About the time of my last trip to Huelo, I was privileged to stand at another unforgettable spot, this time the sparkling, little blue bay at Ho'olawa where the intrepid Chinese immigrant Tong Akana made a third attempt at a plantation.
Also known as Akanali'ili'i, he had failed at Pi'holo Plantation, begun in 1878-79 at the other end of the ahupua'a Queen Emma had given him. He built a smokestack and firebox across from what is now St. Joseph's Church in Makawao, but alas, the Pi'holo mill never came to pass.
"As the ship bearing the machinery for the mill rounded off the coast of Molokai, it was, by causes unknown to this day, sent to the depths of Davey Jones's locker," reported The Maui News. "All was lost."
The entrepreneurial spirit continued to burn in Akanali'ili'i, however, and even after that failure, at the age of nearly 70 he decided to go back into the sugar business at Huelo. He organized another company, found another agent, and started up again in 1902, calling his second Huelo plantation the Maui Sugar Co.
A new state-of-the-art mill with "triple effects," a more sophisticated way of evaporating cane juice, was acquired from the Risdon Iron Works in San Francisco and situated in a new location near Ho'olawa Bay. Plagued by poor crops, the new company lasted only two years. As time went by, Huelo Mill 2 disappeared beneath the jungle.
I got a call one day from the conscientious new landowner intrigued by the ruins he was excavating. An iron boxcar lay in the weeds, and some remnants of railroad tracks. He hired me to find out more about it, and a fascinating tale unfolded.
The mill had nine rollers, hand-fed, and ground 10 tons a day. The cane was conveyed to the mill by mule carts, which dragged the bags of processed sugar along rails down to the landing at the mouth of Ho'olawa stream where it was loaded onto the Mokoli'i.
It was a joy to stand at the abandoned landing, surrounded by sea cliffs, piecing together how sugar was shipped from this potentially dangerous, wave-tossed spot. What could the few rusty pieces of surviving equipment, an iron fitting shaped like an eye and two naval anchors found on the bay floor, reveal? This was my kind of project.
According to the U.S. Coast Pilot for 1933, the traditional name for Ho'olawa Bay was Honopou Cove, where "a sunken rock off the entrance usually breaks with only a slight sea running. When a heavy swell comes in from the north, the breakers on the rock continue on into the cove, increasing in size and force."
These conditions made for a thrilling operation. The Mokoli'i was a tiny wooden steamer, only 85 feet long, owned by the Wilder Steamship Co., which commissioned an expanded fleet of steamers in 1876 after the Reciprocity Treaty between Hawaii and the U.S. was signed.
She was intended for the Oahu trade and named for "Chinaman's Hat," the cone-shaped rock island lying off the old Wilder sugar mill at Kualoa, but the ship was so nimble she proved a practical choice for the difficult task of managing landings on Molokai and Lanai and along the rocky northeast coast of Maui. Several vessels were wrecked between Maliko and Hana, and expert seamanship was required.
I dug around in the archives in Honolulu and figured some version of a "wire landing" had been employed, such as the type used to ship sugar from the steep cliffs of the Hamakua Coast, where cargo had to be loaded in all kinds of weather.
The Mokoli'i would have navigated the narrow entrance, turned sharply northeast into the prevailing wind, and anchored in deep water to four anchors stationed permanently on the ocean floor - two fore, two aft. Hands then secured two more anchors of her own for added stability. On the Big Island, a catenary wire was landed and fastened by hands on shore to the cliff, down which cargo rode in a box on the cable.
When I returned to Ho'olawa Bay, it was clear the cliff there wasn't high enough to warrant such a wire. But then I remembered reading about the old derrick landing at Keanae, where conditions were similar.
Maybe that's what Ho'olawa's rusty equipment was designed to do. Powerful Hawaiian seamen rowed small boats to the landing and tied up alongside, where cargo was dropped in by derrick.
More than that, I'll never know. What I do know is what a difficult, dangerous and totally admirable process it was.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.