Story by Dawn Southard
Photos by Matt Mallams
A few hundred yards off Waikiki Beach, an old Healy Tibbitts dredger barge, HT 538, is anchored in a gap in the reef. She’s a big, slab-sided vessel, and it takes five anchors and a spider’s web of steel cable to keep her in place. A small tug is tied up alongside, its big prop ticking over slowly to help hold HT 538 steady. Even so, the ungainly World War II barge rolls fitfully in the five-foot swells.
Cranston Kamaka, superintendent of the barge, barely notices. Kamaka runs the dredging operation from the cab of the barge’s crane, never taking his eyes off of the suction dredge that’s suspended from the jib boom. It’s Kamaka’s job to keep the dredge buried in place on the ocean bottom. He’s been doing this job for more than twenty years, and he’s an expert at it; with each passing wave, his hands and feet tap rhythmically at the crane’s controls: hoist, swing; hoist, swing; hoist, swing.
Kamaka and his crew are working on an elaborate project to replenish Waikiki Beach by tapping an enormous reservoir of sand on the ocean floor just offshore. The plan is simple in concept—suck the sand up and pipe it ashore—but ambitious in execution. It involves a lot of tense engineering: assembling 2,700 feet of pipe and towing it out to sea, constructing an enormous catch basin on shore to hold the sand and then spreading all that sand along 1,700 feet of beach. Even more tensely, it involves mucking around with the most famous beach in the world.