It’s been three months now since the Lahaina fire and the unthinkable happened to one of our favorite places in the world. This is really hard to write but keeping Lahaina in our hearts I think also means remembering Lahaina. The first time I ever visited Lahaina was in November 2013, exactly 10 years ago. I solo sailed s/v Gemini over to Lahaina Harbor to visit my friends Jill and Bern and their family who lived in Lahaina. We had a wonderful time for Thanksgiving and they told me all about the Halloween parade that Lahaina takes seriously every year and that I just missed. After a nice visit they sent me off with a big plate of Thanksgiving leftovers for the 50 mile sail with the trade winds back to Oahu. I was so impressed with Lahaina that I wanted to learn more about this special place and sail back with more of my friends, which I did many more times over the next several years.
Lahaina town, on the island of Maui was once the Capital of all the Hawaiian islands and had numerous historic buildings and landmarks. The town was dotted with some of Hawaii’s most historic and beautiful buildings such as the Baldwin House, Maui's oldest home. Lahaina was the kind of place where the young and the old, locals and visitors, the rich, poor and working class all seemed to enjoy the same warm classic island vibe that only a timeless, charming and noble place like Lahaina could offer.
Lahaina Harbor and anchorage just offshore of the town has always been a place of refuge for countless mariners over the years who sailed through the Hawaiian islands on their way through the Pacific. An historic whaling capital, Lahaina is now the whale watching capital of the world where you can always see humpback whales breeching and playing every winter on their annual migration just offshore from the town. Sailors and other visitors have always considered Lahaina to be their favorite and most welcoming port of call, always with an allure that made you never want to leave. Many sailors have become landlubbers in Lahaina over the years.
In modern times, the historic buildings of old Lahaina town had made room for some of Hawaii’s most favorite restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. Across from Hawaii’s oldest and biggest Banyan tree were some of our favorite places to visit like Down the Hatch and Captain Jack’s next door were you could always hang out with your crew for tacos and beer. Across the street back towards the harbor was the historic Pioneer Inn where s/v Gemini’s crew stayed one night after a particularly rough crossing from Lanai when the anchorage was too rough to stay on the boat. Papa'aina Restaurant on the first floor of the Inn was the place to have breakfast, with great food, great service, bottomless coffee and where my ex-girlfriend once made a scene about her eggs Benedict not being how she wanted it.
Around the corner from Pioneer Inn, back and along Front Street there was a cool mix of art galleries, cafes, and stylish boutiques. Hawaii Gelato was always hard to pass up without getting a scoop and the Sunrise Cafe tucked behind the Dole Whip shop was a cozy little refuge to hang out if you just wanted to relax and get away from the crowd. Walking up Front Street you’d pass by some surf boutiques, where I once had to buy a hoodie when all my other clothes were soaked after a splashy dinghy ride from the anchorage. My favorite hoodie is a bit frayed now because I wear it all the time when it get’s chilly in Hawaii. Continuing up Front street you pass Chapel Hats and think, do I really need a hat? Maybe I do- I wish I would’ve bought that khaki ball cap I saw in the window.
Walking up Front street it was always fun to peek into the Wyland Gallery to see all the beautiful ocean themed artwork. At the end on the left on the water’s edge was the perfect location for a sunglasses shop and I always thought, I need to get Lani Shades in there. A little further up the walk on the right was Lahaina Pizza Co, without a doubt the pizza shop with the world’s best view. The pizza was pretty good too. And of course, the famous Fleetwoods, founded by the band Fleetwood Mac and where I once went on a Tinder date. Downstairs there were a bunch more shops like the Whaler’s Locker that sold things like fossilized shark teeth and another shop that had vintage art prints. I wanted to buy one of those prints but wasn’t sure I could get it back to the boat on the dinghy without getting wet.
On the boardwalk on the ocean side there were a few street hustlers, some of them playing music. On the other side of the street was another little shop area, we went over there to check it out and once I found a shop selling ukuleles. I had just learned to play the Volcano song on mine and picked one up and impressed my buddy Zach who didn’t know I could play. I didn’t say I could sing though. Everyone enjoyed the setting sun on this stretch of road that leads to Cheeseburger in Paradise, the most perfect location for a restaurant, right on the water’s edge. This classic two story wood building was always packed with people and smiles. The crew of s/v Gemini ended up here quite a few times and once I asked if we could buy the tiki mugs that our mai tais came in and the bartender said he would just look the other way if we took them. Ah thanks, they’re still serving smiles to this day aboard s/v Gemini.
On our walk up Front Street on the right was the Kush gallery. This place always just drew you in, even if you had no intention to buy, Kush’s artwork is so creative and mesmerizing that it was always fun just to look and be inspired. Everything in there was so dreamy, like the sailing art with flowers and butterfly wings for sails and whales flying through the clouds. The girl who worked in that gallery was really friendly too. A little ways up from Kush gallery was Mariner’s Alley and the Dirty Monkey upstairs. Are we going there again tonight to have another drink and play giant Jenga or giant Connect Four? Maybe we’ll get a temporary tattoo downstairs… next time?
The real destination up this way was why we came. Across the street from the Kush Gallery was our favorite place to have dinner and watch the sunset. Lahaina Yacht Club was always a mandatory stop on a visit to Lahaina. LYC grants reciprocity to Hawaii Yacht Club on Oahu so my crew and I could get in and it was honestly the best restaurant and bar in all of Lahaina. This classic place, right on the water’s edge had the best menu, best drinks and best view of the sunset and we were always able to get a nice table for the crew. Fish tacos were only on their lunch menu but every time I asked for them at dinner, the staff said she’d ask the chef and always came back and said yes they could do it. Really cool staff and seriously the best fish tacos in all of Hawaii. We had many great memories sitting around the varnished wood tables at LYC, enjoying mai tais and Big Swells while enjoying the sunset and watching s/v Gemini safely bob around on a mooring just offshore.
