Story by Shannon Wianecki | Photography by Nina Lee
In my fantasy, I’m cavorting with a few friends on a private yacht in the Pacific. We linger in idyllic coves, survey the abundant marine life, hoist the sails, then charge into a dazzling sunset. And oh, how we feast! Ripe fruits, fresh fish, frothy beverages . . . you get the picture. The planets must have been perfectly aligned over my head last week, because this dream came true.
For my thirty-fourth birthday, Mark and Jeri Robinson, owners of Island Star Excursions, hosted me and some friends aboard their Classic Columbia fifty-seven-foot sailing yacht. On the agenda: six hours of sailing, snorkeling, and relaxing like royalty.
I’m pinching myself as I walk up to the prettiest boat docked at Lahaina Harbor. The Island Star is a real beauty, decked out in fresh white paint and classy wood trim. Captain Bob Carlson welcomes me with a fragrant lei. Tim Bryan, today’s first mate/cook/bartender, takes drink orders while my friends settle into shaded seats at the stern. Mark bids us adieu; he’ll rejoin us for lunch in one of the company’s seagoing rafts. Let the luxuriating begin!
As Island Star pulls from the dock, we’re treated to a rare sight: a cocoa-colored Hawaiian monk seal basking on the breakwall. Fewer than 1,200 of these charmers exist in the wild, only 100 in the main Hawaiian Islands. I’m certain the sighting is an auspicious omen. The crew isn’t so sure; there isn’t a lick of breeze on the horizon. While we couldn’t ask for better snorkeling weather, sailing is another matter. The sea is a windless plane of cobalt blue.
Captain Bob sweeps his hand towards Ka‘anapali. “I remember when this was all empty beach. No hotels. Just a dirt road.” A veteran sailor who has thoroughly explored the Pacific, he moved to Maui back in 1968. He’s sailed with Island Star for over a decade.
Tim’s resume includes stints researching wild dolphins in Mexico and assisting with captive dolphins on O‘ahu—he far prefers observing the marine mammals in the wild. He captains for Island Star Excursions, too, typically running Lana‘i tours aboard one of two seagoing rafts, or the Robinsons’ newest vessel, the speedy Scarab. On these smaller boats, passengers can scuba dive, explore underwater caves, and occasionally mingle with Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Just last week, says Tim, his guests swam with a pod for nearly two hours. “I finally had to pull myself out of the water,” he gloats. “I have a tough job.”