The Lahaina Yacht Club building may be gone, but the community most certainly is not.
by Kerri Meade
Nestled inconspicuously in the heart of Front Street, recognizable by the burgundy wooden exterior and the signature sperm whale burgee, resided Lahaina Yacht Club. Pushing your way through the old saloon doors, you were temporarily blinded by the afternoon sunlight, forced to throw on your sunglasses and give your eyes a moment to adjust.
You would find the regulars perched at the bar in their usual spots, their stools permanently indenting the floor. Past the bar you made your way through the dining room to the railing which served as the club’s fourth wall, framing the iconic view of the ombre blue water and the island of Lanaʻi in the distance.
Most importantly, the deck provided the ideal viewing platform to cheer and heckle the sabbat racers below. A secret hatch on the left side of the dining room floor could be lowered to access a set of stairs which led down to the small rocky beach only visible during low tide. The wooden wall panels, saturated with laughter and alcohol, preserved the stories held within these walls.
On August 8th, an untamable wildfire ravaged its way down Lahaina’s hillside, devouring Front Street in mere minutes. There was no warning. There was no time to escape. It left nothing in its wake except unimaginable loss.
The town is gone, but the whispers of memories remain. Like every building in Lahaina town, LYC had a rich history. Founded in 1965, Lahaina Yacht Club was originally a dilapidated building falling into the ocean. Ian Ponting, Sailing Director of LYC, recalls, “There was a pool table, a ping pong table, and a keg of beer.
That’s how it started. Not much different from now,” he says with a laugh. 1969 marked the inaugural race of the VicMaui, which brought more outside interest and reciprocal members to LYC’s doorstep. Additionally, Lahaina Return, an annual long-distance regatta from Maui to Oʻahu on Labor Day (a staple race for sailors in Hawaiʻi), would have celebrated its 80th anniversary this year.
Lahaina Yacht Club’s trophy case was its own historic site, each trophy a beautiful piece of the mosaic of the LYC ‘ohana. The Ron Wall Memorial Trophy, a huge slab of monkey pod taking up nearly half the case, honored commodores past and present. The Louis Abrams trophy, awarded to the first to finish for the Lahaina Return Regatta, was created from the original cup from the 1906 Transpac Race.
But possibly the most hotly contested prize among these relics was the trophy for the annual softball game of Lahaina Return weekend where the LYC Moby Dicks would battle the Oʻahu Thundercocks fueled by a keg of beer, hotdogs, and hamburgers. The soul of this yacht club was its unpretentious atmosphere. Ian says, “It was never about stuffy pressed collars and ties. Our by-laws say you have to wear a shirt and shoes after 5 p.m. That’s our dress code.”
Over the past 10 to 15 years, the club developed vigor in its activity and sailing programs. Ian is already looking forward, determined to preserve the legacy of the club: “My dream of dreams is that we do this right.” Since the location of the future club is unclear due to potential building restrictions, he envisions rebuilding a facility that will provide better access to the water and harbor facilities.
He imagines adding a hoist at the loading dock, dry-dock boat storage, six club keelboats in wet slips, a visiting dock, and a boat ramp, essentially making the space a recreational harbor open to the public. His visions are not quixotic; he realizes “the planning of the future is going to be like juggling chainsaws. Think of the Wild West. People find a nice lake or stream and build their town around it. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
While the infrastructure of the new club will take time, Ian is in the relentless pursuit of keeping the sailing programs alive. He has already secured a keelboat at Kaneʻohe Yacht Club on O‘ahu so LYC members may compete in the Sir Thomas Lipton One-Design Challenge this October. He is in conversation with the U.S. Coast Guard about the future of Lahaina Harbor. He is focused on efforts to have the junior sailing program running by next year, working with what survived: “I’ve got 4 Fevas, 6 Bics, and a 13-foot whaler. That’s all that’s left.”
Looking to the future, Ian says, “I want the club to be a safe haven for people to visit; that’s our mission.” Even in these darkest days, the members of LYC are looking to be a respite for others. The vibrancy of this club is its people. It is clear that this is not the end for Lahaina Yacht Club. Dreams for the future are serving as buoys of hope while the residents process utter devastation and loss. The people of Lahaina are simultaneously holding pain and faith, bearing an indescribable weight of grief, yet not allowing it to sink them. The yacht club may be gone, but the community most certainly is not.
If you’d like to donate to the recovery efforts for Lahaina Yacht Club’s staff and infrastructure, please visit their website at www.lyc.us. Be a part of the movement as this club rebuilds brick by brick, cementing the blocks with love and determination.
Photos courtesy of Ian Ponting & www.lyc.us