Honolulu Civil Beat published on Jan. 11 a column, “Hawaii Superferry’s voyage of the damned,” written by their politics and opinion editor, Chad Blair.

The column presents an opportunity to consider the prospects of a ferry system in the islands.

The Hawaii Superferry was a high-speed “fast ferry” service operating aluminum hulled catamarans propelled with water jets.

It began service in December 2007 with the ferry vessel Alakai and the service was terminated in July 2009 with the company filing for federal bankruptcy. A second vessel Huakai was constructed but not delivered and never entered service.

A view from the Hawaii Superferry, Sept. 22, 2008. Not every passenger could handle the high seas. Flickr: Charlie & Kasie Bennett

On Jan. 9, the governor’s office released a report, “Feasibility study of Interisland and intra-island ferry service,” produced by the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, Harbors Division, dated December 2017.

The DOT conducted the study in response to Act 196 of 2016 (stating the terms of reference for the study) and House Concurrent Resolution 47 of 2017 (regarding a subsidized Maui-Molokai ferry service).

The feasibility study concludes, “In each area of analysis, the inter-island, intra-county, and intra-island ferry systems are infeasible.”

Getting Seasick

Blair’s column largely describes his and others experiences getting seasick while riding Hawaii Superferry’s Alakai on a short introductory cruise along the protected Waianae Coast and between Honolulu and Kahului, Maui.

As the subtitle of the column states, “A ferry system will likely never float in our islands because the waters are just too rough.”

He notes, “The study does mention bad weather and rough sea conditions as potential challenges to sustaining a stable ferry system.”

In 2007, Hawaii writer Genevive Bjorn vividly pointed out a real problem for an interisland ferry to call at Kahului.

She described the passage from Kahului to Honolulu onboard the Alakai entering the north end of the Pailolo Channel between east Molokai and west Maui off Cape Halawa.

The Hawaii Superferry under construction in Mobile, Alabama, in 2006. Flickr: James Willamor

The Pailolo is generally regarded as the roughest patch of ocean in the islands, as she learned.

“Rounding the point heading toward Molokai, civilization fades and open ocean takes over,” Bjorn  wrote. “In the channel, the winds whip and the ocean buckles.”

Remember SeaFlite?

Growing-up in 1950s Hawaii, I remember many long-time residents telling about the miserable traveling conditions they experienced on ships of the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co. Limited.

That company operated combination passenger-cargo steamships and provided virtually all the passenger and freight service between the islands from the 1890s through the end of World War II.

The old-timers invariably blamed the miserable travel conditions on the very rough sea conditions between the islands, and unanimously praised the development of interisland air transportation.

The issue of adverse sea conditions negatively impacting interisland passenger service is not new.

The Boeing Company and LTV Corp. launched SeaFlite Inc. in 1975 operating three water-jet propelled Jetfoil 929-100 hydrofoils from Honolulu to Maalaea (Maui), Nawiliwili (Kauai) and Kailua-Kona (Hawaii) harbors.

This fast-ferry operation closed in 1979 due to the rough interisland sea conditions and related high maintenance costs. The three vessels were sold to Far East Hydrofoil to operate in the Hong Kong-Macao service on the inland waters of the Pearl River estuary.

The local columnist, Lee Cataluna, wrote in 2005 for the Honolulu Advertiser reminiscing about SeaFlite: “So what can be learned by this? What sort of summary can be made of this case study?

“SeaFlite enjoyed public good will and a big dose of media fawning. Local people took their ginger and their Dramamine and rode. Tourists took a chance. But it wasn’t because we weren’t riding the thing. We rode. We barfed, but we rode.”

The Hawaii Shippers’ Council submitted testimony in reference to Senate Bill 2618 of 2016 (which was enacted and became Act 196) recommending against considering a ferry service to Kahului and in favor of a conventional displacement hull ferry vessel due to rough sea conditions in island waters.

The legislators and the DOT staff who produced the report ignored both items.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

A good reason not to give

We know not everyone can afford to pay for news right now, which is why we keep our journalism free for everyone to read, listen, watch and share. 

But that promise wouldn’t be possible without support from loyal readers like you.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.



About the Author