sun, fun & everything in between • honolua bay with gemini charters

Any day when the sun is out and you find yourself on Honolua Bay is a perfect day. So my friend Tenneh and I could not contain ourselves when we headed to Ka‘anapali Beach to board the Gemini, a well-maintained 64-foot catamaran operated by the Shipp family and their wonderful crew for more than two decades.

Cruise director David Foellinger, also the designated “keeper of all memories for this ocean tribe,” checked us in for this exciting snorkel sail trip. I get how he got penned this title. David has been with the Gemini family since 1984 and shares an abundant flow of stories and naturalist info. He arrived in Maui 28 years ago and joined the SuperStar crew with owners Gary and Ming Shipp.

In 1990, after SuperStar was sold, Gemini arrived via Seattle to Kona and a partnership with the Westin Maui Resort began. In 1992, tragedy struck when Gary suffered a shallow water black out after free diving in Lana‘i leaving his young family behind. The loyal crew stayed strong and vowed to continue his legacy. More than half the team has been with Gemini since it first launched from Ka‘anapali and, in many ways, has grown to be a real family.

“We are a one-boat family business,” said David. “We take 49 people max so the quality of our service is maintained. In the past 20 years, we have worked with the Westin where guests return year after year. We have met some as children who are now with their own children and we just love to see them.”

Tenneh and I sipped on lemonade while listening to the safety briefing. The crew was very attentive, offered snacks and walked around to refill cups. Tenneh and I leisurely lounged in and out of the cabin depending on how strong the wind was. But as we were getting close to our destination, we had a delightful surprise.

A pod of dolphins appeared, twirling and showing off. Everyone whipped out cameras and squealed with glee. The excitement heightened when suddenly three baby dolphins seemed to be escorting us on each side of the boat. Though it is never a guarantee, it is not that uncommon for dolphins to get close and play on a boat’s wake. “They like being under the boat because sometimes it feels like back scratching and it  can remove some parasites,” explained David. “They are so aware and sensitive to energy. They love children’s voices, then women. Dolphins don’t listen to men at all. I guess it’s a natural law,” he laughed. “There is a resident pod in Manele Bay on Lana‘i. Small pods come in to rest and socialize here at Honolua Bay. A pod can be as large as 200 to 300 and they don’t hang out 24 hours a day. In Lana‘i, they stay close to shore. They feed during nighttime and split up. Lana‘i has the most predictable pod. It shows what a healthy system they have for feeding and breeding. If there was no food, the dolphins would be gone.”
We finally reached Honolua Bay, which means “two bays”. And while it is one big bay, the name might’ve been derived from its double personalities. A telltale sign that the season has shifted to winter is when Honolua Bay changes from being a tranquil snorkeling oasis to producing sets upon flawless sets of barreling waves. Every year, the top female surfers of the world gather here to compete in the Billabong Pro tour finale.
“If we don’t go to Honolua, we are at Ka‘anapali and Olowalu sailing for sure,” said David. “The north winds will take us to Mala Wharf, which is more of a wreck dive. There is a reef shark there that has made the area its home, just across from the Buddhist temple. Sometimes we get to Lana‘i with the west winds across the channel. Reefs are pristine and healthy, but the fish are more scattered there. It is eight miles across and it takes an hour so we don’t want folks to get seasick because there is a tidal current that happens. A full moon or new moon brings intense tidal pull. But we have good summers and it’s never a problem.”
As we anchored, everyone has already been fitted with snorkel gear. Prescription masks, children-size gear, flotation devices and snorkeling instructions are also available.
A videographer from Ocean Life Productions is onboard to record guest’s underwater adventures for a fee.
We saw pairs of ornate and raccoon butterflyfish, wrasses, a tiny white-spotted toby, some humuhumunukunukuapua‘a and the biggest, oldest turtle I’ve ever seen just resting at the bottom. We frolicked about the warm crystal blue water for a good hour and we were famished after beholding all that wonder. It was great to rinse with a fresh water shower and find lunch ready: teriyaki chicken, lemon sautéed mahi mahi, vegetarian fried rice, island crudités, fresh taro rolls, and peanut butter and jelly for the keiki. The Westin Maui caters the food, and they do a fine job. I must’ve had thirds of the delicious spread.
A welcome trend among commercial boats, Gemini uses compostable plates, utensils and cups made from corn syrup. The boat also has a permanent submerged mooring in most areas it visits. When using an anchor, it is dropped in the sand, and the crew is careful not put out too much chain to avoid scraping the reef. “We do the most good with the least amount of harm,” said David. “We can’t exist without having an impact, so we maximize the good. We have heard about turtles developing tumors from eating cigarette butts. In the old days, we had commercial whaling to blame, but now, it’s the continued degradation of their habitat. Just recently, two whales were found tangled in fishing nets.”
“Most of my life is spent on the ocean so I have a deep connection. We focus on education and always warn guests against touching anything. We are careful not to break the law, to guard over our livelihood. It’s our life and so we protect it and care for it. We say malama o ke kai, to care for the sea.”
Gemini also offers sunset sails, private charters, and of course, whale watching when in season. “Whale watching usually peaks on Valentine’s Day,” said David during a post-snorkel interview. “Today was especially fun. We had one swimming right underneath the boat and there was a competition pod. Mornings are usually the best because the water is calm.” Dink Younkerman, a naturalist from Alaska, migrates along with the whales and works with Gemini during whale season.
After winter’s perfect swells subside and the whales head back to Alaska, the pristine reefs and all its residents remain for the lucky ones to experience. And at least for that day, as we stretched our limbs and dove into the rich, deep blue water, as we shared the bay with the small pod of dolphins a mere 100 feet away, as we lay on the trampoline while the wind carried us back to Ka‘anapali, we certainly felt like BFF’s with Lady Luck herself.


Gemini, a 64-foot catamaran, which offers year-round snorkeling adventures, private charters, seasonal whale watches and sunset sails
Daily trips at various times
Ka‘anapali Beach

Please call 669-0508 or visit the website at

— eliza escano

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