board the Superferry, who stopped at the exit stairway while disembarking. Hale Mawae wore a kikepa while Andrea Pualani Brower and Katy Rose, all of Kaua’i, wore T-shirts that read “EIS First.” They unfurled a banner over the side of the ferry, which was promptly removed. They were initially allowed to stand blocking the stairs while being interviewed by media. When asked by the crew to please clear the area, Mawae recited a pule, then the group quietly exited the ship.

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The cars that exited the ship did so quickly and dispersed from the terminal area, threading their way past the protesters.

The cars going back to O’ahu were lined up on the pier in orderly fashion, their drivers standing by. When the ship had unloaded the O’ahu cars, the Maui cars quickly drove up the barge ramps and into the hold of the Superferry.

Passengers were shuttled to and from the ship on small buses and the Alakai left the harbor smoothly under Coast Guard escort. Once clear of the harbor area, the ship increased speed to 36 knots and the sail back to Honolulu, with the wind and the wave action astern, was smooth and comfortable.

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Three hours later, Alakai quietly pulled into Honolulu Harbor. There were no protesters waiting, only fishing boats lined the piers nearby. Across the channel, The Pride of Aloha was still moored, dwarfing Aloha Tower. The passengers and vehicles unloaded in a few minutes and dispersed into the city.

As Alakai unloaded, another large cargo vessel made its way past, out of the harbor.

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The next day, The Act 2 Temporary Hawaii Inter-Island Ferry Oversight Task Force, of which OHA Trustee Colette Machado is a member, was scheduled to meet in the Department of Transportation’s Honolulu Airport conference room. Members were scheduled to tour the Hawaii Superferry facilities at piers 19 and 20, and to take a tour of the ship.

Wind and sea conditions were forecast to be the same—roughfor the next day’s run to Maui.

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