HAW-OahucatamaranAfter two years' worth of tours along Oahu's western coastline, the Hoku Naia, a 65-foot, custom-built catamaran, seems to have established a unique relationship with a wide range of Hawaii's dolphins.

The boat's crew, in fact, insists that many of those dolphins not only recognize the catamaran itself but also the individuals who work onboard almost daily. That relationship, it turns out, comes in handy all the time.

"Everybody else out there is kind of like cowboys," Hoku Naia's manager, Dean Elvenia, said of other west Oahu dolphin tour operators. "They kind of run down the dolphins and try to cut them off. We're different. We actually stay on the outside, and we'll call them using the words 'Mai, mai, mai,' which in Hawaiian means come, and they'll just swim directly over to the boat."

In conjunction with its 50th anniversary, Star of Honolulu Cruises & Events launched the Hoku Naia dolphin-watching tours in 2007 after five years of planning. While designing and building the custom catamaran took up nearly three years of that process, locating the best Oahu tour destination didn't require much deliberation.

"It was pretty clear right from the beginning that the west side was the perfect spot for viewing dolphins," said Richard Davison, general manager at Star of Honolulu. "The consistency of sightings, the calm waters and that gorgeous background scenery just couldn't be beat anywhere else."

Leaving the Waianae Harbor at 9:30 a.m., the two-hour cruises run Tuesdays through Sundays and are $63 (including lunch) for adults, $38 for children. Add $20 for transportation from Waikiki.

Visit www.hokunaia.com.

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