KAANAPALI - "This is when it hits the soul," said Capt. Mischelle Lucier last week Thursday afternoon, when a huge tugboat from Oahu began to pull apart and carry off her beloved Aikane X5 catamaran, five-time winner of the prestigious Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu and elite, 62-foot charter boat.
Two days before, the quick-thinking captain boarded the vessel buoyed near the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa's activity desks to move it from harm's way. The port engine lost power. At considerable risk to her own life, she was able to maneuver the vessel in eight-foot waves and 25 mph winds away from being crushed on the rocks of Pu'u Keka'a (Black Rock), the sacred site revered by Hawaiians as the place where souls leave for heaven.
"I came so close; I could look straight up and see the torches on the rock. By the grace of God, I brought it about and made it to the beach," the captain said later.
Brad Kellam (bottom right) and Mischelle Lucier watch salvaging operations. Photos by Norm Bezane.
At 9 a.m. on Feb. 7, Aikane X5, its port engine down, landed on Kaanapali Beach less than 30 feet from Pu'u Keka'a. Brad Kellam of Kellam & Sons LLC, co-owner of Aikane X5 with his brother, Terry, kept day-long vigils over the vessel.
On Tuesday, he said that "it took a Herculean effort to get it away from the rocks and bring it to the beach."
Despite the fact that it was being pounded by high seas, "this is the best place it could have landed," he said. On the beach in front of the Sheraton, the catamaran was somewhat sheltered from high waves and swells approaching from the north.
Over the next few days, the insured, $1 million charter boat became history.
Overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday morning, wave action broke through hatches and began breaking Aikane X5 up, scattering debris - including jagged wood - all the way to the Hyatt Regency Maui.
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Brad, beginning a deathwatch, sits in a lounge chair facing the boat. Two visitors from Madison, Wisconsin, sit in a nearby beach cabana to rest after a one-hour volunteer stint picking up and putting the debris in piles.
At noon, a boat from Oahu scheduled to cut up and remove the boat fails to show. Beach goers keep their own watch behind yellow tape around the closed beach. The Sheraton that evening skipped its daily cliff diving ceremony.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, during a lull in the tide, two crew members board the vessel and retrieve orange life vests from the hatches, which they salvage by tossing them on the beach. Later, they take out an oven that had heated hundreds of meals. The work looks a bit dangerous as the two are covered in waves.
At 8:10 a.m. Thursday, Cates International's salvage boat arrives. Crew members and Kellam family friends begin gathering to see the end of what they called "a joyous ship."
At 10 a.m., the roar of power saws echo across Kaanapali Beach. A three-man crew that had been up for 24 hours bringing its salvage ship to Maui begins to cut up the Aikane.
Brad noted that the name of his ship is a variation of a Hawaiian word relating to family. The business was a family affair, and "the crew was like family, too," he said.
"That's why the crew is here. We took only 12 people on board at a time. Our guests became like family. We were one of the favorite catamarans (recommended by) the (Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua)."
He grew philosophical about the loss. "It's either the end of an era or the beginning," Brad said.
Already, he is on his cell phone taking care of customers; he had $60,000 in bookings for the coming months. Other catamaran operators - all friendly rivals - may take over the bookings.
"I've never had this problem in 35 years," Kellam noted.
The one-time racing boat built by famed catamaran builder Rudy Choy had been acquired by the family in the early 1980s.
Often captained by Terry "Killer" Kellam, who was also on the scene, Aikane X5 regularly made runs to Honolua Bay and Olowalu.
At 11 a.m., hundreds of visitors continue to line the shore to watch the spectacle.
By 1 p.m., sporadic power-sawing ends, and a towline lifts the former Aikane X5 cabin off the boat for towing to the salvage ship. More cutting continues through the early afternoon in the hot sun.
Two officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources arrive at 1:10 p.m. to inspect the site. They complain that some people are still trying to snorkel despite the presence of sharp wooden shards that could cause injury. The lead officer takes a bullhorn for awhile to shy people away. Mostly, they just stand around and make jokes - a sharp contrast from the somber scene.
At 3 p.m. Thursday, canoes from the clubs arrive in a final salute, probably saying prayers, Kellam said. "Pretty amazing," he added.
The chain-sawing ends at 4 p.m., and five-inch-wide cloth bands are placed around the boat to help pull the pieces apart. A long chain extends from the salvage ship.
The salvage ship's engines rev up and pull and pull at 4:50 p.m. Cracking sounds come from the hull and then a pop. The two huge pieces of the craft resist.
Brad Kellam, now sitting on Black Rock with Terry and Melissa, calls the effort round one.
From 4:50 to 6:20 p.m., two more attempts at pulling the pieces apart fail. There is more chain-sawing. "It was solidly built. It won't fall apart - it won't give up," said Killer Kellam.
At 6:40 p.m., the salvage crew calls it a day. Huge crowds lining the beach from the edge of the Sheraton all the way to the Kaanapali Beach Hotel - largely standing in silence - begin to disperse. The crew leaves, too.
Friday at 8 a.m., the wrecking crew and Kellams return for round four. By early afternoon, the final chunks of Aikane X5 are broken off carried to the salvage boat.
The salvage boat brings the debris to Mala Wharf, where the last vestiges of a proud ship are loaded onto huge trucks and carted away.
(The Pacific Maid, a 60-foot trawler, was grounded at Wahikuli State Wayside Park in Tuesday's rough conditions. Pictures will be posted on our website Thursday.)