Rob Parsons

Ferry Interesting

Superferry Progress Report Maks Waves

by Rob Parsons

March 19, 2009

          Ah, the joys of inter-island travel.

The feature I wrote last week, a progress report on Hawaii Superferry that gave the vessel bad marks across the board, generated a lot of interest and feedback. The article sped around the islands, traveling faster than the much-ballyhooed boat it profiled. And now, with the recent state Supreme Court ruling, it's even timelier.

The story was quickly posted on a Kauai blog, Juan Wilson's Island Breath. A photo was attached that caught my attention, indicative of one family's trip via the Superferry. The photo, reprinted here, came from Oahu photographers Curt and Ramona Okimoto, and was published on their blog (photovisionshawaii.com) along with an account of their family's trip to Maui and back.

Around the same time, a Maui Superferry activist forwarded this account, sent to him by a Mauian who recently tried the fast-ferry service:

I took my car to Oahu on HSF a few weeks ago just to check it out. I lost a day each way on the trip. On the way to Oahu, we were delayed leaving Maui because there was no power to the hydraulics on the barge ramp, so vehicles were unable to be unloaded or loaded for about 45 minutes. Can you imagine how ugly sitting in a ferry vehicle hold for 45 minutes would be? You know some of those folks had their engines running...

We arrived on Oahu pretty close to on-time—so they took the north shore of Molokai route, and hauled ass, I'm sure. I got sick even though I'd taken one Bonine. Fortunately, I made it to the washroom before getting sick, and the woman in the stall next to me was throwing up too. Fortunately also, I had no food or drink in my stomach. I felt awful for the better part of 24 hours after that trip and mostly slept.

On the way home I took 2 Bonines and passed out on the ferry—so I didn't get sick. (They were nice enough to have someone accompany me to my car so I could bring up a blanket. Otherwise, I'd never have slept BECAUSE IT WAS REALLY COLD.) After I got home I was essentially knocked out for the remainder of the day. The reason I was able to sleep during that trip is because the ferry was so empty, there was a free bench. (It was pretty empty on the way to Oahu as well, just no benches available.)

If you think you want to sleep without ruining your neck, you have to get there early enough to claim a bench. That means you'd spend LONGER waiting in line at the harbor than you would to arrive early at the airport. You can't drive up and get on because the vehicles are coming off the dock and the traffic would be a problem. You've got to get there at least half an hour early and wait, just like you do at the airport...

I'd hate to be on it if it was crowded and the seas were rough. Last week someone told me of a trip she took with her kids and they and many others were throwing up IN THE AISLES! She said they come around with a shop vacuum to clean it up. To be fair, I hear it's a "lovely trip" when the weather is good.

As much as I enjoyed having my car on Oahu (and not paying the cost of a rental) I don't plan to make the trip by ferry again. In fact, I'm flying over next week for an appointment...

A comment came in to the MTW Web site from Kauaian Joan Conrow. "Please do not malign the albatrosses," she wrote, "by associating them with the Superferry. They are highly intelligent, extremely efficient, graceful and entirely remarkable birds."

Conrow is an accomplished writer, whose essays on Hawaii Superferry have appeared both in the pages of Honolulu Weekly and in Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander's book, The Superferry Chronicles. A former staff writer for the two major Honolulu papers, Conrow now authors a blog, Kauai Eclectic, which contains musings on things ranging from morning walks with her dog to Native Hawaiian issues.

So I fully expect that she had tongue firmly planted in cheek when she commented on my description of the Superferry as an "albatross of inter-island travel." That reference was metaphorical, of course, not intended to malign the two species common to Hawaii, the black-footed albatross (ka'upu) and the Laysan albatross (moli).

According to that font of 21st century knowledge, Wikipedia: "The word albatross is sometimes used to mean an encumbrance, or a wearisome burden. It is an allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). In the poem, an albatross starts to follow a ship—being followed by an albatross was generally considered an omen of good luck. However, the titular mariner shoots the albatross with a crossbow, which is regarded as an act that will curse the ship (which indeed suffers terrible mishaps). To punish him, his companions induce him to wear the dead albatross around his neck indefinitely (until they all die from the curse, as it happens). Thus the albatross can be both an omen of good or bad luck, as well as a metaphor for a burden to be carried (as penance)."

And now you know. Etymology can be fun.

This past weekend, I received a notice of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce's upcoming meeting with HSF's new CEO Admiral Thomas Fargo, this coming Thursday, at the Sheraton Resort in Princeville. "Admiral Fargo," the notice stated, "will be discussing the Superferry's plans for its return to Kauai; its commitment to protect Hawaii's invasive species; cultural and natural resources; traffic; and the status of the EIS."

Another Kauai blogger and Superferry activist, Brad Parsons (no relation that we know of) responded: "It is being repeated in the community that the Kauai Chamber of Commerce views the return of the HSF as being necessarily beneficial to the businesses in the Nawiliwili-Kalapaki area. These businesses have seen a substantial drop-off with less cruise ships at the harbor and with lower occupancy at the Marriott Hotel. HSF's small potential on this point and the false assumptions on this point need to be clarified.

"There are three points relative to this: 1) By example, at Kahului Harbor where HSF has been coming and going for more than a year, businesses have not seen substantial rise in business attributed to HSF. In particular a restaurant right next to HSF's facilities at Kahului has not seen a significant rise in business over the past year. Businesses across the street from Kahului Harbor view HSF's effect as minimal and the larger economy as the driving factor; 2) Recent reliable reports from passengers on HSF put ridership at 50 to 70 vehicles and 150 to 210 people on average. Some weekends and holidays spike up to 100 vehicles and 300 people. This compares to a cruise ship with 1000 to 2000 people. HSF has only one-tenth of the people off a cruise ship and HSF accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of all inter-island transfers in Hawaii; 3) Experience at the Kahului Harbor shows that, two-thirds of those 210 average passengers get in their car and drive out of the harbor area without frequenting any of the businesses near the harbor. The other one-third get on a Roberts Hawaii tour bus and also promptly leave the harbor. There is almost no pedestrian traffic on and off of the HSF to frequent harbor businesses, a huge operational difference compared to cruise ships.

"In summary, the past year of service to Maui has shown that HSF has not significantly improved business in the harbor area nor on the island of Maui and therefore that unrealized benefit should not be the quick reason to pre-empt an unfinished EIS and mitigations not yet in place to deal with the known and expected problems from that traffic and new form of transport."

Finally, Maui Sierra Club and Democratic Party chair Lance Holter called and said the Superferry article "should be mailed to every Hawaii state legislator." He sent me a copy of "Resolution Envir 08-10, Seeking A Proper Environmental Review of the Superferry," which was adopted in 2008 as part of the state Democratic Party platform.

"The grassroots membership of the Democratic Party provided this resolution to strictly abide by HRS343, our environmental laws," said Holter. "The purpose of an EIS is to anticipate problems before a project is implemented, and to improve the project overall. The circumvention of these legal guidelines has led to policymakers and the Superferry bringing a host of problems upon themselves."