Hawaii and Nantucket

Nickerson-Essex-drawingI recently–and belatedly–read “In the Heart of the Sea, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”, Nathaniel Philbrick’s award-winning account of the shipwreck that inspired Melville’s Moby Dick. A fascinating story for any sailor who’s ever known the nagging anxiety of being to sea in a small boat. In this case, the captain and crew are set adrift when their ship is stove in by an angry sperm whale and sinks. Left to their three open, light-weight whaleboats, they begin a 4,000-mile journey upwind from the waters northeast of the Marquesas toward what they hope is salvation in Chile. Only 8 of the 20 stranded sailors survive. Several of those that perish are eaten by the others. Bad things happen.

The survival-at-sea-story is a genre, of course. This one is richer than most because it’s larded with so much history and industry backstory. There’s all the fabulous detail about Nantucket and its brief moment as an industrial powerhouse during the heydays of whaling, when the island whale oil barons were the John D. Rockefellers of their era. And there’s the fine description of the dirty business of whaling–harpooning the harmless (usually) beasts, spearing them to death, then hauling them ship-side and laboriously flencing them of their blubber and beheading them and emptying their great heads of hundreds of gallons of spermaceti, the high quality oil that whalers mistook for semen and that give the sperm whale its name. The whole ghastly business was concluded in the conflagration of the trying pots, where the thick sheets of blubber were rendered into oil before being packed in barrels and stowed in the hold. A successful whaling expedition might bring in between 2,000 and 3,000 barrels of oil and take two to three years.

But for a writer, maybe the best parts of the book are the artifacts of its research. Philbrick lards his tale with descriptions of the first-hand sources that he used to write it: local histories, private journals, company correspondence, ship’s logs, personal letters, business documents et al. He also itemizes the historians (and one novelist) that came before him, and hints at their strengths and weaknesses. And, as a historian, he concludes with a hell of an index. It was all so fascinating, that I promptly returned to the library and checked out Philbrick’s follow-up work, “Sea of Glory, America’s Voyage of Discovery”. Perhaps another time, I’ll talk about that one.

What stands out about both books, though, is how intimately the small island of Nantucket and the remote Kingdom of Hawaii were tied together in the 19th Century. Whaling was part of it, albeit mostly after the sinking of the Essex. By 1846, more than 700 whaling ships a year visited Honolulu and Lahaina, most of them from either Nantucket or New Bedford. George Pollard, the unfortunate captain of the Essex, would get another ship when he finally returned to Nantucket. That ship would run aground on the unmarked reefs of French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and Pollard and his mostly Nantucket crew would be rescued and carried to Honolulu to try to find passage home. (Pollard never got another berth; he finished his life as a nightwatchman in Nantucket.) Even today, curators at Honolulu’s Mission House Museum communicate regularly with their peers at the Nantucket Historical Association and its Whaling Museum. Several so-called Kanaka crewmen from the whalers lived in Nantucket boarding houses, and thousands of Nantucket crewmen caroused in the ports of Honolulu, Lahaina and Kealakekua. At the peak of the whale oil boom, whaling was the main engine of the Hawaii economy, and Hawaii was the most important port of call for the Nantucket whalers.

Pretty cool stuff for a sailor living in Hawaii.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Culture

Google Does Papahanaumokuakea

monksealThe Northwest Hawaiian Islands, better known now as Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, are famously the most remote motes of land in the most remote archipelago on Earth. Almost by definition, that makes them fabulously inaccessible. Native Hawaiian sailing canoes evidently visited the islands, and Nihoa and Mokumanamana were apparently inhabited at least part of the year. Of the low islands and atolls, though, only Midway has been encumbered by anything like “permanent” habitation, first as a failed coaling station for steam ships, then as a residence for employees of a company laying the trans-Pacific cable, and finally as a key naval air station during WWII, the site of one of history’s major air/sea battles. Even so, the human habitation on Midway has always been a tenuous affair, requiring almost every scrap of food and supplies to be shipped in.

The other islands of Papahanaumokuakea have had even less of a human presence. In the 1890s, the Kingdom of Hawaii granted a patent to a pair of American prospectors to mine guano on Laysan, a hapless industrial process that began the island’s grievous ecological decline, a decline accelerated toward the end of the century when the German immigrant Max Schlemmer introduced guinea pigs and rabbits to the island, hoping to create a meat canning business. The guinea pigs and rabbits quickly devoured the native plants. After the guano gave out, there were never more than a handful of residents on Laysan. In the 1920s, a few pearl divers lived at Pearl and Hermes, but in a couple years, the pearls, too, were depleted.

Nowadays, except for a small, intermittent population of researchers from the Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA and a few other scientific organizations, Papahanaumokuakea is basically uninhabited. Even Midway, which once served as a kind of hub in the pro-Age of Aviation, now only entertains a handful of visitors a year.

And yet, the monument is one of the jewels of the National Park Service. The waters team with big fish, serving as one of the world’s best examples of a healthy, predator dominated reef. It’s the main habitat for dozens of endangered species, including the Laysan albatross, Laysan finch, Hawaiian monk seal and innumerable fishes and corals. And here’s the kicker: No one can visit the monument.

