There are certain things you should not or cannot do into the wind.
Tradewinds blow from the Northeast, the channel into Honolulu Harbor has a northeasterly alignment. Early ships calling to Honolulu were powered only by sails.
The entrance to the harbor was narrow and lined on either side with reefs.
Ships don’t sail into the wind.
Given all of this, Honolulu Harbor was difficult to enter.
The first European entry of Honolulu Harbor is credited to Captain Brown of the British schooner Jackal, accompanied by Captain Gordon in the sloop tender Prince Lee Boo.
They called the harbor “Fair Haven” which may be a rough translation of the Hawaiian name Honolulu (it was also sometimes called Brown’s Harbor.)
Following this, boats either anchored off-shore, or they were pulled, warped or tracked into the harbor (this was done with canoes; or, it meant men and/or oxen pulled them in.)
This might take eight double canoes with 16-20 men each, working in the pre-dawn calm when winds and currents were slow. Otherwise you had to contend with tradewinds blowing out of the harbor.
It was a narrow with reefs, but it was the only deep water harbor in the central Pacific.
In 1816 (as stories suggest,) Richards Street alignment was the straight path used by groups of men, and later oxen, to pull ships through the narrow channel into the harbor.
(Later, downtown’s Richards Street was named for a man who had a store on the street selling luggage to tourists.)
A few years after, in 1825, the first pier in the harbor was improvised by sinking a ship’s hull near the present Pier 12 site.
In 1854 the first steam tug was used to pull sail-powered ships into dock against the prevailing tradewinds.
Between 1857 and 1870, about 22-acres of reef and tideland was filled through a combination of fill and dredging, forming the “Esplanade” between Fort and Merchant Streets.
This created the area where Aloha Tower and Aloha Tower Marketplace are now located (prior to this, the waterfront was near Queen Street.)
In 1889, the Honolulu Harbor was described as “nothing but a channel kept open by the flow of the Nuʻuanu River.” In 1890-92 the channel was widened and deepened by dredging.
A channel 200 feet wide by 30 feet deep was dredged for about 1,000-feet through the sand bar which had limited depth to as shallow as 18 feet, restricting entry of the largest ocean vessels.
A series of new piers were constructed at the base of Richards Street in 1896, at the site of Piers 17 and 18 in 1901 (to accommodate sugar loading) and then at Piers 7 and 12 in 1907.
Today, Honolulu Harbor continues to serve as Hawai‘i’s commercial lifeline to the rest of the world.
The image shows Honolulu Harbor in 1816 during the Otto von Kotzebre expedition (one of the earliest charts of Honolulu.) In addition, I have included images and charts of Honolulu Harbor around this early timeframe in a folder of like name in the Photos section.
(Several of the maps are from UH-Mānoa, Hamilton Library and shared with permission for personal, non-commercial and educational purposes.)