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Trilogy: Cinnamon buns and band of brothers

By Staff | Dec 1, 2011

Trilogy was founded by CEO Jim Coon (right) and his brother, Rand.

LAHAINA – Once, on Maui, the cinnamon bun reigned as a prime tourist attraction. Read any tourist guide decades ago and you learned of “the famous Coon family” that led snorkel excursions to Lanai and served the famous buns on its early morning trips.

Thirty-eight years later, the buns are still leaving ovens as new generations of the Coon family continue to serve visitors. Mama Coon baked for the first ten years, and her daughters-in-law for the next 20. Baking is now farmed out.

Early promotional materials emphasized the family. Today’s ads and brochures tout Trilogy, the catamaran seen daily on Kaanapali Beach with visitors sometimes braving splashing waves to climb onboard. (Favorite pastime: seeing them sometimes get wet.)

Offering some of the most popular catamaran trips in the islands, Trilogy Excursions got its start when Eldon Coon and sons Jim and Rand started building a three-hulled trimaran.

Trilogy was picked as the name to describe the three partners. The story of Trilogy’s start is fairly well-known (there’s a book). However, Trilogy’s evolution into a company that has sailed hundreds of thousands of people to Lanai, on snorkel trips to Molokini and sunset cruises off Kaanapali is not.

The story teller is Jim Coon, CEO, 66, a modest man whose predecessors go way back to 1888.

This – in each generation – is an entrepreneurial version of band of brothers. The first three brothers established one of the earliest holistic health sanitariums in Washington State. One was also an inventor.

Thirty years later, two of the sons of Meade Coon built a charter fishing boat and sailed for Alaska, operating out of Ketchikan and Sitka.

Their charter boat catered to the very rich. One day a visitor, who happened to have a yacht once owned by gangster Al Capone, suggested that a great destination for a charter boat would be Maui and Lanai.

Eldon knew nothing about the Pineapple Isle. But he would ask everyone he met whether they had been there and what it was like. Soon, he committed to building the Trilogy with Jim and Rand.

The Coons had little funds. So, as Jim explained, the father and his two sons built their dream vessel.

“We worked 14 hours a day, six days a week, because we just had sweat equity. We started at 8, took an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner and worked until midnight. We did that for three years,” he said.

In 1971, they sailed their 50-foot trimaran (three hulls) to Mexico, Central and South America and even the Galapagos on the way to the South Pacific.

The Trilogy eventually docked in Hawaii, with Jim and Rand falling in love with paradise as well as a couple of island girls. The first Trilogy excursion to Lanai was launched on July 5, 1973.

Lanai island then, as now, was privately owned. Others had tried to start a Lanai trip but never asked permission. The Coons became the first to ask for an OK, agreeing to restrict tours to weekdays so locals could enjoy their only beach near Lanai City without have it at besieged with tourists. The Coons won landing rights, which they have enjoyed ever since

Six passengers paying $35 each made the first trip. Jim and Rand captained. Trilogy was on its way to becoming one of the most popular visitor adventures on Maui.

Next: Trilogy sails on in the new century.

Columnist’s Notebook: Voices of Maui has a new daily blog featuring a photo of the day and commentary. Go to voicesofmaui.worldpress.com.