HAWAII AT WORK
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Cale Wofford manned the controls of Navatek I on Tuesday, hoping to find whales off of Oahu's South Shore for his passengers to observe. Wofford started working on the vessel almost a decade ago and became its senior captain about five years ago.
Having a whale of a good time
Cale Wofford is no Captain Ahab, but he is a captain and he does hunt for whales
Title: Senior captain, Navatek I
Job: Operates Navatek I, the whale-watching and dinner-cruise vessel owned by Atlantis Adventures
Cale Wofford takes to the seas off Oahu each day in search of whales, and usually finds them, much to the delight of the passengers who accompany him and his crew on Navatek I -- a sleek, innovative craft that his employer, Atlantis Adventures, acquired from his previous employer, Hawaiian Cruises, in April 2000. ("I came with the boat," Wofford said Tuesday.) Wofford joined Hawaiian Cruises when he was a student at the University of Hawaii, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in political science and then a law degree. Upon graduation, he continued working aboard Navatek I, eventually moving up to senior captain. Raised on the Big Island and Guam, Wofford, 33, also is a graduate of Konawaena High School in Kealakekua. He is single and lives in Kahala.
Question: How long have you been doing this?
Answer: I've been on board this vessel for maybe eight or nine years. And I've had my (U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner's) license for 13 years. My primary function is as one of the vessel operators, and the other is supervising and scheduling the operations crew. And then I train all new vessel operators.
Q: Did you join the company as boat captain?
A: Um, sort of. At first I split my time between a couple days as captain and a couple days as mate or assistant.
Q: Was that to learn the ropes?
A: Yeah, and the hours were taken up by guys more senior than me.
Q: And then you became full time as a captain when?
A: I can't remember exactly but I think it was at least five years ago.
Q: There are two Navatek I captains, right?
A: That's right. We have two right now.
Q: And how do you split the work?
A: We each work about five days a week. The other captain splits his time.
Q: Who is that?
A: His name is Tim Haas.
Where did you learn the skills to become captain?
A: Every vessel is unique. So for a particular vessel you have to learn on board how to operate it.
Q: I was thinking more of your general seamanship skills.
A: That, I can speak for myself. I grew up racing small sailboats with my father. Then to get my sea time for my license, I worked on vessels as a deck hand.
Q: Was that boat racing in Hawaii?
A: No, that was when I lived on Guam.
Q: What kinds of things do you have to do to prepare for a cruise?
A: We have two docks that we use. We pick up passengers at Pier 6. Our home base, our maintenance facility, is at Pier 40, near Waiakamilo (Road) and Kalihi (Street). So we come to work at Pier 40, then we set aside an hour for startups, we call it. So the captain and the mate will show up an hour before we get under way, go through the paperwork from the day before, the paperwork for that day, get all the machinery running, and ideally we'll only need half the time we allot, and that way if anything goes wrong, we'll have time to correct it. Then we move the vessel from Pier 40 to Pier 6 for the day's operation.
Q: How big is the crew?
A: The operations crew is eight people generally. There's two actual operators, and then we have six deck hands. But the crew during a dinner cruise can be between 35 and 50.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Captain Cale Wofford spoke to harbor officials Tuesday as he maneuvered Navatek I away from Pier 6 and out to sea for a whale-watching cruise.
What happens during each cruise?
A: One cruise is a whale-watching cruise, so we try to get into a position where we can observe them. The dinner cruise is sort of geared around the sunset and the dinner, and there's also a show featuring dancers that happens during that cruise. Also, during February and March, a couple days a week we have trips for school groups, which we do those before our normal cruises.
Q: So what kind of a boat exactly is the Navatek?
A: It's what's called the SWATH vessel. SWATH stands for Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull.
Q: And what is that?
A: Basically, it has two hulls, and those hulls are shaped like torpedoes or submarines. Those hulls float below the surface and are connected to the superstructure, which is supported above the surface by the struts. The whole idea is to put the buoyancy below the surface instead of on the surface, so when you encounter waves or chop, you don't follow the waves or chop the way a normal boat would. The energy of those waves or chop passes through the hull instead of hitting the superstructure.
Q: Is it true that it's harder to get seasick on the Navatek than a typical single-hull craft, or even a catamaran?
A: My experience is that, yeah, people are less likely to get seasick aboard than on a vessel of a similar size with a regular hull.
Q: How many passengers can it carry?
A: We can carry up to 420 passengers.
Q: How long is it?
A: About 135 feet.
Q: What kind of an engine does it have and how fast can it go?
A: We use Deutz diesel engines -- two.
Q: How fast can it go?
A: About 15 miles hour.
Q: That's it?
A: Uh, yeah.
Q: I would have thought it could go faster.
Q: It looks so sleek.
A: It goes faster than the dinner-cruise vessels.
How far out do you go?
A: We generally stay within three miles of shore and 10 miles of the harbors.
Q: Are there always whales out there?
A: Not always. I'd say we see them roughly 90 to 95 percent of the time during whale season.
Q: And what if people don't see any whales?
A: We actually have a guaranteed policy. The way that works is, if you don't see whales, then we give you a ticket that's good for another ride. I'm not sure of the details, but I think it's good for just a ride. I don't think it includes lunch. So people who don't see whales can keep coming back. Every once in a while we have some unlucky person who keeps coming back. But they can keep coming back until they actually see a whale.
Q: Are you pretty knowledgeable about whales now?
A: I think so, yeah.
Q: How have you learned about that?
A: Observation, listening to different experts. We carry naturalists on our cruises, so I've managed to pick up on some of the facts that are consistent among them.
Q: What else do passengers on your boat see? Dolphins? Sharks? Manta rays?
A: We see dolphins a couple of times a week, usually. I haven't seen sharks or rays in a long time.
Q: What kind of people mostly ride the boat?
A: I would say we're probably evenly split between eastbound and westbound tourists.
Q: So mostly tourists?
A: Yeah, I would say so.
Q: Who makes the decision on whether it's safe to go out to sea?
A: The captain does.
Q: You mean you.
Q: Have you ever said, 'No I'm not taking it out tonight'?
A: I've done that once.
Q: Why? Was it raging outside?
A: It was one of those days when there is Kona weather and there's 20-foot waves breaking on the South Shore and stuff like that.
Q: Have you ever officiated any weddings on the boat?
A: Yeah, more than I can count. We haven't done any in a while, but we used to get a lot of Japanese weddings, which aren't technically weddings; they were more just ceremonies, because they're typically married before they leave Japan. We've also done a lot for Americans and Europeans, which are real weddings. They'll get a license from the state.
Q: Have you ever had to make anyone walk the plank?
A: Not yet. I'm not even sure I have a plank.
Q: I'm told that you were a lawyer at one time?
A: No. I've never practiced, but I have a law degree.
Q: I hear they can come in handy.
A: (Laughter) I suppose. It makes a nice decoration on my wall right now.
Q: Why did you get a degree and not pursue it?
A: I went to law school because I was interested in being a civil rights lawyer, but after a year or two I decided I didn't want to be a lawyer. I'd lost interest. But I didn't want to quit (school), so I finished. Then the work on the water started paying better and better.
Q: You worked on the Navatek while going through law school?
A: The Navatek paid for my way through college and law school.
Q: Any long-range thoughts about your job?
A: I'm happy with what I'm doing and I have no plans to stop in the immediate future, but eventually I'd probably want to study something else. I'm so used to studying, I think I need to find my way back to the classroom.