Stranded At Shipwreck Beach In Hawaii

Filed Under: Travel

Yesterday was Ford’s birthday, and we spent about two hours of that digging in sand with our bare hands. Let me explain.

We’ve been in Lanai, Hawaii for a few days, which has been incredible. There are just about 3,000 people who live on the island.

There are very few tourists in Lanai, so we rented a Jeep and have been driving around, which has been so fun. A couple of days ago we went to Garden of the Gods, and were the only people there. We drove for about 45 minutes, and didn’t see a single other car the whole time. I can’t decide whether this is awesome or borderline creepy, as everywhere we go sort of feels like it could be the setting for a Forensic Files episode.

So yesterday we drove to Shripwreck Beach. As the name suggests, there’s a shipwreck there.

The thing about Lanai is that most of the roads are dirt, including the “highways.” Fortunately we rented a Jeep, so had no issues off-roading.

Well, at least until we got to Shipwreck Beach, where our Jeep got stuck in the sand. We hadn’t seen another car since town (which was about 10 miles away, and involved lots of winding roads). On top of that, there was no cell service. Oops.

We were expecting to just take a two hour roundtrip drive and maybe explore the beach for 20 minutes so we didn’t bring any bottled water, etc.

I’d like to think there are some things I’m good at. As someone who doesn’t really drive, trying to dig a car out of sand isn’t one of them. So as much as I would have liked to Google to see what the best way to deal with this is, that wasn’t an option.

We got down on all fours and started shoveling (and shoveling and shoveling and shoveling) with our hands and feet. This wasn’t like clean beach sand, but rather was very fine sand with lots of dirt in it, so we were filthy.

We spent the better part of 90 minutes digging, and every so often would try to start the car and get out of the hole. Little did we know that we were only making things worse, because at this point the wheels were basically “free,” and the bottom center of the car was what was on sand. Oops.

After about 90 minutes another car showed up trying to get to Shipwreck Beach. It was a group of three people from Maui, and they couldn’t have been nicer. They insisted on trying to help us dig. After about 30 minutes unfortunately they came to the conclusion that we were screwed. At this point another car showed up. Since the path where we were stuck was the only way to get to the beach, we were creating a bit of a traffic jam (which in Lanai means there were three cars).

At that point we knew we had to get towed out of there or something, so I started walking along the beach in hopes of getting a signal. After walking for about 20 minutes and constantly toggling my phone on and off, I eventually got a signal. I called the rental car company, and they said they’d send someone.

About an hour later two people showed up — one guy with a shovel and a Jeep that had a “rope” attached to it to pull us out, and another guy with a Jeep we would be taking for the rest of our rental. The rescue mission wasn’t cheap, but I was at least impressed that we could leave right away at that point with the other Jeep (the interior of our original Jeep was filthy at this point, since we had been shoveling sand and ended up sitting in the car for a while, since we didn’t want to get burnt).

I’ve never been so dirty in my life. Spending 90 minutes on all fours digging underneath a car isn’t something I’ve ever done before.

It’s not exactly what I had in mind for Ford’s birthday, though it ended up being an adventure we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

  1. FYI. From one who uses her Jeep to go on drive on beaches all the time…take some air out of the tires before driving on sand. Helps with grip (or something like that…I just know everyone does it on the DelMarVa coast). Would have prevented your predicament. Just for the future…

  2. Lucky, I’m sure you’ll get heaps of ‘helpful’ messages telling you what you should have done (having been brought up on a farm and driven off road for years I could contribute to that, but I won’t) but I think the most important thing, after the event, is to probably sit down and laugh. As Paul said (above) mistakes make for memorable trips, you can both laugh about it and hopefully Ford will be reminding you about this birthday for a fair few years to come!!

  3. next time you go offroading, try to stick gravel/stones under the wheels to give it some purchase. and take water, doesn’t matter if you only plan on half an hour, you could break down somewhere remote

  4. I couldn’t help notice the sub-compact Subaru near the stranded Jeep. How can an all-wheel-drive vehicle avoid getting stuck where a 4×4 failed to pass?

  5. @Flyer, I didn’t have google either. I just knew it. Lucky just didn’t, but I’m sure he knows now. You don’t have to google everything. Just something new learned everyday.

  6. @Joemart: one word MOMENTUM!

    We almost got stuck at that spot a few years ago. Lucky for us we stopped just before on firmer ground to scope it out when a local in a 2wd car sped right through. So we got back in the jeep and floored it!

    PS: When we got back from that trip we bought a jeep of our own!