At least until recently. Now, though, anyone with a computer can take visit the desolate and alien world of Papahanaumokuakea. Through a partnership between Google, NOAA and FWS, Google Street Views now allows you to stroll the beaches of Midway, Tern Island, Lisianski and Pearl and Hermes. You can pause to gaze at the flocks of albatross or to get a better look at the turtles sunning themselves at the water’s edge. Click the little navigational arrows, and you can spin around in place and get a sense of what it meant to shipwrecked whalers, who sometimes spent months on these low islands, living on seals and bird eggs while they awaited rescue. Gape for a moment at the recently landed FWS researchers and the paltry allotment of blue jerrycans of water that they’ll have to live off of until the next supply boat arrives. All as easy finding where that movie you wanted to watch is playing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Science, Uncategorized

Urchins Rule

UrchinMankind—both the builder and the destroyer—has left his mark on the world. But it’s also true that the world is shaped by the minute operations of seemingly insignificant organisms. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sea and along its margins. At research centers like C-MORE, scientists study how microscopic organisms regulate the chemistry of the sea, and in their dead trillions constitute the thick muck of the ocean floor. I’ve written elsewhere about how the sand on coral islands is composed of the detritus of coralline algae and tiny coral fragments gnawed off the reef by the obdurate beaks of parrotfish. And, in one of my favorite examples of small animals changing the landscape, we know that much of the rocky coastline of tropical, basaltic islands like Oahu is shaped by the incessant scraping spines of sea urchins.

Urchins also turn out to be major players in the shaping of ecosystems.

For the last three years, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources, has been trying to control the spread of Kappaphycus, an invasive algae that’s been slowly smothering the coral reefs in Kaneohe Bay. Any paddler or snorkeler or boater can attest to the changes in the reefs over the last decade, as the structural habitats provided by rice coral, cauliflower coral, and coralline algae have increasingly given way to a shaggy coat of seaweed that blocks out the sunlight and impedes the growth of the coral.

Eight years ago, the state and its nonprofit partner The Nature Conservancy began by duplicating a program TNC had already successfully implemented on Moanalua Bay, using a so-called Super Sucker—essentially, a barge with a giant vacuum attached—to suck enormous quantities of Kappaphycus off the reef. Amazingly, it works. The Super Sucker on Kaneohe Bay can extract over 1,000 pounds of seaweed an hour (much of which is used by farmers to supplement their soil.) The problem, though, is that the treatment doesn’t last. Even after nearly clearing the reef of the invasive algae, the lush growth returns to pre-treatment levels within a matter of months. Recently, TNC added a second barge to the Kaneohe Bay program, but even if the two barges work full time, they can’t keep up with the prolific growth of Kappaphycus.

Enter the urchin. In 2010, DLNR began raising collector urchins at its Anuenue Fisheries Research Center on Sand Island. The idea is to use these natural grazers to hold down the growth of seaweed in areas of Kaneohe Bay already treated by the Super Sucker. (The collector urchin is a native species to Hawaii waters, though not often found in the Bay.) In a demonstration project, TNC cleared a 3,000 square-foot section of patch reef in the middle of the Bay, then distributed collector urchins over half the reef, leaving the other half without urchins. On the side with urchins, the Kappaphycus growth was kept to a minimum; the urchin-free side quickly reverted to a seaweed jungle. That’s the power of small animals to shape the world.

And, at least in this one instance, people noticed. Since 2011, the state has distributed more than 100,000 collector urchins onto the reefs of Kaneohe Bay.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hana Hou, Science

Marimed Foundation and maritime professions

makani02I see in the December 25 MidWeek that the venerable Marimed Foundation, which traditionally offers sail-training programs for troubled or at-risk youth, now has a special, 13-week training program to expose Hawaii’s kids to opportunities in the maritime professions. As the old-timers on the waterfront and seamen on Hawaii-based ships and tugs retire, there’s a growing shortage of experienced marine technicians, shipwrights, engineers, welders and mariners to replace them. Moreover, kids from disadvantaged communities may not even know about these kinds of high-paying careers, or have the resources or connections to pursue them. Marimed plans to help remedy all that.

By combining its own maritime resources–not least, the 97-foot three-masted schooner Makani Olu–and its experience with youth training with the on-the-job experience of old tars like Kaipo Pomaikai, a former Merchant Marine captain, and Leighton Tseu, who once was in charge of maintenance for the entire Matson fleet, Marimed hopes to expose local youth to the professional opportunities on the waterfront.

Reading about Marimed and the Makani Olu brought back memories of a piece I wrote several years ago about the last professional watermen on Kaneohe Bay. In addition to the fishermen on Nissei, the last aku boat in Hawaii, and the captains and crews of the gaudy fleet of cruise boats and party boats out of Heeia Kea, the young crew of Makani Olu are a throwback to older times. And there’s still nothing quite like driving over the rise from Kailua on Mokapu Drive and catching sight of the schooner riding at anchor beyond the wide flats at Kokokahi, or sailing out along the sandbar as Makani Olu heaves into the channel at Chinaman’s Hat and the crew scramble along the cabin top, furling sail as they go. One day, one of the young kids in the maritime course could be at the helm of Marimed’s anachronistic training ship.

Let’s hope so.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Featherwork

“Na Hulu Al’i”
“Said of the adornment of a chief, or of an elderly
chief himself who is one of a few survivors of his
generation and therefore precious.”
—‘ Ōlelo No‘eau

 
A million tiny feathers. Brilliant red ones from the
‘i‘iwi bird. Pale yellow ones, sometimes plucked just six
or seven at a time from under the wings, tail or thighs
of endemic forest birds like the ‘ō‘ō and mamo. Miles of
fine olonā cordage, spun by hand and knotted a million
times into a lacy filigree. And the nimble fingers of
old Hawaiian haku hulu, deftly plying their dazzling
craft. These are the basic elements of Nahi‘ena‘ena’s
Pā‘ū, a feather skirt of almost unbelievable luxury and
beauty, and one of the showpieces of Bishop Museum’s
outstanding new exhibit on the Hawaiian art of
featherwork.

 
The exhibit is the source of much excitement
among museum staff. Betty Lou Kam, Vice President
for Cultural Resources, breathlessly describes Nā Hulu
Ali’i as “absolutely the best exhibit at the Museum this year.” And with good reason. Although Bishop Museum has the world’s largest collection of
Hawaiian featherwork, many of the most outstanding
pieces have seldom been displayed to the public. This
will be the most extensive exhibit of featherwork ever,
with over 40 early pieces on display, including several
of spectacular beauty and historic significance.

