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The sailing Coon family puts down Maui roots

By Staff | Dec 15, 2011

Two visitors — this writer and his wife, Sara — enjoy a Trilogy sunset cruise sometime in the 1990s.

KAANAPALI – When Eldon Coon and sons Jim and Randy of today’s Trilogy Excursions brought the first Trilogy – actually a trimaran with three hulls – to Maui and Lanai nearly 40 years ago, little did they know that the wanderlust that took them sailing from Seattle all the way to the Galapagos Islands off South America would end.

The original Coon family – the third generation is now active in the business – couldn’t have imagined six different Trilogy catamarans would bring what easily could be hundreds of thousands of visitors in more than 10,000 trips (estimated) to a beautiful snorkeling beach on Lanai.

While a lot about Trilogy has been the same, change has been no stranger either. Captains Jim and Captain Rand, as he is known, would land on the Lanai beach and fire up a huge wok. The captains were the cooks for the midday feast, and today’s captains still are. The Coons rarely captain this days, but Chris Walsh still does. He’s been captaining Trilogy I through VI for 33 years.

Trilogy VI now makes the 90-minute run along with Trilogy I (new ships sometimes take on old names). Frolicking dolphins still frequently greet visitors as they near Lanai port, but the harbor itself has gotten a major facelift and looks a lot better than Lahaina Harbor.

Trilogy Excursions added a snorkeling trip to Molokini in the mid-1980s as well as popular sunset cruises from Kaanapali. Navigation is now by state-of-the-art GPS and radar.

Fifteen years ago, the Trilogy Beach Activity Center opened at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. The center dispenses towels, offers snorkeling, scuba and snuba (scuba equipment attached to a tether) lessons, and was the first on the beach to give paddleboard lessons.

Trilogy guests line up in front of the shop to hop aboard, sometimes getting wet in the process. If waves are too big for a safe departure, guests are ferried to Lahaina for boarding there.

Beyond the beach and waves, Trilogy flourishes not only as a successful business, but as an important – not always well-known – contributor to the community.

The company’s core values are similar to those of Michael Moore and his dancers and staff at Old Lahaina Luau. Both believe in giving back. “I don’t like to talk about that,” Jim said. Encouraged, he opened up.

“I believe strongly in giving back to the community. It is doing the right thing. The people I want to celebrate are our staff members (who get the job done).

“We have cultural practitioners, Hawaiians working for our company, and they teach the rest of us. The more I’ve learned, the more I understood what they have to offer us and the world. As a company, we have adapted many of the Hawaiian values.

“I think it is privilege and responsibility we have to share accurate knowledge with our guests – what makes this place so special. We (the industry) deliver a product that is unique in world.”

Among the services the Coons mostly keep under the radar (so to speak) is an annual Blue ‘Aina project that has raised $350,000 for local non-profits.

Each month, a Trilogy catamaran goes for a reef cleanup; a fee is charged for the trip, and two non-profits a month get the proceeds. The Hawaii Eco Tourism Association recently named Trilogy one of only three gold award winners in the state.

Trilogy has programs that teach high schoolers sailing skills and acquaint Lanai residents with Hawaiian culture. It is also regular contributor of free trips offered at nonprofit silent auctions.

The Coon family can be thankful for a great deal since landing on Maui. At Thanksgiving, it even shows its thanks to the island that has been so much a part of its success by giving a turkey to a thousand residents.

The Coons can also be thankful that the family tradition lives on with their sons and daughters. Riley is a captain, Denver teaches snuba and works on the boat, Lilly is in group sales, Ginger manages the activity shop and Lianne handles PR and marketing.

Jim Coon summed it all up on his way back from the turkey giveaway before taking a snooze on the sea: “There is no better island than Maui.”

Columnist’s Notebook: If you have Internet, you can receive daily updates on important or fun local happenings via my new blog, voicesofmaui.wordpress.com, as well as future blogs on the Lahaina News website.