A Brief Early History of Recreational Boating in Hawaii by Ray Pendleton

Hawaiian Kingdom coin dated 1883 featuring King Kalakaua. Note the prevalence of sailing vessels.
Hawaiian Kingdom coin dated 1883 featuring King Kalakaua. Note the prevalence of sailing vessels.

King Kalakaua, known as the “Merrie Monarch,” was, among other things, a serious patron of recreational boating in the final decades of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

It has been recorded that a meeting was held in Kalakaua’s royal boathouse on Oct. 19, 1885, to form the Hawaiian Rowing and Yachting Association, with representatives from numerous local clubs.

Less than four years later, this association appropriated funds to purchase a silver trophy that would be named the Hawaiian Challenge Cup and be raced for annually on the Fourth of July.

The Cup was competed for from 1889 through 1911 (and even today after being “lost and found” a couple of times), but it was Kalakaua himself, aboard his yacht Healani, that won it on the first race.

After the races it has been said he would invite all of his competitors to join him at his boathouse, where the Cup would be filled with champagne and passed around to all of the sailors. It is from this practice that perhaps the Hawaiian Challenge Cup began to be called the Kalakaua Cup.

Another one of the king’s lasting legacies is the Transpacific Yacht Race, which will be starting its 45th event next July.

Kalakaua deserves full credit for promoting such a California-to-Hawaii yacht race, even though the first contest wasn’t held until after his death and two decades after he suggested it.

In September of 1886, the king instructed his private secretary to send an invitation to the commodore of the Pacific Yacht Club in San Francisco, where he may have visited during his trip around the world in 1881.

The secretary wrote that the king, “desiring to show his appreciation for the friendly feelings which have always been shown him by the officers and members of the Pacific Yacht Club, has commanded me to extend an invitation to your club to be present at the festivities to be held at Iolani Palace in Honolulu, on the occasion of His Majesty’s fiftieth birthday, the 16th of November next.”

The secretary added that Kalakaua, in order to further induce yacht owners to visit the islands, would offer prizes for a yacht race from San Francisco to Honolulu, with trophies valued at $1,000, $500 and “a cup to be presented by the Hawaiian Boating Association.”

The members of the Pacific Yacht Club, which is no longer in existence, failed to take Kalakaua up on his invitation for reasons I have never been able to uncover.