Leaping Whales And Great Grinds

Fresh pineapple is served crisp and cold

One of the things I like about living on Kaua’i is the number of adventure activities to experience. Some are for tourists, but I find that sometimes it’s fun playing a tourist – it’s like taking a mini vacation at home.

If the activity involves delicious food, all the better.

Usually during these activities food seems to be an afterthought. At Blue Dolphin Charters in Port Allen, good food is as important as a good time, so it hires Grinds Café in Ele’ele to cater all of its meals.

Seeking romance and adventure, my husband Dan and I are on the four-hour Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise ($109 for adults and $89 for keiki, minus a 20 percent kama’aina discount).

“We get a lot of local folks who just want to come out and see the whales and dolphins,” says Capt. Chris Stowe, who has been at Blue Dolphin Charters for 23 years.

As the Blue Dolphin – a 63-foot catamaran – glides from the harbor, first mate and safety officer Kevin Vidinha and second mate Christian Jackson pass out icewater, cold tea, soda and snacks.

“Ohhhhh!” Seven minutes into our journey, a collective gasp bubbles forth as a humpback breaches about 200 yards from our ship.

A whale breaches near the Blue Dolphin. Dan Lane photos

Cruising toward the Na Pali coast, whales go off like fireworks. We see sprays of white plumes, splashing breaches, tail slaps and pectoral fins reaching for the endless blue sky.

Soon, barefoot passengers are picking out whales and calls bounce around the catamaran. “There’s one at 2 o’clock! A breach at 11 o’clock! Three at 7 o’clock!” My head zings around in search of spontaneous eruptions.

Stowe keeps us entertained with stories as Vidinha and Jackson pass out beer, wine and mai tais.

“Sometimes, whales are right next to the boat, and their pectoral fin comes up and goes over the bow of the boat. There are people there, and the whales will move their fin away,” he says of the cetaceans’ gentle spirit.

I sip on “the best Mai Tai off the island,” according to Stowe, as a hydrophone is lowered into the water. Soon, high-pitched whale songs are sent around from whales that are about 100 yards from the ship.

Ding! Ding! Ding! “Dinner’s ready!” Jackson calls from below. For some reason, being in the elements makes a person hungry, and we all clamor in line. The all-you-can-eat luau style dinner consists of kalua pork, teriyaki chicken, steamed rice, Hanalei poi, salad, bread, fresh pineapple and chocolate chip cookies.

Kalua pork is moist and flavorful

“Grinds makes all their bread,” Jackson tells me. I slather soft butter on the fresh bread and set out to watch for whales.

“Guys, girls, see that whale at 1 o’clock slapping its tail and pectoral fin? It’s really active over there!” Stowe exclaims.

Sitting at the bow, starboard side, I relish the kalua pork. Bits of fat intensify the flavor and make the meat moist. I mix it with the poi before popping it in my mouth and resume scanning the ocean.

“Ohhhh, a breach!” someone yells and Stowe says, “Straight ahead, keep watchin’!”

The sun, a fiery orange ball, hangs just above the horizon. Ni’ihau is faint in the hazy distance. I take a bite of teriyaki chicken. It’s tangy and moist with chunks of pineapple. The soft rice is perfectly steamed; each grain remains distinct.

“Every humpback whale is born in Hawai’i, so we get residency on them,” Stowe says as we watch a baby play next to its mama. “Babies gain between 150 and 180 pounds per day.”

Capt. Chris Stowe

The Caesar salad is cool and crisp with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan and croutons. I appreciate the effort it takes to keep rice warm and perfectly cooked while keeping the salad chilled and fresh on the ocean.

“Thar she blows! Watch for the tail, here it comes!” Stowe correctly predicts and passengers applaud.

After eating a couple of chewy chocolate chip cookies, made exclusively for Blue Dolphin Charters, it’s hard for me not to go back for seconds. But I am full. As we make our way back to the harbor, I sit back and watch whale shapes silhouetted against the sunset and take deep breaths of fresh, salt air.

“All you need is a bathing suit and a smile, and we provide the rest!” Stowe says.

On that, Blue Dolphin Charters won’t steer you wrong.

Blue Dolphin Charters, Ele’ele
Vegetarian and vegan options available upon request

Ask for the 20 percent kama’aina discount
E-Mail Marta Lane at write.kauai@hawaiiantel.net

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