COURTESY OF THE WOODARD FAMILY|
Ronnie Woodard, left, Kahinu Payne, Kai Hudgins and Kai Woodard arrived at Kona Airport yesterday after their ordeal.
Big Isle men
A trip to move a boat from
California to Maine turns into an
adventure after they hit a rock at sea
Wednesday, June 4, 2003
» Chesapeake Bay is in Maryland. A story Saturday on Page A1 incorrectly said it was in Maine.
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Four Big Island men and a tour guide were shipwrecked on an uncharted island five miles off the coast of Panama with nothing but a dinghy, surfboards and a six-pack of beer.
With their boat underwater and night approaching, Waikoloa resident Kai Woodard said, the group was forced to make an important decision.
"Should we drink the beer now or in the morning?" recalled Woodard. "We decided, 'Let's drink the beer now,' because right then we all needed one."
"Plus, at that point the beer was still cold."
Eventually, Woodard, his father, Ronnie, and friends Kahinu Payne and Kai Hudgins got off that island and returned home to the Big Island yesterday, but not before going through the adventure of a lifetime.
It started as an excursion two months ago to get the Woodards' ship, the Hui Kane, from Ventura, Calif., where it had been purchased, and dock it at Chesapeake Bay, Maine.
The Hui Kane crew consisted of the Woodards and their friends. Along the way in Costa Rica the group also met up with Ulysses Martinez, a mechanic who worked on the boat and joined the Big Islanders on their journey.
Last Saturday, while the Hui Kane was still on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama, Kai Woodard said he and his friends were watching a movie below in the cabin when everyone heard a loud noise.
"I knew we hit something big," he said. "I ran upstairs and saw the whitewash surrounding the boat."
He estimated that within six minutes the new 57-foot, four-story Chris-Craft ship was underwater, along with all their supplies.
"We lost everything," said Ronnie Woodard, who later determined that his ship had hit some "uncharted rock" at around 8:30 p.m.
The elder Woodard said everyone got off the boat after he sent an emergency satellite signal to the Coast Guard and then climbed onto the span of shallow rock that the boat had crashed into.
From there Martinez and Woodard rowed a dinghy while his son and his friends paddled their surfboards to a larger island called Frailes Norte about 100 yards away.
Once on the island, Ronnie Woodard said the group spent a sleepless night "with the crabs and birds crawling all over us." Overall, however, his son said everyone's demeanor seemed to be positive despite watching a $200,000 boat with an estimated $7,000 worth of fishing equipment disappear underwater.
"Everyone stayed calm; everyone was fine," said Kai. "Obviously, we were disappointed about the boat, but we knew material things could be replaced.
"We were happy to be alive and only like two or three miles from shore instead of 20 miles."
The next day, they woke around 6 a.m. to 95-degree sunshine beating down on them. Though boats and planes could be seen in the distance, they were too far away to see the waving from the beach.
Eventually, Kai Woodard and Martinez paddled out in the dinghy and met up with two fishermen about a quarter of the way to Panama.
The fishermen picked up the rest of the group, and they spent two days in the small fishing village of Pedasi while setting up their journey home to the Big Island. The group had a 112-hour layover on Oahu and met with reporters to talk about their experience before continuing on to Kona Airport.
Payne said, "We were very lucky. ... We want to go sailing in a couple of weeks, get back on the horse."
Referring to his son and his friends, all of them 22 years old, Ronnie Woodard said they all "aged to 40 years old overnight."
"They never panicked; they never got scared. Everybody just did exactly what they had to do," he said. "They definitely turned into men. It was a very harrowing experience, but the boys just handled it beautifully."
"It was pretty heavy duty," said Ronnie's wife, Margaret, after listening to the story last night. "I was totally blown away."