I had sailed with John Charleston before. He captained a 44-foot
catamaran that cruised the coast off Waikiki Beach toward Diamond
Head. I considered it a “picnic sail,” as it was generally mellow
and preferred by tourists seeking postcard scenery over nautical
His new excursions are quite the opposite. Not for the faint of
heart, Charleston’s Kai Explorer offers eco-tours geared to
adventure lovers wanting wet and somewhat wild over meek and
The beauty with the Kai Explorer, according to Charleston, is that
it’s his gig. He owns the boat and has created the itineraries,
which he willingly tweaks to his trekkers’ desires. Kai Explorer
clientele differs from the typical Waikiki visitor wanting to get
onto, rather than into, the water. These eco-outings embrace those
lusting for excitement and experiences that are off the beaten
aquatic path, so to speak.
I was one of a dozen who loaded lunch, beverages and gear onto
Charleston’s 24-foot Willard Rhib inflatable at Moanalua Bay in
Hawaii Kai an east Oahu gateway to Hanauma Bay and Makapuu Point.
The ocean action on this particular Sunday was what Captain John
rated a “five out of 10.”
Our two-hour tour headed north, hugging Oahu’s eastern coastline.
Aboard Captain John’s signature jaunt, we traveled past the
exclusive Portlock neighborhood, along China Walls, beyond the bay
at Hanauma and along a remarkably raw area toward the Makapuu
Lighthouse and Rabbit Island.
These views via the ocean were simply breathtaking from both the
beauty and the buoyant motion. I kept a solid grip on things,
considering the ups and downs we were experiencing, as my
sunglasses splashed with salt water over and over again. The day
was definitely a thrill ride.
“This has been my goal since moving here in 1999,” Charleston
explained. “I always wanted to work for myself and give people a
fun experience. I want visitors to see the Hawaii I visit on my
weekends. So these eco-tours are designed for tourists, guests and
friends who want to go beyond Waikiki.”
We spotted massive endangered sea turtles floating just below the
surface and the spout from a lingering humpback whale in the
“We’ve got the whale watching bonus from January to March,”
Charleston added. Eyeing one so late in the season was truly a
treat. “And we generally see monk seals and dolphin pods as
As we passed China Walls below Portlock, I was amazed at how
rugged, yet beautiful, the landscape appeared. It was the familiar
contrast that so defines Hawaii.
Charleston pointed out ledges where fishermen perched at night.
Ladders dangled down ridges to provide them access to these
“From the land, you see these guys walking toward the ocean at
night, wondering where they’re going,” he said. “The fishing is
great here. They haul their gear, climb down the ladders to a ledge
and fish all night.”
Even more remarkable to me was a solo paddler looking so vulnerable
in his one-man outrigger canoe. He flashed us a confident smile, as
if to acknowledge our awe of his skills. Infamous as one of the
most challenging navigable channels in the world, Kaiwi is an
effort for any vessel. We were simply on the fringe of its wicked
ways that day, with waves bouncing us up and down like a
basketball. I found solace in the fact that I had such confidence
in Charleston’s skills.
What I most appreciated is the fact that he took a diplomatic
approach to our cruise. Since the day was a bit bouncy, Charleston
asked us to vote on continuing to Makapuu or heading toward Aina
Haina to snorkel. My vote was the tiebreaker (I raised two hands,
but no one noticed). Off we went to explore the underwater world.
It was an extremely mellow change from our earlier rough riding.
While I enjoyed both versions, this finale was greatly
About half the group jumped ship to swim with the colorful reef
fish. Others chose to relax in the calm waters that encouraged
floating just as much as exploring.
After nearly two hours, we headed back. It had been an exciting day
that gave me a fresh perspective on Oahu.
377 Keahole St., E-208C
Honolulu, HI 96825
Kai Explorer operates eco-tours along Oahu’s eastern shore. Private
charters are available.
Rates: Two-hour Eco-Adventure (Monday - Saturday
for $69; two-hour Snorkel Cruise (Tuesday) for $55; one-hour Whale
Watching Tour (seasonal) for $35; one-hour Sunset Cruise for $55.
Waikiki Transfer Hotel Pickup for $10.
Commission: Varies from 10-20 percent. E-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org for a travel agent information kit.
Miscellaneous: The boat is equipped with Coast
Guard approved adult life vests and safety gear. Snorkel equipment
and cooler are provided. Children’s life vests are available upon
request. Minimum age is 7 or 70 pounds.
Captain and crew are CPR and Lifeguard Certified. Scuba diving is
for certified divemasters only.