LAHAINA, Hawaii — Lines sung and the mast hummed. Sails billowed like clouds. The bow sliced through a sea of diamonds, reflections cast by a tropical sun.
We were riding the same winds that welcomed Polynesian outriggers to Hawaii a thousand years before we sailed from the historic port of Lahaina on Maui to the pineapple isle of Lanai.
Our sail, arranged through Island Odysseys and led by Trek Hawaii, both of Honolulu, put us in touch with blue-water adventure, unspoiled beaches and natural history. Eight of us, aged mid-20s to 50s, sailed aboard a 45-foot sloop, Dawn Treader, accompanied by a captain and mate.
Most in our group had never sailed before, but that didn't seem to matter. Before leaving the harbor, Trek Hawaii leader Doug Pendleton deftly taught us the basics of sailing and water safety. In no time we would tie a bowline knot, raise and lower the mainsail and jib and know port from starboard.
Buoyed by our new-found knowledge, we pulled up anchor and began steering a course through a fleet of bright-hulled sailboats bobbing at moorings that a century ago secured whaling ships by the hundreds. The whalers have disappeared, but pods of humpbacks still ply the ocean off Lahaina. They're a frequent sight for sailors during winter months.
Once clear of the anchorage we hoisted more canvas and headed up AuAu Channel along Maui's Kaanapali Coast. A steady gust of balmy trade wind quickly filled Dawn Treader's sails and soon the deck sloped 45 degrees. We whisked by a scalloped shore of sandy coves and rocky points backed by sugar cane fields that climbed halfway up the soaring cliffs called pali in Hawaiian.
We headed farther out to sea where a stiffer wind funneled down the watery strait. By noon we were ready to take the helm from the captain and, in turn, held the boat to the wind. The wheel was big but responsive to the slightest touch, and surged with the power of the elements, connecting whoever held it to the wind and sea.
After crossing the channel and rounding the head of Lanai we stuck out a jib boom so the forward sail could catch more air, then ran south before the wind. The boat leaped ahead, and I went forward to the bowsprit that projected beyond the deck. Hanging onto the rigging, I leaned out over the water until I was skimming just inches above its surface.
Dolphins Join Trip
Salt and spray stung my eyes and my chest. Startled, I noticed that I was not alone. A figure in the water on either side kept pace with me. It was a pair of dolphins, soon joined by others. They swam on top of the swells being pushed up by our bow.
We raced side by side like that for nearly an hour, flushing schools of flying fish that shot out of the water and glided ahead just out of reach.
Finally the boat slowed, our sails began to luff and the dolphins veered from sight. I looked up and saw that we were pulling into a tiny harbor jammed with other sailboats, Manele Bay. Sailors from all over the islands had come to Lanai to celebrate a night of alfresco dining, dancing and drinking, dubbed the Pineapple Yacht Club Commodores Ball.
This annual luau is held on the first Saturday in November on Lanai, the least developed of the main Hawaiian chain. Home to the world's largest pineapple plantation, it is a slice of the Hawaii of old. Only 2,600 people live on the entire island, most in Lanai City, a quiet company town in a stand of Norfolk pine.
Although there is air service to Lanai City there are no high-rise hotels, no fancy resorts, just a single, 12-room hotel. Most visitors arrive by sail and sleep on the beach.
That being our plan, we tied up to the pier at Manele, portaged our gear a couple of hundred yards to Hulopoe Bay and set up camp beneath the palms and mesquite trees on a beautiful white-sand beach. A refreshing plunge in the warm Pacific rewarded our efforts.
A Tantalizing Meal
As the sun dipped low behind the island, setting the sky afire in oranges, pinks and reds, the first mate whipped up a tantalizing meal of fresh sashimi, barbecued chicken and a salad seasoned with savory sweet Maui onions. Chowing down at picnic tables, we could hear ukulele players and slack-key guitarists tuning up down the beach.
We joined in the music, singing Hawaiian songs and whalers' chanteys around a blazing bonfire. The evening passed too quickly, and soon people began to slip off to sleep. Not wishing the night to end, I strolled down the moonlit beach and climbed to the top of a rocky point.
Standing there beneath an inky sky pierced by blinking stars, I closed my eyes. Gusts of tropical wind began to pluck at my shirt and caress my skin, and, suddenly, I couldn't wait till morning to sail the blue waters of Hawaii again.
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Hawaii offers all levels of chartered sailing, from hourlong rides aboard zesty catamarans off the beach at Waikiki to four-day packaged sailing adventures. Experience is not required. You can either sit back and enjoy the ride or join the crew in sailing the boat.