“We’re just trying to beat Waikiki Yacht Club”, he said, gazing out over the water. “Us too”, I replied. Having won the Lipton Cup four consecutive times, Waikiki Yacht Club’s group of assembled rock stars and their venerable Humboldt 30 High Tension had a clearly defined target on their backs. Eagerly anticipated by sailors from all over the Hawaiian islands, the Lipton Cup is an annual regatta that effectively serves as the state’s club keelboat championships. Coming together each year to race at the venue of the defending champions, all of the major yacht clubs in the state send a team of their best sailors to contest a two-day regatta using similarly rated and performing boats.
For Waikiki Yacht Club, defending the title for a fifth consecutive year wouldn’t be easy. With two clearly faster Hobie 33’s and an Olson 30 on the line, and moderate breeze that was just below planing conditions for the ULDB’s, there were several question marks lacking answers before the first gun went off. Maui’s Lahaina Yacht Club was MIA for the regatta, meaning that just four boats representing Kaneohe Yacht Club, Waikiki Yacht Club, Hawaii Yacht Club and the regatta’s only non-Oahu team, Nawiliwili Yacht Club from Kauai, would compete for the Lipton Cup.
Sailing with different configurations but the same rating, the two Hobie 33’s battled for the lead early. Waikiki Yacht Club and their slightly slower Humboldt 30 High Tension was not far behind, hoping to stay in touch with the leaders and correct out on top. Halfway up the second beat, WYC was dealt a crushing blow when a massive left-hand shift came down off the beach and auto-tacked the boat, forcing a lower lifeline to come unthreaded and two crew members into the drink. While they recovered quickly the MOB incident dropped them well behind the fleet, and put them last in the first race. This didn’t help much either…
Kaneohe Yacht Club’s Hobie 33 “Yellow Dragon” with skipper Marc Barra proved the class of the fleet and pulled out to a convincing win in the first race with Hawaii Yacht Club’s Hobie 33 “Mayhem” in second place, Nawiliwili Yacht Club’s Olson 30 “Fast Company” in third and High Tension fourth. The second and third races of the day confirmed that Kaneohe Yacht Club’s “Yellow Dragon” was on point this weekend, and that they were now the boat to beat. Their sistership “Mayhem” kept them honest but with a smaller headsail, slightly less polished crew work and a lighter crew, they just could not match KYC’s speed and point when sailing upwind. With KYC dominating and Nawiliwili YC off the pace in fourth, the most exciting race of the regatta was for second place. Hawaii Yacht Club’s “Mayhem” owed the defending champions from Waikiki 6 seconds per mile, and came out just short of beating Waikiki on both the second and third races of the day. HYC’s 2-3-3 put them tied for second place on eight points with Waikiki’s 4-2-2 after day one.
As day two dawned, KYC had the regatta all but wrapped up and merely needed to sail around the course to un-seat WYC as defending champions. Not ones to be happy with merely playing it safe and sailing around the course, KYC’s “Yellow Dragon” again went for it on day two and charged the start, perhaps even a bit too hard, as they were over early alongside WYC. Handing an early lead to both “Mayhem” and “Fast Company”, the regatta leaders re-gained control of their own destiny by once again putting on a clinic upwind. Despite having to turn back to sail across the starting line, KYC still rounded the windward mark in the lead and never looked back. Continuing to construct a nice picket fence for the weekend, KYC now sat on four bullets while HYC claimed second and took a one point lead over WYC, with Nawiliwili once again in fourth.
A big right-hand shift in between races four and five caused the Race Committee to re-set the starting line and windward mark, bringing the race a bit closer inshore. With the big puffs and shifts closer to the beach, the game had changed, adding to the drama of the final race. Coming into the last race, KYC had officially won the regatta and claimed the Lipton Cup, while Waikiki’s two yacht clubs would be duking it out for second. Hawaii Yacht Club led their local rivals from Waikiki Yacht Club by one point. If HYC beat WYC, they would claim second place by 2 points or more. If WYC beat HYC however, they would claim second on a tie-breaker. WYC and their renowned skipper Sean Doyle came for blood in the pre-start, employing full-on match racing tactics, while HYC’s team with skipper Steven Eder was having none of it and merely wanted to gain separation and sail their own race.
KYC hoisted a battle flag rather than a head sail and retired after crossing the starting line to join the fleet of spectator boats. Racing close up the first beat, HYC and WYC rounded the top mark and took off downwind. HYC looked to be correcting out over WYC, but fell victim to a couple of big shifts on the second beat, one of which auto-tacked the boat and nearly caused a man over board. HYC’s “Mayhem” stuck with it however and went on to take the bullet in KYC’s absence, and therefore secure second place for the regatta with WYC’s High Tension rounding out the podium, and Nawiliwili YC’s “Fast Company” in fourth.
Filling the impressive Sir Thomas Lipton Cup with rum and coke, multiple times, and sharing it with the rest of the fleet, Kaneohe Yacht Club and the “Yellow Dragon” crew celebrated their well-earned victory well into the night.
They came, they saw, they conquered, and they have now taken the Lipton Cup back to Kaneohe in 2017. As for next year, Kaneohe is a hell of a venue to sail in, and every other club in the islands is looking to slay some dragons.
All photos by the insanely talented Lauren Easley