Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides is celebrating 40 years of service. // © 2011 Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides
It has been more than five years since my family went on a snorkel cruise with Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides and, to this day, we still agree that it was the highlight of our multigenerational vacation. Given the fact that 2011 is the company's 40th anniversary, I'm guessing there are a lot of other clients who have felt the same way over the years.
What's more remarkable is that Fair Wind started as a fluke. In 1969, Michael Dant built the 50-foot Fair Wind trimaran and, in 1970, he began sailing from California with wife, Janet, and a crew of nine. Their ultimate goal was the South Pacific, but the trip got cut short when the vessel was damaged. They pulled into Kona on Hawaii's Big Island to fix the boat, and the aloha spirit of the community touched them so much that they decided to stay there.
After a year of repairs and business analysis, the Dants launched Fair Wind snorkel cruises to Kealakekua Bay, site of the historic Captain Cook monument and a marine life sanctuary. It didnít take long for the excursions to catch on and, pretty soon, the Dants were drawing busloads and sometimes running three trips per day to meet demand. In 1975, they improved the vessel with amenities such as a water slide and upgraded the meal service to a barbecue lunch of cheeseburgers and garden burgers.
In 1983, the Dants' son, Puhi, and his wife, Mendy, purchased the business and, in 1987, they started taking guests out on a new 50-foot custom-designed trimaran called Hookele. After the Hookele was destroyed by 1992's Hurricane Iniki, the family continued the business with leased vessels while building a new one of their own. In 1994, they introduced the Fair Wind II, a 60-foot aluminum catamaran with a covered deck, 15-foot water slide, a high-jump platform, onboard restrooms, freshwater showers, wheelchair accessibility and a staircase descending directly into the water. In 2005, the company added the Hula Kai, a 55-foot hydrofoil catamaran with first-class amenities such as individual theater-style seats, freshwater showers, restrooms, shade covers, a Bose sound system and a large grill for preparing gourmet meals.
Fair Wind has continued to upgrade its cruises over the years to remain competitive. Most recently, it added egg frittatas to its breakfast lineup on the morning cruises, and it now prearranges special meals for guests on restricted diets. The Fair Wind II recently came out of drydock, where it got new seat cushions, new paint and mechanical upgrades.
Mendy Dant, who now serves as Fair Wind's vice president, said the company has already started celebrating its 40th anniversary with onboard raffle drawings, with winners getting free gifts such as hats, towels and shirts. For travel agents, the company is providing a 40 percent discount on rates for its afternoon snorkel cruises from June 1 to 30 and from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2011.
"Later in the year, we will be hosting various industry parties to thank agents and concierges for their years of support," said Dant.
Fair Wind II's cruises include a morning snorkel cruise and barbecue; a seasonal afternoon snorkel cruise and barbecue; and an afternoon snack cruise. All Fair Wind II cruises provide guests with snorkel equipment, instruction, underwater view boxes, flotation devices, a no-host bar and meals.
Meanwhile, on the Hula Kai, options include a morning snorkel and dive cruise with a barbecue (from $165 per person) and a nighttime manta ray snorkel and dive adventure (from $99). All gear, instruction, food and beverages are included.
Dant said there's really no secret to Fair Windís longevity.
"Having passion for what we do, loving what we offer visitors and knowing our activity is an excellent value of the highest quality -- all of that translates to success," she said. "That has sustained us through the peaks and valleys of the visitor industry. After 40 years, we feel Fair Wind is far more than just a business. We feel very connected to the community, to the environment and to the visitors who have helped make us successful."