Trilogy Excursions celebrates 50 years with dolphin, whale sightings, exclusive Lāna‘i sailings and Mom Coon’s world-famous cinnamon buns.
By Carla Tracy, Dining Editor
With the wind at your back, the sails unfurled and the cool trades blowing, you may savor the world-famous cinnamon buns aboard Trilogy Excursions on a morning cruise across the ‘Au‘au Channel to Lāna‘i. The fourth-generation recipe results in gooey, sticky, sweet and toothsome buns that are a match made in deep-blue-ocean heaven with hot, freshly brewed Capt.’s blend coffee. The cinnamon aroma is intoxicating, competing with and then overpowering the salt air.
Then a spinner dolphin leaps, and in season, a humpback whale slaps its pectoral fins on the horizon, and another 40-ton wonder breaches in a thunderous splash. Pass another bun, please. But wait. Besides the doughy delights glazed with a creamy topping that seeps down and permeates every bite, Trilogy’s flagship Discover Lāna‘i Tour entices with tropical fruits, pineapple juice and hot chocolate and complements it with oven-baked croissant breakfast sandwiches on the 6:30 a.m. departure out of Lāhainā and assorted deli wraps on the 10 a.m. cruise to Lāna‘. The homey and filling assortment is all served onboard before a bevy of ocean activities and a full, sit-down lunch on land.
Founded 50 years ago, Trilogy boasts exclusive rights to escort guests to Hulopo‘e Marine Preserve on Lāna‘i where you may swim, snorkel and snuba. Spinner dolphins often leap and twist through the air in large schools in the protected waters, and green-sea turtles surface above delicate coral reefs teeming with yellow tangs and bluespine unicornfish.
Take a beach shower under the palms with butterflies flitting about. Walk to the peninsula to view Pu‘u Pehe (aka Sweetheart Rock) for photo ops. And then gather at Hale O Manele, an open-air pavilion overlooking Manele Harbor, Lāna‘i’s haven for private and recreational vessels. The “hale,” or “hut,” is where a plantation-style barbecue lunch is served, complete with vegetarian soba noodles stir-fried in a giant wok in front of you as chicken is flamed on a kiawe-fired grill.
There’s nothing like a swim in the ocean to work up a hearty appetite. On a recent cruise, Jon Hamm (Mad Men) enjoyed the adventure. He is just one celeb in a long line of high-profile guests that have sailed on Trilogy.
“After a morning of fun, enjoy our plantation pulehu, or off-the-grill, barbecue lunch,” said LiAnne Driessen, third generation of the famous Coon family that founded and continues to run the successful 50-year-old company. “We’ve also got corn-on-the-cob, Sensei Farms salad with Mom Coon’s dressing and assorted soft rolls, too.”
Guests 21 and older may imbibe in premium bar beverages and sundaes made from Hawai‘i-churned ice cream on the return sail to Maui.
“If there is one thing most people can agree on is that a home-cooked meal, especially by a loved one, not only fills our bellies with sustenance but offers a deep comfort that settles into our bones,” said Trilogy co-founder and Capt. Randy Coon. “Perhaps that is the reason that our Mama Coon’s famous cinnamon rolls have been one of the most memorable parts of our excursions and keep guests coming back for more.”
Who was Mom Coon, you may wonder? Jeannette Coon was the wife of Capt. Eldon Coon and the mother to captain sons, James and Randy and daughter Patty. The family sailed all over the Pacific before landing on Maui Nui decades ago.
“Mom was galley chef, ships doctor, laundress, and all over Mother hen who kept her brood full and content,” Randy said.
As the story goes, back in the 1920s Eldon and his brother Afton Coon built a fishing boat in Port Townsend, Washington, set sail to Alaska and settled in Sitka and Ketchikan, raising their families. Eldon operated a charter-boat business, but a shipwreck in 1969 compelled him to move his family to Seattle where he and his adult sons built another boat. Christened the Trilogy in 1971, the 50-foot trimaran opened the doors of the South Pacific world to Eldon and his clan.
“They sailed for two years down the coast of central and south America then crossed over to the Galapagos to the Marquesas Islands, then to Hawai‘i – specifically, Lāna‘i then to Maui,” LiAnne said. “As they voyaged from port to port, everywhere they went they were welcomed and included into people’s homes. They never came empty-handed.”
The Coon family is known for their storytelling, musical abilities and hospitality. They loved including people and inviting people over to their boat as well. They also loved sharing food. Music and food were the two things that bridged any language, cultural or lifestyle barrier.
Hmm… remember that Jimmy Buffet song, “Son of a Son of a Sailor”? Well, he could write some serious sea-faring lyrics about the Coon family, too.
Once James, aka “Jim,” and Randy stepped foot in Hawai‘i, both married island girls. Jim married a Chinese-Hawaiian woman from O‘ahu with family roots on Moloka‘i and a Hawaiian genealogy that stretches back generations. Together they had three children, including LiAnne. Two of the children still work for Trilogy – LiAnne is the director of sales and marketing, and her younger brother, Riley, is a captain and director of sustainable tourism. LiAnne’s older sister, Meili, branched out to start her own wedding makeup and hair business on Maui.
Likewise, Randy married a hapa Chinese girl from Hilo. All three of Randy’s children work in the business. Lily is in group sales, and Denver is Trilogy’s legal counsel. Ginger, the middle child, is the corporate administrator. Her husband, Gabe Lucy, is the company president.
LiAnne says she and her cousins grew up on the boats together, and “worked all aspects from a very young age.” That’s where Mom Coon’s cinnamon buns come in – now called Grandma Coon’s cinnamon buns by the younger generation.
“Every other Saturday, I would go with my mom to Lāhainā and spend 12 hours in a kitchen, baking over 300 pans of cinnamon rolls to supply our boats – which included washing all the pans multiple times, waiting for the rolls to cool down so we could wrap them and freeze them. My mom paid me 10 cents per pan, and it was the most fun, albeit a lot of work, and a way to start earning some money. I was seven years old. The recipe has been in our family for generations and continues to be enjoyed on all our morning excursions.”
“Most of the kids helped their moms bake cinnamon rolls and all six of us crewed on the boats when we were teenagers through college during school breaks,” LiAnne continues. “It didn’t really feel like work since we were raised doing so – sort of like doing your household chores – once we got older, getting paid to work felt like a bonus!”
Geez, how many boats does Trilogy have to be employing most of the brood? At this time, there are seven custom, sloop-rigged sailing catamarans that conduct daily boat tours to not only Lāna‘i, but to Kā‘anapali and Molokini islets as well.
LiAnne’s kids and other kids born from her generation will soon be baking cinnamon buns and crewing boats. As founders Jim and Randy age, they still boat privately. While the pair are no longer active in Trilogy’s day-to-day decision-making, Jim is chairman of the company’s board and Randy is a board member. Jim continues to spend his summers in Alaska and enjoys his fishing boat. Randy still sails here and abroad.
Now the family-held company is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the younger generation is well-prepped to take over the helm. My how time flies. Especially when you’re out there sailing and enjoying those cinnamon buns.