 

Līloa’s Sash, one of the earliest pieces of
featherwork known to exist, is a pre-contact item
that is the earliest representation of the ali’i dates back as early as the 15th century. The sash has played an important role in the history of Hawai‘i. Passed down through the Kamehameha dynasty, this is
the ceremonial sash depicted on the Kamehameha
Statue. Līloa’s Sash was found at an estate sale by King
Kalākaua who assumed control of it. This amazing
10 ft. piece is extremely delicate and will only be on
display for the first 6 weeks of the exhibit.

Nahi‘ena‘ena’s Pā‘ū is the largest piece of
Hawaiian featherwork known to exist. In its original
form it measured 20 feet long by 2½ feet wide.
Featherwork was considered kapu, and normally
restricted to men. This pā‘u was one of the only large
pieces made specifically for a female. Nahi‘ena‘ena,
the daughter of Kamehameha I and Keopuolani, was
asked to wear the pā‘u for a formal reception with the
English representative who returned the bodies of her
brother, Kamehameha II, and his wife Kamāmalu from
England. Under the influence of her mother, Keōpūolani
Ka‘ahumanu, another of Kamehameha’s wives,
Nahi‘ena‘ena had converted to Christianity after the
death of Kamehameha I, and the abolishment of the old
religion. Only with great difficulty was she persuaded
to wear the ceremonial skirt. Much later, Nahi‘ena‘ena’s
Pā‘ū was cut in half and the two pieces joined to form a wide funeral pall, which was used at the funerals of both her brother,
Kamehameha III, and, much later, of King Kalākaua.

 

Two remarkable feather images thought to
represent the war god Kūkā‘ilimoku will also be on
display. One of these is said to have been passed down
from Kamehameha the Great, and represented his status
and authority during his unification of the Hawaiian
Islands. There are only 19 of these images known to exist, and this will be the first time Bishop Museum. Artistically, they epitomize the high technical achievement of Hawaiian craftsmen in both featherwork and basketry. Culturally, they are almost without parallel in representing the Kamehameha era.

 

Several traditional forms of featherwork will also be on display. Long capes and short cloaks were both called ‘ahu‘ula. Mahiole were the iconic feathered and crested helmets worn into battle by high chiefs. Sashes, sometimes of remarkable length, were called kā’ei. Lesser pieces included feather lei (lei hulu) and head lei (lei po’o.)

 

Because of the tremendous labor and resources required to produce it, featherwork was always reserved for the ali’i. Its cost made feathers a real part of the economy. Every community had its kia manu – its bird catchers – who knew intimately the habits of their prey. The dearest feathers, the pale yellow ones of the ‘ō‘ō and the mamo, were taken from birds captured live.
Such a bird may only have six or seven useful feathers.
Sometimes taxes were collected in feathers. Even as late as 1876, a kapu was placed on yellow feathers while a cloak was being made for Princess Ruth Ke‘elikōlani.

 

Featherwork sashes, cloaks and helmets have been historically been considered the sacred insignia for the highest chiefs of Hawaii. These beautiful works carry a freight artistic, cultural and historic significance. One look is enough to understand their artistic significance. Early European visitors to the Islands were astounded by the opulence of Hawaiian featherwork. Captain Cook compared the brilliant cloaks to “the thickest and richest velvet.” Remarking on the feather regalia of the Kamehameha Era, Captain James King wrote in 1779 that their “beauty and magnificence” were “equal to that of any nation.”

 

Culturally and historically, featherwork continued to serve as the badge of nobility throughout the monarchy. The exhibit will include several important kāhili, the feather standards of royalty that were borne in the processions of chiefs, such as at funerals, or set up ceremonially at royal residences. In addition, visitors can see the cloaks and lei po‘o (head lei) belonging to Kapi‘olani Nui, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and Queen Emma.

 

When the ali’i traveled, they often bore gifts of featherwork, a tremendous show of generosity in light of their value. The exhibit will also feature some non-traditional pieces that tell of the impact of featherwork in other places. These include featherwork capes made in England after Kamehameha II and Kamāmalu traveled there in the 1820s. A number of these pieces, often
in green or blue feathers, have made their way back to Hawai‘i and into the Bishop Museum’s collections. These, along with some more contemporary works, will also be on display.

 

Feather cloaks and capes ceased being made toward the end of the 19th century, when the art of bird catching and featherworking skills largely disappeared. Featherwork might have died out completely if not for the work of kupuna such as Johanna Cluney, Marie McDonald and especially Mary Louise Kaleonahenahe (Peck) Kekuewa. Featherwork today consists mostly of lei po‘o and lei hulu, but recent visitors to Bishop Museum might remember Aunty Mary Lou’s beautiful ‘Ahu‘ula O Mailelani, which was a part of the Ku I Ka Ni’o exhibit and recalled the glorious days of old Hawai‘i.

 

The birds of featherwork —  the ‘i‘iwi, the ‘apapane, the ‘ō‘ō, and the mamo—are all either endangered or extinct. It is said that Kamehameha himself supported their conservation, saying: “The feathers belong to me, but the birds themselves belong to my heirs.” It was not to be. The heirs of Kamehameha did not get the birds. But, through the collections of Bishop Museum, at least they can still say, “The feathers belong to me.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Ka Elele, Uncategorized

Moving Cans

Just about everything in your life—food, cars, building materials—comes to Hawaii via the waterfront. We went inside the world of the longshoremen, who load and unload all that cargo, and found that centuries of muscle and sweat have given way to skilled labor and powerful machines.

Story by DENNIS HOLLIER
Photos by LUCY PEMONI

Matson's gantry cranes run all night.

Nate Lum and his gang of linemen spread out along the wharf, watching impassively as the Lihue lumbers into dock beneath the gantry cranes at the Matson yard at Honolulu Harbor. The linemen are here to secure the vessel—the first of several gangs of longshoremen who will handle the ship while it’s in port. They’re a motley group, mostly older and thick around the middle; except for their hard hats and orange vests, they’re dressed haphazardly in street clothes.

