American Safari Cruises originally planned to dock its 145-foot yacht, the Safari Explorer, at the Kaunakakai Harbor on Saturday. Instead, the cruise company sailed in on Sunday out of respect for those protesting this new tourist venture.
“We held off one day at the request of the protesters,” said Capt. Dan Blanchard, CEO of Alaska-based ASC, during a recent phone interview. “We are trying to meet them halfway.”
For some local residents, a community meeting last Friday and ASC’s extensive efforts to build relationships with the Molokai community didn’t change their mind. A contingent of protesters waived signs on Sunday morning at the harbor asking the cruise ship to “Go Home!”
“I respect the protesters,” said Blanchard. “A couple of years ago I would have been out there with them too.”
At the meeting on Friday in Kaunakakai — which Blanchard feels “went well” — ASC presented what the cruise ship will do and “what we don’t do,” said Blanchard.
When the maximum of 36 passengers arrive every 7-10 days, what they won’t do is participate in beach landings, kayaking or any other potentially invasive activity. The plan is for the upscale yacht to sail 24 voyages between Maui/Lanai and the Big Island through May 2012.
“For the most part this is a cultural tour,” said Blanchard.
A typical visit will involve a landing at the harbor on Saturday followed by a tour of Halawa hosted by Lawrence Aki. He will guide the group to the moa’ula waterfall in Halawa Valley. Along the way, guests spend time with Aki and his family talking story, listening to the land and absorbing the spirit of the natural world and ancient cultural practices passed down through generations of native Hawaiians.
After spending the night on the ship, the group on Sunday will visit the western half of Molokai, seeing the Purdy Macadamia Nut Farm, the Molokai Plumeria Farm and finishing with a traditional pa’ina at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center, featuring local cuisine including fresh fish and poi, seaweed, Molokai sweet potatoes and pork from the imu. Local musicians will join in the celebration along with a kumu hula dancer. ASC is working with Kumu Farms, Coffees of Hawaii, Permaculture farmers, and the Livestock Cooperative to supply local items.
Blanchard compares it to an Elderhostel tour where senior citizens visit a place in order to learn about and be immersed in the local culture. “We will learn about invasive species and other local concerns,” he said. “The main thing is the spirit and the culture.”
Blanchard and his wife have been visiting Molokai since 2005 developing relationships with local residents and businesses. “Introducing our guests to the traditional culture and history of the Hawaiian Islands is a key component of the trip and crucial to our philosophy of authentic travel.”
A Hawaiian blessing for the yacht and crew took place on Oct. 25 on Molokai. Hawaiian cultural advisors from Maui, Lanai, Molokai and the Big Island were invited to attend. The blessing celebrated the beginning of operations in Hawaii. Traditional Hawaiian protocols are also being arranged at each island to ask permission for entry.
A failure to follow Molokai protocols, in the opinion of members of the ‘Aha Ki’ole, was the cause for the protest. Blanchard said he is in conversation with local activist Walter Ritte and ‘Aha Ki’ole moku representative Mervin Dudoit to make sure that all future activities are truly pono.
“We followed the protocol that we knew at the time,” said Blanchard. The problem, said Blanchard is that, “they (‘Aha Ki’ole) felt they weren’t brought in on it.”
Blanchard said that as he entered into various conversations with Molokai locals, there was “not an absolutely identifiable protocol … It is not our intent to hoodwink anyone.”
Blanchard met with the Molokai Chamber of Commerce and Lawrence Aki as far back as 2005. Blanchard said he respects the desire of the ‘Aha Ki’ole group to maintain local control over the type and quantity of visitor coming to Molokai.
“We are waiting to hear back from Merv and Walter about meetings,” said Blanchard. “We are hoping that next week or the following there will be meetings. We will let the dust settle and we will come back and talk. We are always willing to come back.”
And what if future meetings turn negative? “If the community doesn’t want us we will reconsider,” said Blanchard.
Blanchard emphasized that ASC will continue to be sensitive to local desires. For example, the company had originally planned to visit areas along the North Shore as well as Hale O Lono Harbor. When he learned the history, sacredness and local connections to these places, the plans were quickly withdrawn.
Besides the questions about protocol, Blanchard said the only other concerns raised on Friday involved “opening Pandora’s Box” for future visitors and the potential impact on local real estate. Given the limitations of Kaunakakai Harbor and the feeling of the local residents, Blanchard does not believe his tours will be followed by “1,000-foot cruise ships.”
He also does not feel his passengers will snatch up prime real estate on Molokai after visiting the island. Most of the tour guests are folks in their 60’s and 70’s who already have retirement homes elsewhere.
“There are still things that need to be worked out,” said Blanchard. “We will meet soon with groups that have concerns. But so far the outpouring of support has been tremendous.”
A second protest against American Safari Cruises is planned for Thursday, Nov. 10, at the Kaunakakakai Wharf starting at 6 a.m.