When a retired U.S. Marine Corps pilot invited me along on an Admissions Day cruise out to the sand bar in his 20-foot fishing boat, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been out there with him before, several times in fact, but it had never occurred to me to write about the unique experience of being out in the middle of the bay with hundreds of other sun worshippers.
The sand bar is accessible by boat, raft, paddle board, kite board, or any other ocean vessel capable of making it one mile in a fairly sheltered bay. We launched from the harbor at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, a restricted-use harbor accessible only by current and retired military personnel (a civilian writer/musician can’t even get onto the base without properly credentialed sponsorship). The sand bar is also accessible from the nearby Heeia Boat Ramp.
The journey to the sand bar takes you over dark water, before the massive mound of white sand leaps from the depths into the sunlight. After dropping anchor, securing the sun shade and deploying the recreational paddle board and kayak, our Captain’s retirement U.S. flag was hoisted and the cooler was opened for business.
There had been concerns among those on the boat about ominous clouds holding fast over the bay, but by the time the first shrimp was peeled, it was clear that it would be a long, beautiful day. My other trips aboard the Salty Krak’r had seen the sand bar jammed with many dozens of boats. Local families and friends, serious ocean recreation enthusiasts and howling Marines wade about on the sand bar for hours on end. But Admissions Day at the sand bar was relatively quiet. Maybe twenty vessels had made the trip, which made the atmosphere less like a Cancun spring break party than a resort setting.
Navy transport planes circled the Bay all day, performing touch and go training flights. A kite-boarder skittered to and fro across the sand bar and a group of ladies took stand-up paddle boards upwind into the trades before letting themselves be blown back by the brisk, warm breeze.
There are some important things to remember when making the trip to the sand bar. When packing for the day, be sure to include far more sunscreen than you think you might need. There is no shade other than what your vessel provides, and even on overcast days, the ultraviolet rays are savage and relentless. Water is also essential, particularly if you’re imbibing adult beverages. Dehydration is not just a concern, it is a danger. Also, bring something to put your trash in. Littering on the sandbar is not only extremely bad form, it is a crime. The area is patrolled by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the officers take protecting the Kaneohe Bay estuary very seriously.
The other important thing to remember about the sand bar at Kaneohe Bay is that there are no restrooms. Unless you’re lucky enough to be aboard a cabin cruiser with a “head,” jumping in the water is the only option for a restroom facility. That can be uncomfortable for the more timid, but after an hour in the sun and some maritime libations, few seem to mind. Anchors aweigh!