But linemen are among the most experienced longshoremen; the members of this gang have spent decades in the shadow of ships like this one. And the Lihue is a behemoth: a 787-foot containership, crammed stem to stern with that ubiquitous beast of modern freight, the ocean container. These “cans,” as the longshoremen call them, are stacked as many as 12 abreast and 11 deep and tower more than seven stories over the water. And yet, despite its ungainly load, the Lihue docks gracefully. As the harbor tug slowly nudges the stern the last few feet toward the pier, the crew begins to send the dock lines ashore. The linemen collect them methodically, hitching the hawsers—thick as a man’s thigh—to a forklift and snaking them to bollards down the pier. The whole operation takes place almost wordlessly.

Containerships like the Lihue have come to dominate ocean freight, accounting for more than 80 percent of the household goods coming into Hawaii. Most of the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture in our homes and, indeed, most of the material in the homes themselves, arrive in containers. The Matson yard teems with the massive machinery needed to manage the endless stream of cans: gantry cranes and jack cranes, top-picks and side-picks, bomb carts and forklifts. But these are all just tools. It’s still the longshoremen themselves who make the docks work. The waterfront is a world where centuries of muscle and sweat have given way to skilled labor and powerful machines, and I’ve come down to the Matson yard for a glimpse at how things have changed. Nate Lum, foreman of the lineman gang and chairman of the longshoremen’s union, has agreed to be my guide.

Lum is a second-generation longshoreman. He’s been on the docks for more than 30 years and embodies many of the contradictions in the modern stevedore. He’s a sober, burly man; but he laughs easily and carries himself with a self-assured grace. Like many accustomed to hard, physical work, he’s taciturn; but he’s passionate about the union and articulate in defense of its traditions.

Specialized containers are needed to haul liquids.

Lum’s career has coincided with the great technological changes that have transformed life on the docks—changes about which he’s ambivalent. When he began, much of stevedoring was still backbreaking grunt work. Today, although most of the heavy lifting is done with powerful machinery, old-timers like Lum still remember the personal cost of hard, physical labor. The containerization of modern shipping is a conundrum; although it’s made the life of the longshoreman less backbreaking, it’s also reduced work opportunities. Still, Lum is a realist. “We can’t fight technology,” he says. “We have to embrace it to survive.”

After getting me a hard hat and an orange vest, Lum and I hop into his truck for a tour of the waterfront. As we drive through the shipyards of Honolulu Harbor, he explains the organization of the longshoremen. In the old days, when the workers were predominately Native Hawaiians, the wharves were lined with great warehouses. Some longshoremen worked the wharf, sorting cargo in the warehouses and carting it back and forth to the ships. Others worked aboard the ships, loading and unloading cargo and securing it for passage down in the hold. Although containers have changed much of the work, longshoremen still operate within the old structure.

“Longshoremen are organized into gangs,” Lum explains. “Ship gang. Wharf gang. Machine operators. Crane operators. Linemen.” The modern wharf gang, they move the cans around the yard and man the “puddle”—the loading zone beneath the gantry cranes. The ship gang handles the difficult manual work aboard a ship, locking and unlocking the cans from one another, and lashing and unlashing the stacks. In the early days of container use, workers used chains to lash the stacks against ocean storms. Today, the lashing is done with 20-foot steel rods secured with turnbuckles. The awkward task of scampering between the stacks, balanced on temporary walkways called duckboards, is still considered one of the longshoremen’s most dangerous jobs. “The meat and potatoes of longshore work is this ship gang,” says Lum.

Out on the edge of the apron—the broad tarmac that runs along the pier—several members of the wharf gang sit in the shade of the container yard tower, waiting for the unloading of the Lihue to begin. Lum drops me off there to find out how technology has affected regular stevedores. Even here, though, longshoremen often have years of experience. Some, like machine operator Kahea Sanborn, have been on the docks more than 20 years. But the experience runs deeper than that. Carlton Cortez, the gang foreman, is a third-generation longshoreman.

A basic “can,” or container, is 40 feet long, eight feet wide and eight feet high. Locking mechanisms at the corners allow them to be securely stacked and moved around by the machinery in the yard. There are variations, specialized containers such as refrigerated cans for food, flat racks for lumber and cattle cans with slatted sides—but they still fit together like Tinker Toys. Containers are also standardized across freight platforms, so the cans from the containerships can be loaded onto semitrailers or stacked two deep on railroad cars. Within the past five years, the cans have also become GPS-equipped; their locations are monitored and recorded on computers in a Matson control room in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Machine operators also use increasingly sophisticated machines to move the cans. Little cabs, called UTCs, shuttle the cans between the cranes and the container yard, hauling them around on yellow utility trailers, nicknamed “bomb carts.”

Powerful vehicles, called top-picks and side-picks, lift the containers on and off the bomb carts. Like giant forklifts, they can hoist a 20-ton can onto a stack four stories high. The sheer mass of the loads and the gear makes this an especially dangerous job. Kahea puts the risks in perspective: “You don’t get injured. You die.”

Being a machine operator is considered a talent position, and the first advancement of most basic longshoremen is to get qualified to fill in as a substitute machine operator. “Used to be all labor,” Lum says. “Now it’s all skill jobs.”

The most easily recognized feature of the Matson yard is the rank of huge, yellow gantry cranes along the pier. They tower over the docks like the robots in War of the Worlds, their legs spread far enough apart that four lanes of traffic can pass under them. They load and unload the cans from the containerships. High above even the largest containership, the crane’s boom juts out over the water, cantilevered by the weight of its massive machine house. The cab, instead of being fixed, is attached to a trolley that runs on tracks beneath the boom. Shuttling in and out in his cab, the crane operator is always directly over his load. The entire crane rides on railroad tracks along the dock, so it can be moved fore and aft along the ship. Sometimes as many as four cranes work a single ship. A good crane operator can move more than 30 cans an hour in a precise ballet.