  7. As a couple of guys who had matching CJ-5s in the late ’70s, we feel your pain The Jeep won’t go if the tires don’t touch the ground. Sand, mud, or snow Assuming the other cars didn’t have rope, floor maps idea also worth a try, Also always take water always. A 3 hour tour! Happy Birthday, Ford!

  8. If only you’d been to Fraser Island before! All the 4×4 rental companies there are obsessional about making sure you know what to do if you break down (as others have said, let out some air, etc). Shame the local rental place didn’t give the same advice. Will definitely be a memorable birthday though! 🙂

  9. LOL… Release the air out of the tires!!

    Might be best if you just stick with airplanes and airports. 🙂

  10. Wow LOL! This story brinfga back recent memories as I was just out on that beach on October 11th while I was staying at the four seasons for our honeymoon.

    That last shot looks familiar since we stopped at that same small parking area before the Sandy part. We decided to risk it and it was just fine for us. Problem is it rained the day after and when it does that the ground under gets too soft… Sorry guys but hope the birthday was good besides all that!

  11. Letting the air out of the tires to about 10 psi works in dry sand.

    HOWEVER – do not do this unless you have an air pump to pump the tires back up again. Driving with 10 psi for any distance on pavement would be a very bad idea.

    So a rental company sending people to sandy beaches should supply

    – a strong and long rope so that someone on solid ground can actually pull you out without and danger to them of also getting stuck. Amazing how little extra pull is needed ….

    – knowledge that you might need to lower the tire pressure BEFORE you get stuck

    – an air pump to re-pressurize the tires after leaving the sandy area.

    (advice from experience sand duning in the UAE and Oman – especially in Liwa where the dunes get really large)

  12. I can’t even remember all the different times I got a car or truck stuck .
    It’s all part of the adventure (afterwards) and good for laughs .
    Adventures don’t always follow the plan .
    Happy Birthday Ford !

  13. Branches or grasses under the tires can also work. Get a bit of purchase and then gun it hard. Just make sure nobody is in range of getting struck with a flying branch.

  14. As someone who as often got stuck in the dessert, letting air out of the tires before going onto the sand is the first thing to do.
    Also carrying some planks of wood etc to put the wheels on to help get out of the sand if you do get stuck.

  15. “Yesterday was Ford’s birthday, and we spent about two hours of that digging in sand with our bare hands. Let me explain.”

    You really don’t need to keep saying “Let me explain”, it’s kind of a given that you will be explaining it at some point in the article…

  16. You spend a lot of time in Dubai/Abu Dhabi, why not take a desert driving crash course at some point? It is an experience/skill that is very unique and gives a totally different perspective of the desert from the touristy “desert-safaris” 🙂

  17. At lease you prepared yourself with an appropriate vehicle. We saved a couple on the brink of a divorce who had got their compact sedan stuck in sand on a beach in Kauai, thinking it could somehow handle off-roading, by rocking them out of the hole and pushing them on their way.

  18. Steady speed, straight path. Use floormats, digging further down in sand won’t do anything (snowdrift is different since you can hit road eventually).

    Spend some time in Moab Ut practicing 🙂

  19. As a Canadian I can’t offer advice on getting stuck on tropical beaches, my experience is limited to getting stuck in the snow and spinning on ice. Both winter solutions also involve sand BTW (spread under the wheels) and rocking back and forth with the gears until you’re free. And, winter or summer, a survival kit (water, flares, food, fire starter) should be mandatory. Hope Ford enjoyed his birthday regardless. It’s a story you can tell your children.

  20. Some tips not mentioned above.
    Wet sand is easy to drive on and you have the ocean in sight. If you had a bucket, get water and wet the sand under the tires to get out. To avoid getting stuck in soft sand, keep your speed up. The Jeep may start to slow as a larger and larger amount of sand builds up in front of the tires, the driver can help prevent this by turning the steering wheel aggressively back and forth.

    I did not know about the floor mats trick! #1 tip Air Down tires to 18psi and you can still drive home later on pavement. 15psi or 10psi may get you unstuck, but need to re-inflate before pavement. 4×4 travels: bring Water, Tow strap, shovel, tire pressure gauge and tire pump.

  21. As a Jeep owner, I can say this ain’t uncommon. If the rental company leave a copy of owner’s manual, there is a section on how to get out of the sand. Its doable and takes some skill. Beside deflating some air, you also need to rotate the tire in certain way not trying to drive out of sand straight. Perhaps you should take a Jeep safari learn to avoid the same fate next time.

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