Field Notes: Waikiki's Booze Cruises

Field Notes explores Honolulu's vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the beachcat booze cruises of Waikiki. Why should tourists have all the fun?


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Tip: Brisk trade winds are best for sailing off Waikiki. Light Kona winds bring on the sea sickness.
 

IF YOU GO

Sunset cruises are the most likely to sell out. For the boats that have phones, you can call for reservations: Na Hoku II and Manu Kai, 554-5990; Maitai Catamaran, 922-5665; Waikiki Rigger, 922-2210. For the others, just show up and hop aboard, or put your name on the list for the next trip.

 

WHAT THEY ARE

Commercial sailing catamarans that launch from and land on the half mile of Waikiki’s shoreline between the statue of Duke Kahanamoku and Fort Derussy Beach Park. They’ve been a fixture in Waikiki since 1947, when a surfer and boatbuilder named Woody Brown, inspired by the speed of traditional Polynesian double-hulled sailing canoes, launched the first modern beachcat. Imitators soon followed. Booze has been a feature since the beginning. Of the current crop of boats, some have built-in bars and the rest either carry well-stocked coolers or are BYOB.
 

WHO GOES

Mostly tourists, but there are also kamaaina who have determined that $20 to $30 for a relaxing 90 minutes under sail is not a bad deal, especially with the complimentary bar service some boats offer. The local residents include special-occasion passengers, who come in groups to celebrate birthdays, weddings and graduations. There are also regulars, who return to their favorite boat time after time, sometimes taking multiple, back-to-back trips, and spending less than they would had they put an equal amount of time into a landlocked bar.
 

THE BOOZIEST

The Na Hoku II (on the beach at the Moana Surfrider hotel) and its sister vessel, the Manu Kai (in front of Duke’s Bar and Grill) have well-deserved reputations as the two hardest partying boats. They both carry 49 passengers, they’ve both got open bars, and they both accomodate impromptu dancing and screaming.
 

THE CHILLEST

The laid-back crew aboard the 37-passenger Kepoikai II (on the beach at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel) sells beer and mai tais. But otherwise, they more or less keep to themselves and sail the boat.
 

THE FASTEST

Both the 47-passenger Maitai Catamaran (between the Halekulani and the Sheraton Waikiki hotels) and the 49-passenger Waikiki Rigger (next to the Shore Bird Restaurant and Beach Bar) claim to be the fastest catamaran on Waikiki Beach. The Rigger, which was built for ocean racing and won the Los Angeles-to-Honolulu Transpac race in 1987, has solid credentials. But the Maitai’s no slouch. As the two boats often leave the beach at the same time and sail the same course, they inevitably end up racing, with passengers becoming unwitting participants in their ongoing competition to determine which is the fastest boat on that particular day.
 

THE MOST ROMANTIC

The Maitai does a “moonlight cruise” every Friday evening, when the fireworks are exploding over Waikiki.
 

THE GAYEST

Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, Waikiki’s landmark gay bar, takes over the Maitai every Saturday afternoon for “Hula’s wettest, wildest, half-naked ride!”
 

THE MOST IMPECCABLY PEDIGREED

The 26-passenger Mana Kai (near the Duke statue) has Woody Brown DNA: it’s similar in design to Brown’s original beachcat, and its captain is Woody Brown Jr. As a BYOB boat, it’s more about the sightseeing and sailing than the party.
 

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