Lum takes me up to the break room in the back of the Matson yard to meet a handful of crane operators waiting for their shifts to begin. Like the linemen, crane operators have decades of experience—and, in the union, where seniority is paramount, they’re at the top pay grade. It’s a position for which longshoremen have to wait years.

“When I got in [to the union], back in 1970,” Lum says, “my goal was to be a crane operator. Took me five years to get there.” Now, it might take twice that long. Richard Rees, a 25-year veteran of the docks, puts the wait in perspective. “I’ve been driving a crane about five years,” he says. “At Matson, we have seven gantry cranes. Crane operators work in pairs; two guys share a 10-hour shift, five [hours] on, five off. There are only 21 crane operators.”

I glance at the other crane operators milling around the break room. None of them look like they’re ready to give up their privileged positions, though it can be a lonesome job. Later, each of them will head out to his crane, climb the 10 flights of stairs inside one of the crane’s legs, then spend five hours in his cab, moving cans. They carry a lunch with them, and an old jug usually serves as the latrine.

Lum takes me up in the control tower to meet Rusty Leonard, Matson’s general manager for stevedore operations. Leonard has been on the docks for 30 years, five of them at Matson. Within the industry, he says, the big changes started in the early 1970s. “Before, there used to be mostly break bulk carriers like the old Maunalani and the Manukai and the Moanalei.”

Before the use of cans, cargo was loaded into the ships piecemeal, and stevedores climbed right down into the hold to do it. Cargo was segregated according to its destination port, and the ship gang had to serve as carpenters, too, building bulkheads and frameworks in the ’tween decks to shore up the cargo. Later, surveyors passed through, checking to make sure the shoring would hold.

Older stevedores talk about those times with dark humor. “The worst was getting on the tuna boats,” said Leon Camara, a winch man. “Got all the frozen tuna piled up inside. Frozen, but still stink though. Used to have to throw away our clothes.”

There were no gantry cranes back then. Instead, shipboard jack-cranes crowded the vessel’s deck—sometimes as many as seven to a ship, one for each hold. Cargo—the small stuff packed in bales and boxes and crates, the large stuff left loose—was hoisted in and out of the hold on pallets. Stevedores loaded and unloaded the pallets one by one, using handcarts to push freight around the enormous dockside warehouses. This called for a lot of labor, and, at its height, the longshoremen’s union had more than 4,000 members in Hawaii.

Modernization took a bite out of the union, and by the late ’50s and early ’60s, more than 2,000 stevedores were laid off. As Lum points out, “When I got hired in 1970, there were only about 400 longshoremen.” As harbor operations have grown, that number has gradually increased, and today there are about 1,000 longshoremen in the local of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

A visit to a monthly meeting at the union hall reveals a surprisingly diverse group. Most of the longshoremen had to wait a long time before they got their opportunity to join, even starting longshore work as a second career. “We’ve got a lot of athletes,” Lum says. “Got Jesus Salude, the former world flyweight champion. Got football players, too: Elvis Satele, Karl Lorch, Levi Stanley.” And it’s not just athletes who gravitate to the docks; there are also former policemen and ex-firefighters.

I look over the meeting hall. It’s a serious day for the union—they’re debating some of the details for their upcoming contract negotiations—and many of the stevedores have crowded their folding chairs toward the front of the room to listen to what the leadership has to say. But there’s also an air of conviviality in the room, and I’m struck by the sense of brotherhood there. During the union meeting, stevedores move in and out of the room, greeting each other with warm embraces. There are still a lot of Native Hawaiians among the longshoremen, and they often pause to honi in the old-fashioned way.

I head downstairs to the parking lot where some of the stevedores are preparing food. I find Ward Mariani there behind a grill, carefully tending the shoyu chicken and teriyaki steak. Mariani spent 34 years as a cop, but he’s been a longshoreman for seven years, three of them as foreman on a wharf gang. He points out that, even with all the machinery, the docks can be hard on a middle-age man. “I wish I was a little bit younger when I got in,” Mariani says. “What helped me was I stayed in shape. Lashing is hard work. It takes a lot out of you.”

When the meeting upstairs finally ends, Lum comes down and introduces me to Karl Lorch, one of the most famous stevedores. He joined the longshoremen after more than a decade as a professional football player with the Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins.

Lorch knew people at Hawaii Stevedores Inc., one of the two big stevedore companies, so when his football career ended, becoming a longshoreman seemed like a good option. “It’s a hard job,” Lorch says. “But I went to school just to get by and to play football. This is a good job.” The ILWU is still a powerful union in Hawaii, so the wages and benefits are good for the stevedores. Although it’s dangerous work done in all weather, the basic laborer makes $31 an hour. Longshoremen often endure criticism for being overpaid, but, with the hours they work, they don’t make much more than other skilled blue-collar workers, like electricians and plumbers. Still, the longshoremen are sensitive about the subject.

Lorch also talks about the air of brotherhood I had noticed. “This is my first experience with a union—a real union,” he says. “Everybody’s like cousins, a big family.”

Lorch has been a stevedore for 18 years now. Normally, that would be enough time for a longshoreman to become a machine operator or a winchman, but Lorch remains happy on the wharf gang. “I started here when I was 40 years old,” he says. “I figured by the time I became a crane operator I’d be an old man. So, I just let the young guys go by.”

I ask Lorch what surprised him the most when he became a longshoreman. He thinks for a moment. “The first thing I noticed,” he tells me, “the pier is running 24 hours a day. With the lights on and the whole pier lit up, you’d think it was daylight. At 10 p.m., you’re just as awake as you are at noon.”

