Add sailing to list of
the Duke’s loves
It's hard to imagine today what the makai end of the Ala Wai canal looked like 60 years ago. There was no slip-filled yacht harbor then, or even a channel through the reef to the ocean.
Boat owners who moored their small vessels in the area made their way out to sea through Kewalo Basin because the connecting waterway had yet to be filled in to create what's now Ala Moana Park.
On the Ewa side of the Ala Wai basin there was a sliver of land that a small group of men thought would make a good location for a sailing club, since the war in the Pacific was drawing to a close.
The Territory of Hawaii controlled the land and although the Army had built a shack and a small dock there during the war, it was no longer being used.
So, on April 20, 1944, with permission from the territorial government, 37 boating enthusiasts founded the Waikiki Yacht Club on that site and began to reestablish competitive offshore sailing in Hawaii.
Among those first charter members were local businessmen, military personnel and Hawaii's most famous waterman, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
It may, in fact, come as a surprise to some of those celebrating Kahanamoku's 114th birthday this weekend, that not only was Kahanamoku an Olympic swimmer and a superb surfer and paddler, but he was a highly competitive sailor and served on the WYC's early board of directors.
And, like those involved in Hawaii's other water sports, there are still a few veteran sailors around who can recall not only Kahanamoku's sailing ability, but also his commanding presence as a member of the WYC.
As WYC historian Mike Simpson tells the story, when the club was having some new pilings set for a dock, a Navy officer peered over the fence and declared that the club had no permission to put them in.
But then, as he scanned the club members' faces, he suddenly recognized Kahanamoku, who assured him they were just helping the military to clean up the area. Permission granted.
Sometime later, Simpson recalls, some club members, including Kahanamoku, were hauling a stack of lumber from an old dumpsite to the club in a pickup truck. Along the way, a motorcycle cop pulled them over and asked why they didn't have a red flag on the back of the load.
Kahanamoku, who in those days was Honolulu's perennial sheriff, leaned out the window and said, "Hey brah, can't you see our flag back there?"
And, of course, the officer recognized him and said, "Oh sure, Duke. Now I see it. Go ahead."
One of the WYC's last surviving charter members is Roger Willcox, who is 86 and still sailing, but now off the Connecticut coast. He clearly remembers Kahanamoku and that he often raced against Duke's S-class boat.
And, along with the sailing, Willcox also remembers how he and Kahanamoku, both competitive swimmers, "installed mooring anchors in 30-foot-deep water opposite the club, using chunks of salvaged iron, chain and railroad ties."
So, while the big party honoring Kahanamoku will be on Kuhio Beach this weekend, you can be sure WYC members will be remembering him in their own way tonight at their club's Diamond Jubilee celebration.
See the Columnists section for some past articles.
Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.