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
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
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
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
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
Fair Wind II Excursions
Morning Deluxe Snorkel Cruise: $115 per person, with breakfast and
Afternoon Deluxe Snorkel Cruise: $105 per person, with snacks and
Afternoon Snack Snorkel Cruise: $75 per person, with snacks.
Rates are commissionable at 10 percent.