Talking Story with Fair Wind Cruises’ Alex Dant: How a Bad Mooring Started an Iconic Business
By Kent Coules, Publisher
When I ask Fair Wind Cruises VP of Operations Alex Dant to sum up how the business has changed over 48 years, he says, “When we started, it was about going out with our guests and enjoying nature. Today we also teach our guests how to protect the resources. That’s part of our kuleana (responsibility).”
Fair Wind takes their role in protecting their work environment very seriously. For several years, all Fair Wind boats have run on bio-diesel fuel, which consists of recycled vegetable oil and is harmless to the ocean and its inhabitants. “I’m a bit of a gear head,” says the 31-year-old. “I actually converted my car to bio-diesel first. The success of that experiment helped convince my parents to let me convert our boats.”
The journey began in 1969 when Alex’s grandfather, Michael Dant, built the original Fair Wind on an island in the Stockton River in Northern California. Michael was a successful carpenter who built homes around Pebble Beach in the ’60s shortly after the opening of the legendary 17 Mile Drive.
“My grandfather was a free spirit,” says Alex. “He and my grandmother Janet launched the 50-foot ‘trimaran’ in 1971 and set sail for Tahiti with seven other friends, making a planned short stop in Hawai‘i. They got permission to moor at Kailua-Kona, went onshore and came back to see the boat broken up on the rocks, right in front of the Hulihe’e Palace. The mooring was in poor condition and broke off with the boat. Somehow, my grandfather was able to convince a crane operator at the Royal Kona Resort to bring the crane down to the wreck and bring it on land.
“Times were so different then. He was able to restore the boat in a junkyard. Capt. Cook Building Supply loaned him materials to make the repairs. He fell in love with the people and the area, and decided to stay.”
Dant started taking people out on his rejuvenated Fair Wind I, and it started to catch on. He made a brochure—the first one promoted a $12 snorkel and sail. He soon started sunset dinner sails when no one else was doing that in Kona, says Alex.
After a few years, Michael Dant’s son, Orville “Puhi” Dant, came to the Big Island for a visit. Puhi (“Eel” in Hawaiian) earned his nickname because he was a master diver who had a special relationship with an eel, such that “he would put fish in his own mouth to feed the eel. My dad also enjoyed the island so much that he didn’t leave. Eventually, he and my mother Mendy bought the business from my grandfather. My grandfather went back to the States where he liked to wander in his RV from Alaska to Arizona.”
One of Fair Wind's Kealakekua Cruises
Today Fair Wind has grown to three boats—the Fair Wind II, the Hula Kai and Capt. Jack. They offer three snorkel tours, an evening manta ray snorkel adventure, private, group and a newly launched reef and marine life educational charter aboard the Capt. Jack. “The morning snorkel adventure is our most popular, but our manta ray adventure is also popular,” says Alex. “People feel a real connection to the mantas.”
Celebrities who have walked the decks of the Fair Wind fleet include Bruce Jenner, Bjorn Borg, Lloyd Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Mac Davis, Billy Joel, and the late Robin Williams. “Most of our celebrity clients book private charters via third parties, so we don’t know they’re going to be joining us until they arrive on the boat,” says Alex. “In any case, we don’t worry because we treat all our guests with a high level of service and professionalism!”
I ask Alex what’s changed in the almost 50 years since the Dant family started sharing ocean wonders with Hawai‘i Island visitors. “It’s a completely different time,” he says. “It was a smaller town and there were little to no rules or regulations regarding the ocean tourism business. Had my grandfather showed up today and experienced the same events, there would be a totally different outcome.
“As for the water, looking at the coral today you can definitely see the bleaching effects of climate change and water pollution. The colors have changed since my first memories of the ‘90s. Today we talk about our ocean environment such as the fish who protect the coral, and how we as humans need to improve our behaviors, such as buying single-use plastics, and being mindful regarding recycling whenever possible. The biggest difference is that our business choices and education goals for our guests revolve around our sustainability mission.”
No matter which adventure you choose, it’s a fair bet that you’ll have a spectacular time booking Fair Wind Cruises.
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[This story appears in print in the December 2019-February 2020 issues of This Week Big Island.]
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