Lahaina was a regular stop on the sailing route that we would do for sailing courses at Sail Hawaii, where Lani Shades was born. On these inter-island sailing courses the crew would learn how to navigate a sailboat on a multi-day live aboard sailing adventure. Lahaina Yacht Club was the perfect place to take ASA sailing written theory exams, look at the charts and plan the rest of our trip. In fact the buoy we were tied to was an LYC buoy that they maintained for visiting sailors. They would even let us take showers there.
Walking back to the harbor down along Front Street now, we always had to stop at Ono Gelato. If you like coffee you had to try their affogato. It’s a scoop of gelato ice cream topped with a shot of espresso. Definitely the best gelato and coffee shop in Hawaii with a few tables tucked away out back over the water’s edge to catch the last rays of the sunset. With our hands still sticky from gelato, we would always have to stop at one of the ABC or Whaler’s General stores along the walk back to the harbor. We would need ice and whatever else we can think of at the store to bring back to the boat for the night and our continued sailing adventures the next day.
Most visits to Lahaina we had to tie s/v Gemini up to one of the LYC buoys and use our small inflatable dinghy to get in and out of the harbor. Ideally we would get the closest buoy because our little dinghy only had a 2.5 hp outboard and just putts along and its always a wet and rough ride even if it’s calm. If it’s not calm, we get soaked and that little motor doesn’t like to get soaked. A few times it died and we had to row all the way back out. That really sucks, especially in the dark. You gotta watch out for big boats going in and out of the harbor so we always have a flashlight, a handheld VHF radio and cross our fingers. One time the motor died right outside the harbor at night and we couldn’t get it to start and the wind and waves were rough. I rowed as hard as I could, just barely inching along through the waves to get me and my three panicked crew safely back to the boat. Exhausted and sore, we barely made it and the paper bags holding our provisions were mulch. One of my crew bought strawberry yogurt and it got all over everybody. The yogurt somehow even got into the motor and the dinghy smelled like strawberries for months afterwards.
Every once in awhile we got lucky and were able to get the one visitor's slip #99 at the entrance to Lahaina Harbor. Or if one of the permanent slips were temporarily vacant a few times they offered it to us. Lahaina Harbor was small but the busiest and nicest harbor in the whole state of Hawaii. So many nice boats and commercial vessels doing whale watching, fishing, diving and sunset tours. I heard there was a 20 year waiting list to get a permanent mooring for your boat inside Lahaina Harbor. The harbor was so busy that you had to announce on the VHF whenever you came and went and on “boat days” when the cruise ship was visiting you had to request clearance coming in and out from the Harbormaster.
It was sometimes kinda funny communicating over the radio for Lahaina harbor. There was another more well known commercial vessel also named Gemini so whenever we would identify over VHF as Gemini they would think we were the other Gemini. I started to say, "this is the sloop Gemini..." over the radio. The other boat was a catamaran, also a sloop but, whatever. It would sound weirder saying, "This is the visiting monohull Gemini."
You always had to be nice to Miles, the Harbormaster. He once threatened to have s/v Gemini impounded because of a miscommunication about the availability and I temporarily tied up to slip #99 because the loading dock was full and I was waiting for Miles to get out of a meeting. Miles' assistant Daynette was really nice and you always hoped that she would answer the phone when you called.
Some of my best memories in life are of being aboard s/v Gemini moored in Lahaina. Being tied to the dock in the harbor was always nice because it was easiest and you could just stumble back from a night out without worrying about the dinghy ride. It was always so peaceful in the harbor after the commercial boats stopped for the night, although the lights from the Atlantis submarine were always bright. Being out on the mooring was nice too as it was so peaceful to see the lights from Lahaina town on the water at night and feel the gentle roll of the ocean and hear the whales singing through the hull. One time we were out on a mooring there on New Years Eve and watched the fireworks over Lahaina… That memory really hurts now thinking of a story my friend who lived in Lahaina and worked on a boat told me about his experience out on the water the night of August 8th.
I’m honestly fighting back tears writing all of this and those who know will never stop crying about Lahaina. The fire on August 8, 2023 killed at least 100 people and destroyed 80% of the city of Lahaina and everything I just wrote about. Except the Banyan tree. The leaves were all burned but the roots are still alive and people are seeing new leaves growing now in a sign of hope. The people of Lahaina will be recovering for a very long time and it’s doubtful the town will ever regain what was really lost that fateful day. Time will tell how the recovery unfolds and how the town will be rebuilt but I’ll just always be grateful that I knew Lahaina the way I did, in my memories.
The people of Maui are still on a long road to recovery. If you want to help out, probably the best way is to through the Maui Community Foundation at this link. Check out a more complete list of other organizations supporting Maui relief here.
Written by Greg Martin
Images: Adobe Stock images of: Lahaina harbor, Pioneer Inn, Baldwin House, Lahaina waterfront, Cheeseburger in Paradise and Lahaina Banyan tree by Randy Jay, Ralf Broskvar, Art Boardman and Manuel and Greg Martin's crew photos of Lahaina at anchor, Lahaina harbor, Lahaina Yacht Club, Games at Dirty Monkey, s/v Gemini at slip #99, Tiki mug from Cheeseburger in Paradise, New Years Eve fireworks from s/v Gemini anchored off Lahaina and sunrays over Lanai on the Lanai of Ono Gelato 2013 - 2023