Motoring north along Kauai's western shoreline, I stood near the bow of a 65-foot catamaran, savoring the rhythm of a gentle ocean swell and forgetting all about my pesky predisposition to seasickness.
It's always a pleasure to visit the oldest of Hawaii's major islands, but I'd never before mustered enough courage to join a boat tour of its Napali coast, a dramatic assembly of soaring cliffs sculpted over centuries by rain, wind and the Pacific.
Lauded by countless acquaintances and Kauai experts, the Napali excursions also seemed to inspire a recurring warning: "If you get seasick, you're better off waiting until summer." For years I did just that, declining invitations as I held out for conditions that might better suit my weak stomach.
Hoping for light winds and mellow surf, I recently joined a Capt. Andy's Sailing Adventures tour, operated onboard the company's new Southern Star luxury catamaran, and was thoroughly amazed by what I saw.
"The Napali coast is probably one of the most pristine areas in all of Kauai," said Bruce Fisher, the owner of Honolulu-based Hawaii Aloha Travel. "The best way to really take it in is on a boat."
Fisher and his wife liked Capt. Andy's Napali sunset dinner sailing so much they did it twice and, he said, "we've been recommending it ever since."
Fittingly enough, Capt. Andy's founder, Andy Evans, first traveled to Hawaii via sailboat, in 1980, and he led Zodiac raft tours of the Napali coastline during summer months while working aboard catamarans in Waikiki on Oahu in the winter. That experience later led him to introduce the first tours onboard catamarans, equipped with large engines, to the secluded Kauai coast.
According to Evans, the comfort of those boats has improved a great deal over the 25-year history of his company.
"In the past we had boats that just had rows of seats, and we found it to be real impersonal," he said. "So we designed all of our boats now to have little seating areas that will allow people to get to know each other and try and give them a feeling of sailing with their friends."
Today the company operates three catamarans on trips to Napali, with barbecue and snorkel voyages in the morning and dinner sailings at sunset. All of the boats serve food, but the 49-passenger Southern Star is the only vessel with a kitchen, providing gourmet meals prepared entirely onboard.
Along with the more leisurely sailing options, Capt. Andy's still takes people out in the smaller, 15-passenger Zodiac rafts, giving clients a much more intimate encounter with the Napali coast's marvelous diversity.
"You go in and out of every sea cave and drive under the waterfalls," Evans said.
Captivated by all the caves and secluded beaches I saw during our sailing trip -- but still intimidated by the prospect of traveling over large waves in a much smaller rubber boat -- I asked Evans about the people who joined the rafting expeditions.
"Oddly enough, very rarely does anybody get sick on the raft, because they are too busy holding on," he said with a laugh. "But it's definitely for a more athletic crowd."
Brad Fisk, a Hawaii product development manager for Classic Vacations, said his company regularly books clients on Capt. Andy's sunset sailings but said the rafting trips also draw a great deal of interest.
"We have some fairly affluent younger travelers who really like that opportunity to be doing something much more adventurous," Fisk said. "And Capt. Andy's is really a standout for us."
Commissionable to agents, Capt. Andy's four-hour Napali coast sailings start at $129 for adults and $89 for children. The six-hour rafting trips begin at $149 for adults and $99 for kids.