Patti Medenwald swam head-first into the surge flowing through a 3-foot hole in the cave's wall. She pushed her long, thin fingers through the opening, gripped its outside edge, swung her fins in front of her and braced them against the hole's inside edges.
She crouched and clutched, waiting patiently for the current to reverse. Pressure built against her mask, but she kept her head as steady as the interlaced sunbeams streaming into the cave through smaller openings above her. The rumble of water rushing past her ears overlapped with the soothing pattern of her measured breathing for seconds that felt like minutes until, finally, the surge shifted.
For an instant, she felt weightless.
Then the water began to pull.
She held her position until the surge peaked, then slid her fins inward and through the hole. She shouted "Whmbeeeee! through her regulator and launched feet-first into "The Shotgun, one of nature's wildest water slides, about 60 feet below the surface at First Cathedral, one of the most spectacular scuba sites in Maui County. The dive would be our week's best from aboard the 96-foot Broward Kakela.
This yacht, like the barrel of "The Shotgun, is an exciting ride unique to the local environment. Similar to experienced divers enjoying the Cathedrals for the first time, guests who choose this Hawaii-based yacht for vacation will find something a bit more adventurous than a typical week of charter.
Kakela's home is on the western shore of Oahu, at the Ko Olina Marina. It is the only marina in the area that can accommodate a yacht her size, a salient fact when trying to understand how a state surrounded by water teeming with singing humpback whales, tournament-ready marlin and easily accessible reefs sees less megayacht traffic in a year than many Caribbean islands see in a day.
"Cruising is kind of a new thing here in Hawaii, said Capt. Rick Medenwald, Patti's husband, who leads Kakela's four-person crew. "There are more boats registered in Utah than in Hawaii. There's just no place to put them. Most of our charter was in Maui County, the group of islands just north of the big island at the chain's bottom. We cruised nearly the entire western coast of Maui, courtesy of Kakela's owner, and our three-stateroom ride outstretched every boat on the water-by at least 30 feet LOA.
That's not to say Kakela is a misfit. She is the logical extension of the surf's-up culture into the world of surf and turf.
Her owner, a Maui resident, is among the fifth generation of the Baldwin family, whose missionary ancestors arrived from Connecticut in the late 1800s and befriended Hawaii's ruling monarchy. One day, said Nancy Bermel, Kakela's general manager, the king and queen "stood on the point with Reverend Baldwin and said, 'As far as your eye can see, is yours.'
The family, of course, had boats, and Kakela's owner, in tune with the local scene, made due with Piper, his 43-foot Bertram, while dreaming of a larger sistership. In 1999, his long-held desire for a motoryacht overtook the practical limitations caused by the dearth of large-yacht marinas, and he bought Kakela, his "castle.
Maui County is a haven for divers and anglers, both of which this well-kept 1988 build is designed to please. Her cockpit is about a third-again bigger than her afterdeck, with a dive compressor and tank stowage in the lazarette, plenty of space to gear up and one-step access to the swim platform, which is wide enough to fully turn while wearing fins.
The cockpit also allows for moving easily around the Murray Brothers fighting chair, which we learned when a mahi took a liking to the lure on the end of our 30-pound test in the Auau Channel.
Capt. Medenwald slowed Kakela, moved from the bimini-shaded flying bridge to the after control station overlooking the cockpit, and encouraged Yachting's art director, Rana Bernhardt, a first-time angler, to take hold of the Penn rod and reel. By the time she descended the ladder into the cockpit, first mate Craig Miller had tended to the other trolling lines and was ready to explain proper technique for the fight.
Bernhardt climbed in, listened carefully and skillfully landed a 20-pounder in about 10 minutes. She beamed as the captain and first mate helped her prepare for a few keepsake photos, then watched as they did the dirty work of handling the fishbox and hosing the deck.
Just before the bubble of excitement burst, executive chef Jana McMahon appeared on the afterdeck two steps up.
"Fish fighting makes me hungry, she said, and presented a platter of freshly sliced mango and cantaloupe, gloriously salty Maui chips and a pitcher of iced African Rooibos herb red tea on the afterdeck's cocktail table.
Beyond showing off what makes this boat a great match for these waters, the half-hour of fishing, like diving "The Shotgun with Patti Medenwald, perfectly captured the friendly, active attitude this crew brings to charter. The boat's design-with no side decks outside the saloon, helm-focused seating up top and an eating area in the country kitchen-style galley that rivals the dining table in size-means Kakela's crew are very much part of the charter experience. During our time aboard, they seemed genuinely thrilled to be sharing their home waters with us.
"It sounds corny, but we like to meet the people, Capt. Medenwald said. "We meet some really great people.
And they take those people to some really great places.
Most of Maui's western coastline is ruggedly beautiful, often with stretches of chunky black lava instead of the soft white sand displayed in so many postcards. There are places, such as Ka'anapali, where Marriotts and Sheratons share space with luxury condos and golf courses, but they are the exception amid the sweet, fragrant pineapple farms, blossoming purple jacaranda trees and towering, verdant mountains. Capt. Medenwald can remember how, just 30 years ago, only three hotels welcomed visitors to Ka'anapali-and how even then, it was considered a full-fledged resort strip compared with the undeveloped coastline to its north and south.
"It's a double-edged sword, he said of the development as Kakela cruised past at about 12 knots. "I'd like to keep the sleepy, backwater town feeling, but then again, I want to be driving boats like this.
For all four crew members, Kakela represents the pinnacle of a local on-the-water career. Miller remembers taking his kayak out to meet passing motoryachts and offer his résumé. He and McMahon are in their 40s, like the Medenwalds, who have worked aboard local fishing and charter diving boats since the 1970s.
"We've got a lot of miles together, the captain said of himself and Patti. "Both of us have always wanted to do a job like this, but there just wasn't anything like it available out here.
Their local knowledge is impressive, and it comes in handy when your size means you're on the hook all the time.
"You really kind of go with the weather here, Capt. Medenwald said, discussing a few of the calmer anchorages he likes to share with guests. "We're right in the middle of the ocean, and it can be hard to predict a month out.
Also impressive is their confidence in the hands-on owner, who treats charter like a business and gives them what they need to get the job done.
"I really respect him, Capt. Medenwald said. "He hasn't told me once to stop spending money.
McMahon takes a similar approach to provisioning: She is hands-on in the markets, using her knowledge of local ingredients and her connections as the co-owner of Gloria's Food Catering of Maui to ensure charter clients have whatever they desire. The food is the most formal part of charter aboard Kakela, with dishes that taste just as exquisite as meals served aboard motoryachts twice her size.
We asked for healthy indulgences when McMahon contacted us before the trip, and we got just that. In every dish, we tasted only flavor: light, zesty, powerful flavor uncluttered by heavy sauces or overwhelmed by gargantuan proportions. (No "gut bombs, as she would say.) Everything she prepared-from tangy, sweet lemon bars to seared tuna with shittake mushroom teriyaki buerre blanc, from lamb chops with mint sauce to crabcakes with mango tapenade-exploded with unique combinations of local taste and gourmet texture.
"Why not concentrate on what's available wherever you are? McMahon asked. "Grab the local produce and make it your own.
That's the general concept aboard Kakela. From the food to the diving to the fishing, this crew takes the best of what the area has to offer and turns it into a memorable charter experience.