Story by Blade Stabwell
Photos by Monte Costa
The pavement at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor is searing hot; the sun is mean, the wind is dead and my navy blue Hawaii Yacht Club polo shirt is glued to my skin. I’m not really a sailor; I bought the shirt in hopes of blending in with the crew of a handsome thirty-seven-foot Santana-class yacht called Mel Temi. They’ve invited me to join them for what’s become a cherished weekly ritual: the Friday evening races off Waikiki.
Naturally, I’m aiming for the august and aristocratic figure I’ve always imagined yachtsmen to cut: John F. Kennedy, Ted Turner, Thurston Howell III.
But when I arrive at the slip, the crew is dressed in T-shirts and shorts, drinking Bud Lite out of the can. Not a polo shirt for miles.
Ben (last names withheld to allow for plausible deniability) slips a beer into my hand as he welcomes me aboard. “For a boat that drinks and sails, we do pretty well,” he reassures me. Within minutes the rest of the crew of bartenders and barflies arrives (Mel Temi is, I now learn, crewed by three Honolulu bartenders and a youngish set fond of clubbing); they make for the seemingly bottomless Igloo in the cockpit, then greet me with cocked eyes and slightly-too-broad grins. My shirt has given me away for the ballast that I am.
Mel Temi motors to where the Ala Wai empties into the Pacific, just past Magic Island and opposite the surf break known as Kaiser’s. She joins a half-dozen other sailboats that share the 5:38 p.m. start time, including Hazana, a Trintella 44, and the Mel Temi’s arch nemesis: Whisper, a thirty-three-foot Tartan Ten. Awaiting the vessels is the Sundancer, a powerboat where race officials raise a red pennant and blast a horn. With that, the Mel Temi is suddenly transformed from party cruiser to racer as the crew hoists the sails in swift and practiced motion. I do my part to help by grabbing a rail with my left hand and finishing my beer with my right. The race is on.