Countless volumes have been
written about the beauty of
the crescent-shaped Hanalei
Bay, which perfectly mirrors
the surrounding Namolokama
Hanalei’s magnificence is celebrated in chants and hula; its charms famous across the
islands and around the world. But few know that below the surface of Hanalei’s rolling surf
lurk the remains of what was the first-ever, large ocean-going yacht in the United States—a
100-foot, 190-ton brig designed by a prominent 19th century Massachusetts ship builder
named Retire Becket in Salem in 1816.
The ship was built strictly for the pleasure of its owner and passengers, an unheard of
extravagance in puritanical New England. The ship and its furnishings cost what was, at the
time, the almost inconceivable sum of $100,000 allowing for the greatest attention to detail,
using the very finest materials available. Thousands were reported to have flocked to Salem
daily just to witness its construction.
Upon completion, the pleasure craft was christened Cleopatra’s Barge, a reference
to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. On its maiden voyage, the ship’s owner, George
Crowninshield, visited Europe, calling on 16 Mediterranean ports where enormous crowds
gathered to marvel at the vessel.
But Crowninshield died unexpectedly in 1817 and soon after his death, Crowninshield’s
family stripped Cleopatra’s Barge of its opulent fittings and furnishings and auctioned the
ship to his own brother who later sold it to a Boston merchant company. That firm, Bryant
& Sturgis, wasted no time in preparing the ship to sail for Hawai‘i where the new owners
intended to trade her to King Kamehameha II for sandalwood.
When the brig docked at the port of Lahaina on Maui in November of 1820, King
Kamehameha II was given a tour and was at once smitten with the ship. He immediately
purchased Cleopatra’s Barge for the equivalent of $80,000 in sandalwood, renaming the craft
Ha‘aheo o Hawai‘i (Pride of Hawai‘i) in 1822.
The Hawaiian king, accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, set about sailing between the
Hawaiian Islands on journeys, which have been documented at length by visitors and
missionaries. The voyages were characterized by the pursuit of pleasure and execution of
matters of the kingdom, perhaps the most famous event being the 1821 seizure and transport
of an independent Kaua‘i’s own King Kaumuali‘i to Honolulu.
In November 1823, King Kamehameha II and Queen Kamämalu traveled from Hawai‘i
to England intending to meet with King George IV, but this meeting never took place as
Hawai‘i’s royal couple both succumbed to measles in London and died in July.