Opting for a sailboat excursion gives
clients a new perspective.
From the Seychelles to Belize, Tonga to Tahiti, fleets of sailing
and power yachts, crewed and not, await the adventurous traveler in
search of the beauty and isolation of hidden coastlines.
But not in Hawaii. The hundreds of yachts that crowd the clubs
and marinas of Honolulu are owned by Sunday sailors who rarely
venture outside of Oahu’s southern coast, in the lee of the
tradewinds. Since wind tunnels between the islands can make for
rough sailing, Hawaii has a reputation as too hard to cruise. As a
result, the 7 million annual tourists who visit Hawaii rarely get
to see some of its most spectacular scenery: the coastlines that
are inaccessible by road.
However, there are two outfits that cater to the market of elite
travelers who want to develop a leisurely intimacy with the Hawaii
that the Waikiki crowds only see in postcards. One is high-end and
the other is more affordable.
Pacific Yacht Management operates two sailboats, charging $4,200
per day, captain and cook included, for passage on a 57-foot
Beneteau. Clients pay $2,400 per day for an excursion on a 42-foot
Catalina, and each vessel comes with two staterooms. Pacific Yacht
runs perhaps six charters a year, and it advises its clients fly,
not sail, across the channels between the islands. Pacific also
offers popular shorter trips on a 65-foot catamaran for $1,000 per
hour, with a two-hour minimum.
I gravitated to a cheaper alternative. Mike Mickelwait has owned
and run Honolulu Sailing Company for 30 years. His secret to
keeping costs down? Instead of selling pleasure cruises, he runs a
one-man sailing school that offers week-long sail-and-learn cruises
for $1,425 per person, per week. When he’s not out with students,
he charters his boats a Beneteau First 427 and a Hunter 54 to
experienced skippers for $5,000 per week.
Mickelwait is 66, trim and laid-back as can be, tanned the color
of copper. He’s pathologically attached to his baseball cap wholly
inappropriate headwear in strong winds, but an excellent source of
man-overboard recovery exercises for his students. He claims that
he has never had a major problem in all his years of sailing.
“Anyone who can sail the Windward Islands in the Caribbean or
deal with the Meltem [the powerful Mediterranean wind] can sail the
Hawaiian Islands,” he said.
On the trip, I joined a couple from Idaho who owned a little
28-foot sailboat back home, but who wanted to learn to do things
the proper way; and a city planner from Honolulu who simply wanted
to learn how to sail on a Beneteau.
Laima Langley of Lake Pend Oreille,
Idaho, gives sailing a shot on a
Honolulu Sailing trip in front of Molokai.
On a sunny Saturday morning, we left behind the skyscrapers of
Honolulu and Waikiki and the fleet of Sunday sailors just as the
breeze was firming up. The crossing to Molokai in 18-knot winds was
pleasant, and our sloop felt perfectly at ease under reduced sail.
The western end of Molokai was beige, low and scrubby, though it
turns green in winter when the rains come. A little before sunset
we pulled into cozy Sand Bay, on the leeward southern shore. After
a dinner of Peking duck that I had bought ahead of time from
Honolulu’s Chinatown, we went to sleep to the gentle rocking of the
The next day we crossed over to Lanai, which is about half the
size of Molokai. As we cruised past the western coast, a seemingly
endless, idyllic and absolutely empty beach unfolded. We lunched
and snorkeled, marveling at the wealth of marine life compared to
Oahu. As we sailed onward, the beach rose to a series of desolate,
spectacular cliffs, culminating at 1,000 feet. Not long before we
reached Lanai’s Manele Harbor, with its little marina, we passed a
series of striking rock pinnacles and noted several good
anchorages. After dinner, we took a walk to the Four Seasons Resort
Lanai at Manele Bay, whose spectacular atrium is studded with the
personal collection of Asian art and antiquities of billionaire
The next day we stopped at a sort of tropical Giverny. Years
earlier, on a deserted beach, a Maui company had built a day camp
for tourists in a coconut grove, complete with a pond and a gazebo.
It had been abandoned and the ground was littered with coconuts,
one of which we opened and savored in the sort of delicate, mottled
light that Monet would have loved.
The crossing to Maui was 15 miles and no bumpier than the
others. We cruised past the beautifully preserved town of Lahaina,
the former capital of Hawaii, and anchored in the heart of the
condo/hotel strip of Kaanapali Resort, taking in shopping and an
excellent martini at the Sheraton Maui.
Mickelwait had saved the best for last: a cruise along Molokai’s
north shore for up-close views of the world’s highest sea cliffs,
which rise to 3,300 feet. Thickly coated with native vegetation,
they undulated like curtains and sprouted high white waterfalls
everywhere. We stopped in front of Halawa Valley and gaped. There’s
nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. And to think that most
clients only see it by helicopter, where the time to watch is
measured in minutes, not hours.
Honolulu Sailing Company
Commission: 10 percent
Pacific Yacht Management
Commission: 10 percent