COURTESY ST. REGIS PRINCEVILLE
Cruise the Kauai coast via sailing canoe, without lifting a finger to paddle.
Cruising Kauai islander style on sailing canoe
A thousand years before Christopher Columbus set sail on his voyages of discovery, the Polynesians were navigating the vast Pacific using the stars, winds and ocean currents as their guides. This feat is all the more miraculous, considering the humble vessels that carried those intrepid seafarers thousands of miles across the open ocean, often many months at a time.
» Meet at: The beach below Princeville Resort 15 minutes before your departure time
» Offered: Daily except Sunday, weather permitting, for 9 a.m. Early Morning Sail/Snorkel; 10:30 a.m. Mid-Morning Sail; 3:30 p.m. Afternoon Sail; and 5:30 p.m. Hanalei Sunset Sail
» Cost: $85 for adults, $65 for ages 3 through 12. Kamaaina pay $65 and $45, respectively. Children under 3 can sail free with a parent's consent, but they must sit in the parent's lap.
» Call: 212-6053; reservations required
» E-mail: email@example.com
» Web site: islandsailskauai.com
» Notes: Private charters can be arranged with at least two days' notice. Cost is $450. There's a six-person maximum for all tours. Wear sunscreen and bring bottled water for day tours.
To them, sailing canoes were sacred entities. Offerings, prayers and festivities accompanied the building of each vessel, which began with the careful selection of a tree by a kahuna kalai waa, or canoe-building expert. He also supervised the canoe's construction, a painstaking process that involved men of an entire district, working for more than two years.
Each canoe was carefully named and treated with the care and respect of a living person. The Polynesians loved their canoes -- their lifelines at sea -- as much as they loved their families.
Trevor Cabell is a voyager of another age, but he maintains the same close connection with his 45-foot fiberglass canoe named Kupaaloa-ku.
"Literally, kupaaloa means 'to stand up strong in the big ocean,'" said Cabell, "but a Hawaiian lady told me that, figuratively speaking, it means 'to live up to your potential, what you're supposed to be.' I really like that definition."
Although Cabell owns Kupaaloa, he prefers referring to himself as its caretaker rather than its owner. In 1997 he and his close friend and partner, Travis Bonnell, launched Island Sails, which offers tours of Kauai's beautiful Hanalei Bay on the canoe. Both men were born and raised in Hawaii and have been avid mariners from the time they were toddlers.
"Growing up here, we spent more time at the beach and in the ocean than we did at home," said Cabell. "Over the years, the ocean became a major influence in our lives, and at some point it actually became our life; our day didn't seem complete unless we spent part of it swimming, surfing or sailing. Island Sails was designed with that kind of lifestyle in mind; all of our tours reflect our love for the ocean."
KUPAALOA WAS constructed as a six-person paddling canoe. When Marvin Otsuji, owner of Seasport Divers in Poipu, bought it, he transformed it into a sailing canoe by adding a wooden mast, a canvas sail, an iako (outrigger boom) and an ama (outrigger float). Women raced it in Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Racing Association competitions throughout the state.
Cabell bought Kupaaloa for $5,000 and invested six months and another $5,000 to complete modifications on it, including installing bulkheads, seats, false floors and a deck.
For Island Sails' tours, he said, "We're coming from a low-impact, eco-friendly standpoint. We leave the ocean exactly the way we found it."
The waters are calm for the Early Morning Sail/Snorkel, providing excellent conditions for snorkeling. It's also the best time to see dolphins and turtles. Wear your swimsuit and bring snorkeling gear.
The wind picks up for the Mid-Morning Sail. Cabell and Bonnell take Kupaaloa a short distance out of the bay to give participants a taste of open-ocean sailing. Wear a T-shirt and shorts, and expect to get wet.
Avid sailors should choose the Afternoon Sail, which promises a thrilling ride five miles offshore for a spectacular view of Kauai's North Shore. If you like fishing, bring your gear. It's at this time of day when kawakawa (bonito), baby ahi (yellowfin tuna), mahimahi (dolphin fish) and papio (young crevalle) are most likely to bite.
Couples often prefer to cruise the bay at twilight, when the waters are calm again and the sky is painted with broad strokes of orange, pink and violet. Bring a jacket and a bottle of champagne for this romantic Hanalei Sunset Sail.
COURTESY ST. REGIS PRINCEVILLE
Private 90-minute charters can be scheduled any day except Sunday, with advance notice. Swim, fish, snorkel or spend the entire time sailing -- the choice is yours. Bring whatever refreshments you'd like.
"Some of our guests have never been in the ocean before, and imagine, they're swimming five feet from dozens of turtles that are hanging out by the reef!" said Cabell, whose recent guests included a woman in her 40s, from New York.
"It was her first time sailing," Cabell said. "It was really windy that day, and we were going fast, maybe 16 knots (18 mph). It was wild but she loved it!"
No matter what a person's background is or where they're from, everyone comes together as ohana (family) on Kupaaloa.
"Out on the ocean, they're all smiling, laughing and talking to each other, just having a fun time," said Cabell. "It's such an uplifting, positive experience."
He has sailed Kupaaloa all around the islands, including making a two-week, 300-mile trip from the Big Island to Kauai. On those journeys the accomplishments of early Polynesian voyagers hit home, especially at night, when darkness engulfed the small canoe.
"It makes you think how remarkable they were to be able to sail all over the Pacific without any sophisticated navigational equipment," said Cabell. "Instead, nature was their compass and GPS system. That certainly ranks among the greatest achievements of man."
Unlike most of the tour boats operating in Hawaii today, Kupaaloa has no motor; it mirrors the simple, sturdy canoes of the ancients. "I think about that every time we go on a tour," said Cabell. "In that way we're preserving an amazing part of Hawaii's past."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.