A yacht club loses its mother
Honolulu has lost another icon. Annette Nahinu, famed owner and operator of the La Mariana Sailing Club and Restaurant, has died and left a void that may be impossible to fill.
La Mariana, an oasis surrounded by an industrial desert that has existed on the banks of Keehi Lagoon for the past 50-plus years, will hopefully live on. But without its fiery founder's constant presence, I doubt it will ever feel exactly the same.
I first met Annette in early 1993 and quickly learned she was a shameless promoter of her club and marina when my promised "short" lunch meeting with her extended nearly to dinner-time as she told story after story of her and the club's history.
In 1955, Annette -- who was a Kamehameha Schools teacher at the time -- and her first husband, John Campbell, broke ground for their dream "yacht club" under a month-to-month revocable permit with the state. The club's first roster listed 13 members and 13 boats.
Over the next two decades, Annette told me, Hawaii became a state, Keehi Lagoon became an "in place" for yachts that could not or would not berth in the Ala Wai, she left teaching to become an entrepreneur, and La Mariana blossomed.
By 1975 though, a nearby corporation's desires for lagoon-side property and a subsequent lawsuit forced Annette to begin searching for another location for the club. It was eventually found, surprisingly, just 50 yards down the shoreline.
In an effort just short of biblical, Annette said, she and her employees and friends moved the clubhouse, 20 docks, 30 boats, 83 coconut trees, a shower tree, a monkey pod tree, and an assortment of flowering plants and shrubs to their new location in just three days.
By the time I walked into La Mariana for that first meeting with Annette in 1993, she was 14 years into a 35-year lease with the state and the bar and restaurant -- as it is today -- was a step back to the 1950s.
The open wood-framed building, just a stumble away from the docks, was decorated from wall to wall with bamboo, lauhala mats, fish nets, Japanese glass floats, puffer fish lamps, aquariums, rattan furniture, and anything else she could acquire from the demise of earlier "South Seas" themed restaurants like Don the Beachcomber's.
There is little doubt it was La Mariana's movie set appearance -- along with Annette's enthusiastic encouragement -- that prompted local sailors on numerous occasions to conduct a "Poor Man's Transpac," sailed on a downwind course from the Hawaii Yacht Club in the Ala Wai Harbor to Annette's tiki-styled club in Keehi Lagoon.
What could be better, after braving the open ocean in 8-foot-long El Toro dinghies, than to arrive at a place with such a rich decor that was only matched by its owner's abundant hospitality?
Visiting the La Mariana Sailing Club without Annette personally greeting nearly every guest, and most by name, is sure to be sad.
But then it would be far sadder not to have her yacht club to remember her by.