Listening to Lorch describe his early days on the docks, I think of something that a foreman on the wharf gang told me: “Just remember, at 2 a.m., when you’re home in bed dreaming, we’re down here. Moving cans.”

Dennis Hollier is a freelance writer with a real fascination for the hubbub of the waterfront. He writes about business, culture, science and the environment, but he can usually be seen staring wistfully out to sea.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine, Technology

Community: A Matter of Trust

Can community land trusts provide affordable housing? Maui is set to find out.

DENNIS HOLLIER

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez

Maui may be the center of Hawai‘i’s crisis in affordable housing. With the average home price approaching $700,000, working families there are increasingly excluded from home ownership. And Maui is only the worst example. Affordable housing is in short supply throughout the state. But Maui is also at the forefront in the search for solutions. Recently, affordable-housing advocates, the Realtors Association of Maui and the county government collaborated to create Na HALE o Maui, a community land trust (CLT).

Na HALE o Maui is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to acquire land and develop affordable housing. Although it plans to sell homes, the organization will never sell the land, instead remaining the permanent landowner. By definition, CLTs like this offer long-term, renewable leases—a concept familiar to Hawai‘i homeowners. In addition, when the owner decides to resell his home, a CLT will typically retain the option to buy at a specified price. The price is fixed by a formula that gives the seller a fair profit. These rules ensure that the homes remain affordable for future buyers.

CLTs aren’t new; more than 30 states have them. For example, BCLT, of Burlington, Vt., has provided affordable housing for more than 20 years. Recently, BCLT merged with another organization to become the Champlain Housing Trust and now oversees around 2,000 homes.

Here in Hawai‘i, the CLT model enjoys bipartisan political support, including that of state Sen. Robert Bunda (D). Last year, Bunda introduced legislation making certain state lands available to CLTs. According to Bunda, “We have lots of land currently zoned for agriculture that would be appropriate for this kind of development.” This year, Bunda expects to introduce legislation authorizing private developers to build homes on state land leased to CLTs.

CLTs have some downsides: Homeowners may not receive the traditional benefits of owning a house. For example, CLTs limit the amount of equity a home can accrue, minimizing one of the primary ways a fee simple home builds a family’s wealth. Some experts are also concerned about the use of state resources for private gain.

But Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, president of Na HALE o Maui, says support for the CLT is strong. The county council has already appropriated $50,000 for it, and the Realtors Association of Maui chipped in $15,000. “We’re moving ahead,” says Blackburn-Rodriquez. “We’re already in consultation with a number of developers.” Private landowners have offered to donate land. With luck, construction could start within a year. Not a moment too soon for Maui’s strapped homebuyers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine

Waimea Redux

Courtesy Audobon Society

Gary Gill has big plans for the future of Waimea valley. He just doesn’t know exactly what they are yet. It’s not surprising. As executive director of Hiipaka, the nonprofit created by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to manage the park, he just took charge of the valley on Feb. 1. It’s been a mad rush to get basic systems in place. “Up to now, we haven’t had time to look at long-term planning,” he says.

That’s not to say Gill doesn’t have a vision. The 1,875-acre park will continue popular programs, like its botanical gardens, but he expects a stronger focus on native Hawaiian culture.

“This is a place for local people to come,” says the former city councilman.

“We’d like to see a lot more cultural programs: hula and weaving and Hawaiian language. Over time, we hope to make the valley a living puuhonua (sanctuary).”

Gill believes visitors will also be drawn to authentic Hawaiian culture. That’s an important consideration, because the valley has operated at a loss in recent years. OHA plans to spend millions of dollars to take care of the park’s long-deferred maintenance, but, ultimately, Waimea should be self-sustaining, he says.

“We’ll probably be increasing the business staff,” Gill says. “We have an existing gift shop, which we’ll be redefining, and refocusing on native Hawaiian goods. We’ll also be reopening the Proud Peacock [restaurant] and concentrating on improving facility rental space.”

Butch Helemano is the kahu of Puu o Mahuka, the largest heiau on Oahu, which sits on the bluff overlooking Waimea. “Some people don’t want to see any entertainment in the
valley, but I believe the tour buses belong there,” he says. “You have to have respect for the culture, but it’s possible to have these programs without bastardizing Hawaiian culture. We just need real practitioners.”

Gill knows that, for any of his plans to succeed, he’ll need the support of community members like Helemano. “Everyone loves Waimea,” he says, “and everyone has a stake in it. But if you want people to come, the first thing you have to do is invite them.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine, Travel

State Parks for Rent?

As the state moves toward public/private partnerships, Malaekahana will serve as a test.
DENNIS HOLLIER

Malaekahana, a park in transition

The cabins at Malaekahana state Recreation Area in La‘ie are in shambles. The roofs sag, the galvanized plumbing is crumbling and the siding is peeling away. Built in the 1930s, many of the buildings look like they’re one good storm away from demolition.

But changes are in store for Malaekahana. Two years ago, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) requested private bids to redevelop and manage the park. Now, DLNR is considering a plan that will gut the existing infrastructure at Malaekahana and replace it with new cabins, roads, sewage treatment and a high-tech, off-the-grid electrical system.

Malaekahana Partners, a company affiliated with the nonprofit that currently manages the Kahuku section of the park, will redevelop all of Malaekahana in exchange for a long-term lease. It’s part of DLNR’s strategy to create public/ private partnerships, and may serve as the model for similar programs at other state parks. And it’s making the neighbors nervous.

Much of their concern revolves around Craig Chapman, one of the principals of Malaekahana Partners. He’s managed the park for 12 years, but if you ask him about his status in the community, he’ll tell you, “I’m the haole hotel guy from Vegas.”

“I’m not a spiritual man,” says Chapman, “but if you listen to her [the park], she’ll tell you what she wants.” Chapman thinks she wants to be an eco-resort. He envisions a variety of community and educational activities at the park. And with the new cabins, he believes he can attract both kama‘aina and international visitors.

