Off the Beaten Wave

Hula Kai catamaran goes away from the ordinary

By: Dawna L. Robertson

Captain Mitch Stauffer is a man on a marine mission, one that must certainly make him the envy of his peers along the Big Island’s Kona Coast.

This seafaring veteran sails Fair Wind Cruises’ Hula Kai catamaran to sites not frequented by the crowds, much to the delight of his passengers. On my recent trek aboard this newest addition to Fair Wind’s Keauhou Bay-based fleet, conditions were crystal clear. The ocean was calm, the tradewinds gentle and according to reports, spinner dolphins awaited us.

Since making its initial splash in late 2005, Hula Kai has earned rave reviews. As the Big Island’s first hydrofoil-assist catamaran, this 55-foot beauty delivers a smoother ride at higher speeds. Fair Wind’s owner, Puhi Dant, added the high-tech 42-passenger vessel to accommodate Hawaii’s growing market of luxury travelers.

Dant collaborated with Nic de Waal from Auckland, New Zealand, to design an environmentally-friendly craft geared for comfort, speed and maneuverability. With Hula Kai, they hit the jackpot.
Our ocean journey was an upscale adventure from start to finish, beginning with a luscious tropical breakfast. The Hula Kai’s numerous upscale touches included individual theater-style seats on both upper and lower decks. The vessel was also equipped with Scuba Pro diving gear, two freshwater showers, two restrooms and oversized umbrellas for shade during stops. Throughout the trip, Stauffer offered a historical overview of the sites we passed, including Kealakekua Bay and The City of Refuge.

On the day I cruised, Stauffer opted for stops at Rob’s Reef, Turtle Rock and Ridges. His skills at finding fish were especially well-honed. Within seconds of diving in at Rob’s Reef, I found myself in a flurry of yellow tang, parrot fish and moorish idols feeding on massive coral head. My fellow passengers and I were stunned to see so much so quickly and so clearly!

Most of us took Stauffer’s advice to linger a little longer in the reef-rich nooks and crannies flourishing with colorful marine life. As a result, viewing was a breeze.

“When people think of snorkeling on the Big Island, they typically think of Kealakekua Bay,” Stauffer said. “While the viewing is great, you’ll see more boats there. With Hula Kai’s speed, we can go farther, to places where we’ll be the only boat around.”

That was certainly true with our cruise.

What makes snorkeling so rewarding along this portion of Hawaii’s craggy coastline is the fascinating geography. Created by volcanic flows, the area is an ecological wonderland with its sea caves, arches, lava tubes and underwater flows.

Nowhere was this more evident than at Pali Kaholo, a site near Rob’s Reef. Here, Stauffer guided the Hula Kai into a sea cave where the wave action was an exhilarating ride in itself.
At Ridges and Turtle Rock we were graced with the presence of magnificent “honu” endangered green sea turtles that overwhelmed us with their gentle spirits. And then there were those spinner dolphins, splashing and dashing in a playful show that had us applauding for more.

Stauffer stressed that Hula Kai’s flexibility is one of the keys to its success.

“The beauty is how our trips are always changing, depending on the activity in the ocean and what passengers want. It’s a great cruise for those who expect more.”

In my case, I got more than I expected.


Fair Wind Cruises
78-7130 Kaleiopapa St.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

2007 Rates:
Hula Kai Excursions
Morning Snorkel Adventure & BBQ: $149 per person, with breakfast and lunch; scuba (certified with gear) - $214; scuba gear rental - $10.
Afternoon Whale Watch (Jan. 5-Mar. 15): $69 per person with fruits, chips and juice.
Snorkel and Sunset BBQ outing (June 15-Aug. 31): $125 for snorkelers, $190 for scuba divers, with snacks and sunset dinner.

Fair Wind II Excursions
Morning Deluxe Snorkel Cruise: $115 per person, with breakfast and lunch.
Afternoon Deluxe Snorkel Cruise: $105 per person, with snacks and lunch.
Afternoon Snack Snorkel Cruise: $75 per person, with snacks.

Rates are commissionable at 10 percent.