September 26, 2013

Catamarans — two hulls double the fun

Henry J. Kaiser's Catamaran Ale Kai V postcard, 1967. Lisa Killen discrete collection
Henry J. Kaiser's Catamaran Ale Kai V postcard, 1967. Lisa Killen discrete collection

Team USA's hard-fought battle to retain the America's Cup title has put catamarans in the spotlight. Almost forgotten, however, after more than 60 years, is Kaiser Permanente's co-founder Henry J. Kaiser's historical connection with these graceful and exotic racing crafts.

Kaiser, who founded the Health Plan with Sidney Garfield, MD, had a love affair with boats — and not just speedboats. He also enjoyed sailing.

Kaiser's 18-acre Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu had a fleet of six massive touring catamarans for his guests to enjoy.

These 100-foot, 150-passenger pink behemoths were all named after his wife Alyce "Ale" Kaiser — "Ale Kai" and numbered one through six, using Roman numerals I-VI.

Kaiser designed his resort using the "village plan," which called for various sections to represent specific types of cultural motifs that surrounded the grounds. Kaiser's venture was the largest Waikiki resort built in the mid-1950s.

Kaiser's Hawaiian Village, completed in 1957, is now called the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa.

Who built the catamarans for Kaiser? The historical record is fuzzy. Credit goes to either Fred Loy Fat Chang of Nu'uanu, or Japanese-born Hawaiian resident Hisao Murakami.

All six of the Kaiser Ale Kai fleet are still in use today.