Go Simple, Go Solo, Go Now
In 1958, while flying from one island to another, Audrey Sutherland sees the remote and roadless northeast side of Molokai, with its spectacular sea cliffs and waterfalls. Always an adventurer, she decides that she must find a way to explore this then inaccessible area. After much study, she determines that the best way for her to navigate these treacherous sea walls is to swim while towing an inflatable kayak. This is the story of fulfilling her dream, of planning then implementing, of launching and advancing, of retreating and reconnoitering, of challenge and success. This is the story of the trip that convinced her that personal growth comes when one goes simple, goes solo, goes now.
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About the Author
Audrey Sutherland grew up in California but lived in Hawai'i from 1952 until her death in 2015 at the age of 94. She raised her four children as a single mother, supporting her family by working as a school counselor. In 1962, she decided to explore the coast of Moloka'i by swimming it while towing an inflatable raft with supplies, a story told in Paddling My Own Canoe (Patagonia, 2018). Ever after she was an inveterate water traveler. She was also the author of Paddling Hawai'i.
Yoshiko Yamamoto is one of the premier block printers in the Arts and Crafts style. Yamamoto's block prints are letterpress printed using hand cut blocks on acid free paper. She is the co-owner of The Arts and Crafts Press, and co-author of several books about the arts and crafts movement, published by Gibbs Smith and Chronicle.
Read an Excerpt
Hula'ana , in the Hawaiian language, is a place where it is necessary to swim past a cliff that blocks a passage along a coast, a sheer cliff where the sea beats. I first glimpsed the sea cliffs and waterfalls of Molokai while flying by, en route to other islands in the Hawaiian chain.
There were no roads, no trails, no people, no access except by sea. Looking down on it was not enough. I wanted to be there, but i couldn't afford to hire a boat. All right, I'd have to swim.
The plane window framed the head wall of one small bay, a single, though sand-foot face fro the peak to the scree at the shore. Down on corner a narrow cascade ether a white line on the gray, lichened rock, and at its base grew a jungle of pandanus trees. Along the sides of the bay the ridged arms reached out to enfold it like the paws of a giant sphinx. Under water, eroded pockets and caves tunneled through the basalt. The shallows and the depths were evident in patterns of pale jade and deep cobalt.
Beyond that bay the cliffs rose even higher. The plane was flying at three thousand feet, but the top of the wall beside us disappeared into the mists above.
We crossed a headland and flew low over a serrated plateau. Its top was suddenly sliced open and the gashed green walls fell aside. At the head of the cleft was another cascade, a thick foaming shaft that plunged over the brink and down to a dark pool, then twisted out to sea.
Was it possible to swim around the cliffs towing a floating pack, and to come ashore for camping in the valleys? I wondered, and searched the meager reference material. The Atlas of Hawaii , since published, explains the coast very simply: "The sea cliff on the north side of East Moloka'i, one of the highest in the world, is 2,000 to 3,00 feet high."
Fewer than fifty miles separate Moloka'i from . . . Honolulu, but until tourist promotion labeled Moloka'i the Friendly Island, it was known as the lonely one.
Its western end is flat and dry, with pineapple acreage, scrubby thorn trees, and hot golden beaches. The eastern half is jagged mountains, and on the north side where the cliffs catch the moisture-laden clouds blown in by the trade winds, and rainfall is two hundred inches a year, there are eroded chasms, rain forest slopes, and a thousand waterfalls. Some tumble directly into the sea below. Others are blown up again and out by the fierce updrafts of the winds, and the air is heavy and salty with the mist of these upside-down falls. White sea foam swirls around a dozen black rock islands tossed offshore by a giant hand. It is the most isolated and spectacular seacoast in all Hawai'i.
Some inner wildness, there since childhood, surged up and answered that wild country and said very simply, "Yes, I'll come."
It would be possible to walk part of that coast. From the air I had seen a narrow edge of fallen boulders between some of the vertical faces and the water. Five flat ledges extended seaward a few hundred feet. For most of the way though, the cliffs dropped straight into the sea.
In the winter if you can call it winter when the temperature drops from eight degrees to seventy the swells and storms move down to Hawai'i from the North Pacific. The waves which roll onto the gradual slopes of O'ahu's north shore are world famous in the sport of surfing, but along the north coast of Moloka'i there are no gradual slopes. The submarine canyons are deep; there is no land from there to Alaska, and the winter waves crash and climb fifty feet up the cliffs.
So I must go in summer. Then is the best chance for calm water, but there is no guarantee, In three hours the sea can change from a liquid among the rocks to an eight-foot shore break, and the wind will rise from a breath to a forty-knot gale. The current and the wins move west, parallel to the coastline. I cannot swim against them. From the east end of the island to Halawa Valley, I must got all the way to the peninsula of Kalaupapa where there is a trail out and also a small airstrip. West of Halawa the rainfall increases, the cliffs become higher, more verdant and more sheet. Once started there would be no return.
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What People are Saying About This
“Audrey’s summer adventures on the north coast of Molokai, swimming, paddling, and hiking solo, continue to influence the next generations to explore outer-island, off-the-grid travel. She went simply for five decades, inspiring others to do likewise.”– Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt