We drive along the amazingly-close-to-the-ocean highway to Lāhaina (in several places, it would literally be possible to drive ten feet from the road, park and walk another ten to twenty feet, and go surfing ... no barrier at all, just road, shoulder, sand, then ocean) and park in the designated lot near Front Street. We're a bit early, so we walk along a few of the shops to get a pedestrian's viewpoint of the drive-by we did a couple of days ago... lots of shirt and swimwear shops, but of course nothing in my size. We proceed to the harbor where Trilogy Tours has their ship berthed, and board along with a few dozen other people.
We're met by Captain Chuck, who's being assisted today by Captain Owen and Captain Riley (lots of captains!) and Snuba Instructor Nick, with young Shipman Sam playing the part of Ensign Smith (although without the red shirt, which no doubt comforts him greatly.)
The trip from Lāhaina Harbor to Manele Harbor on Lana'i takes about an hour and a half on Trilogy I, their 64-foot sailing catamaran. Along the way they offer cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, beverages, and sandwich wraps ("feeding people is the best way to avoid mutiny," Captain Chuck declares) as we enjoy the amazingly blue water, clear sky, and the wind. We managed to snag what we consider a prime spot on the boat, the right rear corner; so we get a smoother ride, some privacy since all of the families have the kids clustered along the front of the boat to get splashed, an amazing view, and the chance to chat with the guy behind the wheel. For the trip over, this is Captain Chuck -- Cpt. Owen is the senior captain but he'd rather relax and have fun with the passengers.
We also chat briefly with Captain Riley who's from Hawai'i but went to school at Santa Clara University; our curious question of "why did you ever leave?!" is answered with a good-natured "that's why I'm back here... you gotta leave the rock to appreciate the rock."
Captain Owen gives us some geology lessons as we near Lana'i -- the sheer cliffs we see as we approach the harbor are a result of the makeup of the Hawaiian islands -- as the ocean waves undercut the rock, eventually huge pieces of the hills detach and fall into the ocean, leaving sheer vertical walls. This is common on older islands (the Big Island, for example, has none of these cliffs as it's the youngest of the islands) and is a sign of an island starting to deteriorate. The white cliffs of Dover? Same thing, just with more chalk.
We reach the harbor and dock, and are shuttled to Hulopo'e Beach Park and Marine Preserve, voted the #1 beach in America in 1997 by Dr. Beach (based on impressive name length alone, I'm guessing.) It's a beautiful white sand beach, with half of it reserved for the tour guests. We grab some beach mats and chairs, stake out a place, then wander over for the snorkeling gear. My mustache gives us a bit of an issue since I can't get a good seal on the mask, but a little bit of lip balm helps.
We head out into the water and poke our heads around in the shallower areas, but it's a bit murky from the sand. Captain Owen comes out to us and escorts us deeper into the bay, pulling a surfboard as we hold on and look around, and all of a sudden the water clears up. No longer murky, it's clear and bright, and we can see everything around us -- coral, yellow tang, parrot fish, surgeon fish, rainbow fish, bandit angelfish... and then Captain Owen hears some people talking about seeing a shark a bit further out.
So he takes us out there, because I'm assuming that at some point I must have angered him, and we see it -- a 5 to 6 foot long white tip reef shark, swimming below us under a coral shelf. It's somewhat small for a shark, and it's minding its own business, which is just fine with us, but it's an unreal experience nonetheless. It's Lucie and I facing our fears and being in nature with a carnivorous dinosaur that gets its own week on Discovery Channel. It's us, taking Jaws and Deep Blue Sea and Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Open Water and Sharktopus and turning it into our own personal Care Bears Movie. Only, without the horrified screams and nightmarish mental imagery.
I mean, don't get me wrong; it's not like we saw a nēnē or anything, but it was kinda cool.
After we get back onto dry land and I once again thank my lucky stars that I decided to use some of my Reward Points to buy that underwater digital camera, we dry off a bit and board the van to take a tour of Lana'i. Our driver Moana takes us through the small city, talking story about the history and economics of the island... It's a plantation town, the last one still standing in Hawai'i, which has had to turn into a tourism-based economy after the pineapple and sugar cane industry was moved overseas. Moana's history lesson is at the same time both fascinating and a little sad; if not for the two resort hotels on the island, Lana'i wouldn't have any economy at all... the pineapple fields are now wild growth; coffee and macadamia nuts, crops that are plentiful on other Hawaiian islands, have never produced anything noteworthy; and it's considered one of the United States' most endangered historic sites because the current owner wants to remove the old buildings and build more resorts.
The tour ends, and Captains Chuck, Owen, and Riley, and Snuba Nick and Ensign Smith treat us to a luncheon of mesquite grilled chicken, mixed salad, peas, vegetarian soba stir-fry, and pineapple. It's a simple meal, fresh and delicious, and the view overlooking the harbor is outstanding.
On the trip back to Maui, they cut the engines and raise the sails, and for several minutes we cruise through the water, the strong afternoon winds tugging at us as we reach speeds of 10 knots, which in miles per hour is exactly as fast as we'd be going if we were doing 10 knots. Captain Riley, given the wheel as everyone else scurries about hoisting jibbers or something (Captain Chuck) or changing the angle of the sails (Snuba Nick) or walking about the catamaran, offering ice cream sundaes (Shipman Sam) or standing around joking with the passengers (Captain Owen), whoops and hollers in joy as he steers our craft swiftly through the water, then a little slower through the water, then at a standstill in the water, then through the water again as they give up and restart the engines and we power our way across the ocean once the wind dies.
We reach Maui safe and sound, and only slightly miffed because some jerk and his blonde-in-every-way girlfriend have taken our spots in the rear of the boat. Dude, that's just wrong; don't bogart someone's spot unless they let you know they no longer want it. What a tourist.
Anyway, once we get back on dry land we stop by one of the stores on Front Street and get a shave ice, then drive back to our hotel. We sit for a bit and enjoy some of the hula show they the hotel offers (and recognize our Hawaiian language teacher Malihini performing), order food to go from the Tiki Grill (fruit salad and a mahi mahi sandwich), then head upstairs to our room. We eat our food, open the bottle of champagne and have a glass to toast our last night at the extremely warm and welcoming Kā'anapali Beach Hotel, pack for tomorrow's flight to the Big Island, then go to bed.