Zodiacs provide 'true adventures'

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t age 19, Andy Evans already was an old salt when he first set eyes on Kauai's Na Pali coast. It was June 1980, and he had just sailed alone to Hawaii from Ventura, Calif., in a 24-foot sloop.

After anchoring in Hanalei Harbor, Evans hit the waves in nearby Haena. There he met Clancy Greff, who was operating Na Pali tours under the name Captain Zodiac.

"Here's this friendly guy who says, 'Hey, wanna join my tour group?' " Evans recalled.

It was Evans' first experience in a Zodiac, an inflatable rigid-hull raft known for its speed and maneuverability.

"I had never seen anything like it before," he said. "Na Pali blew my mind -- those spectacular green cliffs, caves tucked along the base that you wouldn't see unless you were up as close as we were, waterfalls flowing thousands of feet to the sea."

Evans was planning to sail back to California, but he wound up staying in Hawaii for good. Over the next four years, he worked for Greff in the summer (Zodiacs can't operate off Na Pali in the winter because of the turbulent wave action), and sailed catamarans off Waikiki the rest of the year.

In 1984, Evans started his own tour business, Capt. Andy's Sailing, and this June he founded a separate company, Captain Zodiac Rafting Expeditions, under a licensing agreement with Greff, who now is headquartered in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

Captain Zodiac Rafting Expeditions currently is running two Zodiacs to Na Pali -- the 36-foot, 25-passenger Ihe Kai (Sea Spear), which is equipped with a canopy, a real bathroom and comfortable, ergonomic seating, and the 24-foot, 15-passenger Discovery.

Evans expects another 24-foot Zodiac to be put into service this month.

On the morning expedition aboard Ihe Kai, you can spot marine life, explore sea caves, and go snorkeling.

The day expedition on Discovery includes all this plus a beach landing at Nualolo Kai. Once there, you can snorkel, hike or hop back into the raft for further exploration of the coast. Evans describes the Zodiac excursions as "true adventures."

"They're wet, wild and really fun, but they're more strenuous than most people imagine," he said. "This experience calls to that special person who wants to be right on the water, bumping through every wave, getting wet and having marine life within an arm's reach."

On a typical day, clients will see sea turtles, rays, a variety of fish and curious spinner dolphins who often swim within a few feet of the raft. The rafts zip into lava tubes, sea caves and other places that larger vessels can't visit.

According to Evans, a Zodiac excursion is an amazing journey of discovery in more ways than one."When you're in this little raft beneath 3,000-foot-high cliffs, that really puts you in your place," he said. "You realize you're a very small piece in the grand scheme of things."

Na Pali Morning Expedition

Where: Tour departs from Port Allen Harbor from May through September.
When: 6:30 a.m. to noon (check-in at 6 a.m.)
Cost: $109 for adults, $79 for children age 5 through 12. Includes a deli lunch. Note: This tour is not appropriate for children under age 5, pregnant women or people with back problems.
Commission: 15%
Contact: Phone: (800) 535-0830

Other Captain Zodiac tours:

Na Pali Day Expedition
Departs: Daily at 1 p.m.; returns at sunset.
Cost: $139 per adult and $109 per child, including a pulehu (grilled) beef and teriyaki chicken dinner.

Whale-watching tour
What: Three-hour whale-watching cruises along Kauai's south shore are available from Dec. 20 through April 30.
Departs: 1 p.m. daily.
Cost: $75 per adult and $60 per child. Includes soft drinks.

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