For the past 12 years, Chapman has operated under a year-to-year lease. Without a long-term lease, he has been unable to raise funds to fix the cabins and other problems in the park. So, when DLNR asked for proposals for Malaekahana, Chapman saw his opportunity. He assembled a group of local partners, persuaded a Canadian friend to finance the project and put together a proposal for DLNR. His was the only qualified bid.

Some have reacted skeptically. DeeDee Letts, a member of the Ko‘olauloa Neighborhood Board, points out that Chapman has been fined for improperly disposing of trash at the park. She’s also concerned that Chapman’s proposal promises more than he can deliver; in particular, that the capabilities of his sewage treatment system are overstated. Chapman counters that the fine was for a single incident many years ago, and that the type of sewage treatment system he’s installing is now required in state parks.

As a part of the approval process for his proposal, DLNR requested that Chapman make presentations to the neighborhood board and local community associations. Dan Quinn, DLNR’s administrator of state parks explains, “This is something we want to do properly. There’s a diversity of opinion about this project.” As for community concerns, DLNR has created a community board that will periodically review activities at the park. Even if DLNR approves his plan, Chapman still has to do an environmental impact statement, obtain permits and negotiate a lease.

Quinn remains confident that this is a good model for other state parks. He says DLNR will continue to expand these public/private partnerships, which range from Adopt-a-Park programs to master leases like the one proposed at Malaekahana. He suggests Hapuna on the Big Island may be a good candidate. But he’s quick to add, “We’d like to get through the process on this one first.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine, Travel

Cutting School

A humble Chinatown institution incubates much of Hawaii’s hair-styling talent.

By DENNIS HOLLIER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY SERGIO GOES

Leo Williams, owner of the Honolulu Institute for Hair Design

Leo Williams has probably had his fingers in your hair. At least vicariously. As the owner and director of the Hawaii Institute of Hair Design, Williams has trained perhaps 80 percent of the barbers and hairstylists in Hawaii. His former students work in almost every barbershop and salon in the state. They’re meting out $200 haircuts in high-end salons; they predominate in countless Super Cuts and Fantastic Sams; and they run most of the old-fashioned two and three-seat barbershops scattered thoughout Island strip malls. To get their licenses, all of them spent at least 1,500 hours—10 months—under Williams’ patient tutelage.
The school was founded in 1942 by Williams’ grandfather. About 40 years ago, his mother and father moved the school to its current location: in an old building on North Hotel Street. And while he’s still in his thirties, Williams has been teaching there for more than 18 years. Up on the third floor, Williams’ mother, Margaret, manages the school’s administrative offices—and serves as a mother hen to the students.

Tony McDougald, for example, is a sedate student from North Carolina who recently got out of the Army and came to the school on the G.I. Bill. He wears his hair in a neatly carved fade, but had no prior experience with hairstyling. “I never touched a comb in my life,” he says, “so I’ve had to work harder than some of the other students.” The portability of hairstyling appealed to him. “My wife is still in the Army,” he says, “so we travel a lot. And people need haircuts everywhere.”

The tagline on an old brochure calls the school’s program “The Scientific Approach,” a system that has its roots in the precision cutting techniques developed by Vidal Sassoon in the 1960s. Students spend two months in class, practicing those techniques on mannequins, and learning some surprisingly complex material on chemistry and disorders of the skin. But the heart of the school is the bustling, ground-floor salon, where Williams presides calmly over dozens of student hairstylists, three or four instructors and hundreds of customers a day.

The allure of working indoors, with air conditioning and all those young women around, convinced Pham that hairstyling was the profession for him.

At first glance, the school seems like any other salon. Customers wait patiently up front, reading the labels of the hair products in a vitrine. The requisite Wahl Clipper Co. poster is tacked to the wall. At the back of the salon, a row of elderly women doze under hairdryers. And, as usual, the music’s loud and there’s the faint stink of hair straighteners and coloring chemicals.

The salon has a utilitarian look to it—more like a large barbershop than a fancy spa—but it’s scrupulously clean and unusually busy. There are more than 30 chairs, but, because there are usually more students than that, none of the young stylists have their own stations. Instead, they carry their equipment around in little black briefcases issued by the school, setting up shop on the counter behind each client. The students joke among themselves, but they seem serious about their work. Tuition is over $8,000—most of the students rely upon financial aid—so it’s a big investment. Still, they sometimes get bored with the endless parade of men’s fades and the standard cut-and-color. So when a burly young man with a mop of magenta hair settles in and asks for a fauxhawk (a cross between a Mohawk and a pompadour), they drop by to watch the action.

Young hairstylists get ahead—ahem—with instructor Sandra Malunay.
Because they get so much practice on the mannequins, even the newest students are surprisingly competent, and it’s rare for a customer to leave the salon with a bad haircut. Williams and his instructors constantly prowl the floor, inspecting every haircut before the customer leaves. Students feel “they always have a backup. I can pretty much fix anything,” notes Williams. Throughout the day, students walk up to him and quietly hand him their shears and comb to indicate they’re ready for him. Sometimes, they’ve finished and are ready for his inspection; sometimes the haircut has overwhelmed them part way through and they need his help. In either case, he calmly steps in, praising good work, correcting mistakes and demonstrating alternative techniques.

Despite the close supervision, students are given a lot of freedom. Even the students still working on mannequins on the third floor are expected to come down to the salon on Fridays and Saturdays to practice on real people. But rather than paying customers, they work on models—friends or people they lure in off the street with the offer of a free haircut.

“My first haircut,” says Tuan Tran, a student from Seattle, “I poked the scissors in someone’s head. I was sweating so bad.” The first haircut is usually a simple cut; nevertheless, some students are so nervous they can’t finish. “We like them to cut hair the first day they come down,” Williams explains. They don’t have to do the whole cut. “If they just do 10 percent, that’s fine.”

