COURTESY HAWAIIAN SAILING CANOE ADVENTURES
Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures' outrigger sailing canoe, Hina, is named after the Hawaiian goddess of the moon.
Outrigger canoe an isle-style thrill ride
Within minutes of launching their first tour off Wailea, on the southern coast of Maui, in August 2005, Sage Spalding and his wife, Liz, were delighted to see what appeared to be a hundred dolphins dancing around their outrigger sailing canoe, Hina.
Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures
» Meet: At Polo Beach in front of the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel, Wailea, Maui
» Tours: Offered at 8 and 10 a.m. daily for maximum of six; private charters available for larger groups and those seeking a custom experience.
» Cost: $99 per person, and $79 per child ages 5 through 12. Price includes juice, water, use of snorkeling gear and digital photos of the trip, which are e-mailed to guests. Kamaaina pay $79 and $59, respectively. Pregnant women and children under 5 not admitted.
» Call: (808) 281-9301
» E-mail: email@example.com
» Web site: www.mauisailingcanoe.com
» Notes: You must be able to swim and understand English. Bring a hat, sunglasses, towel, sunscreen and waterproof camera. Wear a bathing suit under your clothes. A dry bag on the canoe allows you to store items you need on the tour. Other belongings can be kept in a lock box at the beach.
Owners and operators of Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures, they had welcomed a family of four from Minnesota on that inaugural tour.
Said Spalding, "None of them had ever seen a dolphin in the wild before, and they were completely blown away! The dolphins were jumping everywhere around our canoe!
"At the end of the tour, they told us that was the best travel experience they'd ever had, and we took it as a good sign that we were heading in the right direction with our business."
More than two years later, the Spaldings have sailed with close to 1,000 visitors from all over the world, old salts and landlubbers alike.
They recalled a middle-aged woman from Los Angeles who wasn't too keen about being on the ocean.
"Before we left the beach she told us that her family had forced her to do the tour and that she wanted us to bring her in as soon as she said so," said Spalding. "The next thing you know, she was relaxing on the trampoline and having a great time!"
During the two-hour tour, discussions run the gamut, from Hawaiian canoe construction to celestial navigation to the history and legends of Maui.
Hina, the Spaldings' 40-foot, six-passenger canoe, is named after the Hawaiian goddess of the moon. According to Spalding, many ancient songs and chants include the phrase "Molokai nui a Hina," which means "Great Molokai, child of Hina."
Master canoe builder Kirkwood Clarke built Hina on the east side of Molokai, near the cave where the goddess supposedly lived. One of only two such vessels in Hawaii (the other operates out of Hanalei on Kauai), Hina has a fiberglass hull, wood outrigger booms, carbon fiber sail booms and a canvas oceanic lateen, the distinctive triangular sail on the canoes that Polynesians used to explore the Pacific centuries ago.
"Hina sits right on the water and doesn't have a motor so we only hear the wind and the sea when we're sailing," said Spalding. "We get a real sense of what sailing was like when outrigger canoes were the only means of water transportation in Hawaii."
LIKE THOSE ANCIENT vessels, Hina is propelled by the wind and paddles, and with Spalding and Liz doing the steering, guests are in good hands.
Spalding was born and raised on Oahu, where he learned to surf at the age of seven. He took up paddling four years later, and has been an outrigger canoe enthusiast ever since.
Living on Maui from the age of 5, Liz also developed an affinity for the ocean at a young age. She was a competitive surfer throughout high school, and at 17 began crewing for sailboat tours leaving from Maalaea Harbor.
The two met at the California Maritime Academy, where they each earned a bachelor's degree in Marine Transportation. After completing school, the couple enjoyed careers in the merchant shipping industry, which took them away from home for months at a time. They realized, however, that once they started a family they needed to stay anchored.
Their 3-year-old daughter Kirra Anne and the idea for Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures were born about the same time.
"To be successful, we knew we had to come up with something that wasn't already being offered," said Spalding.
"A sailing canoe charter was the first thing that came to mind. We liked the fact that it would be eco-friendly, promote Hawaiian culture and history, and involve an activity we both love."
GUESTS HELP LAUNCH Hina from Polo Beach in Wailea and can paddle if they want. Because the route is dependent on wind and wave conditions, it varies from day to day.
What doesn't change are the breathtaking views of Maui, Kahoolawe, Molokai and Lanai, along with snorkeling among sea turtles, manta rays, spotted eagle rays, dolphins, eels, urchins and colorful reef fish. From now through May, humpback whales are an added attraction.
"Once, all of a sudden, we heard a loud whoosh beside the canoe," said Spalding. "We heard a whale spout before we saw it; when we looked, it was only about 30 feet from us! Our tour goes right into the humpbacks' breeding grounds, and during this time of year, the whale watching is spectacular! Few things in life can give you a thrill like that!
"Liz and I sail our canoe as a business, but even on our days off we'll sail for fun. It's a dream job for sure!"
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.