Students are expected to learn every aspect of hairstyling, and have to master cutting hair with shears, clippers and razors, as well as the fundamentals of color and highlights, straightening and perms. Each student also spends at least 40 hours at the front desk—practice for the business side of hairstyling. And before they can graduate, they’re expected to perform a dozen shaves, each replete with the hot towel, bristle brush and straightedge razor of an earlier era.

Students work with five to eight customers a day, six days a week. Toward the end of their training, when they begin to work faster, they might see as many as 10 clients a day. It’s the school’s job to attract all those clients, most of whom come for the low prices. A basic haircut is $5.50; a perm and cut starts at $19.95; color begins at $10.95; and you can get highlights starting at $5.

“It’s like a community service,” Williams says. “Clients can pamper themselves for a reasonable price. Standard salons are double to triple our prices.” The fees are just enough for the school to pay the rent for the salon, ensuring that there will be enough clients for the students.

Judging by the number of long-time customers, many are attracted to more than just the low prices. Kimo, a retired Waikiki beachboy who wears his hair like Samson, says he’s been coming to the school’s salon for 10 years. “I get a cut and color,” he says. “In all that time, they only made one mistake, and that was probably my fault. I was in a hurry and didn’t let them leave the chemical in long enough.”

Williams is quick to point out that students can only learn the basics in school; it takes years of practice to become an accomplished stylist. Kimo’s long, swooping hairstyle, for example, isn’t among the cuts taught in the school’s textbook, and its peculiarities eventually flummox the young student working with him. She calls over Susu Danforth, an instructor familiar with Kimo’s trademark style. While Danforth finishes up, Kimo jokes with the young student about the attention he pays to his hair. “I like go out clubbing,” he says with a grin. “If I see you at Ocean Club and ask you go dance, no ignore me now.” When the student asks the name of this singular haircut, Danforth deadpans, “The Kimo.”

At the other end of the salon, a young student named Anousack Sithammalat touches up the long black hair of an unusually serene client. “I come every week to get my roots done,” the woman says softly. “My theory is, if you’re gonna wash away the gray, you might as well be thorough.” Sithammalat works quietly, meticulously sectioning hair and applying the dye to the roots. “This guy, he’s brilliant,” the customer says, beaming. She’s become a faithful customer of Sithammalat, but when he graduates, she’ll choose another student to patronize. “This is the perfect place to be pampered for not much money,” she explains. “I pay $10 to get my roots done. For $3 more, they toss in a scalp massage. So for $13, I’m queen for a day.”

Like Sithammalat, most of the students are part of a young, hip crowd. Many have spiky hair and studs in their lips, but it’s still a diverse group. Danz Pham is a tough young boxer from Waianae who wears his hair in a short, tri-color fade. Before he enrolled, he was working in construction behind the school.

“I was a bad boy,” Pham says. “I used to come in and cruise the students.” But the allure of working indoors, with air-conditioning and all those young women around, convinced him that hairstyling was the profession for him. “Besides,” he says, “I used to cut hair all the time at home. All Waianae boys cut hair.” He still flirts with the girls, but it’s mingled with kibitzing on coloring techniques.

During slow periods in the salon, students sometimes gather among the empty chairs in the back to fiddle with one another’s hair and talk story. Many have family ties in the hair business and relatives who are also graduates of the school. Some students already have chairs waiting for them in family salons. “I’ve got several offers for when I get out,” says Sara Maikui, as she carefully removes hair extensions for another student. “My aunt has a salon in Vegas, if I want to go there. But I think I’ll stick around here for a couple of years first.”

Leo Williams has taught many of Hawaii’s hairstylists—everything from how to hold a comb to how to run a business.
“Foxy” Nga Le, fresh out of high school in Waianae, says her brother came to the school about two years ago, and that her mom and sister-in-law are also hairstylists. Former bartender Jeanine Joseph feels good about her job prospects after graduation. “My cousin, Travis, just graduated,” she points out. “His mom and sister also cut hair. They all work at Studio Kiss in Pearl City.”

Stewart Crockett graduated three years ago, about 20 years after his father, Donald. Donald and his wife own two Fantastic Sams, one in Wahiawa and another in Mililani, so it might seem natural for Stewart to join the family business. “Stewart basically grew up in a salon,” Donald says. Even so, Stewart didn’t envision himself as a hairstylist. “I never thought I could do it,” Stewart says. “It looked hard.” Then, Donald introduced him to Williams.

Stewart found the book side of school difficult, but once he came down to the salon, things began to improve. “The first haircut was the most nerve-wracking,” he says. “In the end, it turned out all right. It wasn’t a perfect haircut, but I didn’t put any rat bites in their head.” He feels that the patience of the instructors and the constant practice eventually revealed a gift. “By the time I came out,” he says, “I was better than my parents.”

Williams keeps track of former students, and many later become instructors at the school. They work as professional hairstylists, but one day a call will lure them back to the school to teach. Mel Kihara graduated nine years ago and now owns Mel’s Barber in Kaimuki. “When I opened it,” Kihara says, “my instructor came by to give me one of those Chinese things you put up on the door that says, Good luck.’ That surprised me—how did they know I had opened a shop?”

In the salon, Williams checks on the student’s work. Her client has chosen a mod Japanese hairstyle called an “octopus” and students gather around as Williams does the final touches. Working his thinning shears like a razor, he carves the upper layers of the client’s hair until it seems to cling tightly to the shape of her head, leaving the long ends to flare down around her shoulders like tentacles. The students nod their heads at his technique. When he finishes, the customer exclaims, “Ooh … Sassoony!” But Williams has already moved on, his eyes scanning the salon for the next student who needs help.

Freelance writer Dennis Hollier bares his bald spot with a short, layered, barber cut. “I’m just vain enough,” he says, “not to want anyone to think I’m vain.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Culture, Honolulu Magazine