Of Kings, Whalers & Missionaries - The History of Maui

West Coast
January 2014
Capt. Jeff

There's a sense of deja vu the first time stepping ashore in Lahaina. One may think their GPS malfunctioned and routed their yacht to the Florida Keys rather than the Hawaiian island of Maui. For Front Street in Lahaina, has all the familiar trappings of Duval Street in Key West. Restored and faux 19th century architecture now house bars, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops chockablock. In season, the population can quadruple due to tourists visiting the city. But if one can look past the hawkers selling snorkeling adventures and surfing lessons, a peek at a fascinating slice of Hawaiian history awaits.

The island of Maui was settled by Polynesians from the Marquesas who paddled and sailed their canoes across vast tracts of the Pacific Ocean around 400 A.D. They were followed by a wave of Tahitian settlers about 350 years later. The Tahitians laid the foundations of Hawaiian language, religion and culture. After the island's founding, a hereditary group of chieftains governed different sections of Maui. The chiefdom in West Maui was called Lele, and ruled from the site of present day Lahaina.

Maui was also a demi-god of the Polynesians and a rascal in Hawaiian mythology. It was Maui who used his great fish hook to pull the Hawaiian Islands up from the ocean floor. And it was Maui who snared the sun with his ropes to slow it down in its path to create longer days in the summer for raising crops and drying bark cloth.

Through the 16th century Maui continued to prosper under a strict adherence to a four-tier caste system, a complex land tenure system and a society goverened by kapu or taboos. The first documented European that there is documentary evidence of coming to Maui is the English explorer Capt. James Cook who just sailed by looking for an anchorage in the autumn of 1778. Eight years later, French Admiral De Galaup landed just south of where the town of Kihei is located today.

In 1779, Capt. Cook was on the big island of Hawaii where he met with a young chief with a string of 12 names. Rather than continually reciting his litany of names, he was come to be known as Kamehameha. Kamehameha had a vision, first to unite the clans of the island of Hawaii under one king (himself ) and then to conquer all the Hawaiian Islands and rule them as his united kingdom. He accomplished the first task in 1791. Maui fell to King Kamehameha four years later after an assault by almost 1,000 war canoes and 10,000 of the king's soldiers. The only island not to succumb to the new king was Kauai. Even so, the Kingdom of Hawaii was declared as complete in 1810, and Kamehameha I ruled as an absolute monarchy.

After the king died in 1819, his son, Prince Liholiho, was crowned King Kamehameha II. The following year he moved his kingdom's capital from the western shore of the big island to the western shore of Maui and the town of Lahaina. Lahaina remained the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii for 25 years. During that time two groups with very different philosophies became prominent: whalers and missionaries.

In the early 1790s Yankee whaling fleet from New Bedford, Mass., expanded into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru in its ever increasing need to meet the demand for sperm oil for lamps and lubrication. As soon as they opened a new fishery, the whalers hunted the sperm whales to extinction, and new hunting grounds needed to be found. In 1820, the first New Bedford whaling ship hunted sperm whales on the Japan Ground. It was located halfway between Hawaii and Japan, and the Hawaiian Islands became a perfect waypoint for stocking up on fresh local produce and water and making ship repairs and finding new crew. Honolulu and Lahaina became the main Pacific ports for the North Pacific whaling fleet. Although Lahaina did not have a well-protected harbor like Honolulu, Lahaina Roads had good holding and became a busy anchorage.

In 1824, more than 100 whaling ships anchored off Lahaina, and 30 years later it rose to 400 ships per year. Lahaina was the nexus of the prosperity of whaling and the seat of government of the king. Brothels, taverns and inns sprung up along Front Street. The sailors were quite pleased with that arrangement, but the Christian missionaries were not.

Just as the whalers came from New England, so did the missionaries of Maui. Presbyterian and Congregationalist missionaries arrived in Lahaina in the early 1820s. These early missionaries frowned upon the practice of sailors taking Hawaiian women back to their ships for their pleasure. But the sailors chafed at the intervention of these pious Christians, so the whalers attempted to demolish the house of a reverend and even shelled the town with their cannon in retaliation. In response to the cannon fire, a fort was built along the waterfront of Lahaina, and the reconstructed ruins of its walls are an attraction to this day.

Eventually, the whalers and missionaries learned to live with each other. The missionaries went about their business of spreading Christianity and civilizing the native population. That included inventing a written version of the Hawaiian language, which had been learned by word of mouth. The oral traditions of the Hawaiian culture could now be put on paper and passed on to future generations. Since much of the Hawaiian culture involved a religion of Polynesian gods and mythology, it was difficult for the Protestant faith to take hold. Through perseverance though, there were 13 churches on Maui by 1870, and all of them had Hawaiian pastors. The pastors were trained at Lahainaluna Seminary, founded in 1831, which remains as Lahaina's high school and is known as the oldest high school west of the Rockies.

By the 1870s, the whaling industry on Maui was gone. Petroleum oil had been discovered in Pennsylvania and black gold supplanted the use of whale oil. The Confederate navy and its raiders destroyed many of the Yankee whalers during the Civil War. Sugar cane and pineapples and the plantation system used to grow those crops soon provided enormous profits to the descendants of the original missionaries. Today, whaling in Lahaina is limited to whale watching during the December -to- May season.

Visitors still continue to come to Lahaina by sea. The town has a small, picturesque harbor, but the majority of slips are used by commercial boats providing sportfishing, diving, snorkeling, whale watching and sailing trips. But the Lahaina Yacht Club has saved the day by providing seven free moorings just outside the harbor entrance. Just pick up a mooring ball, dinghy ashore at the harbor and walk the few short blocks to the yacht club for dinner and a few libations while watching the sunset.Capt. Jeff Werner, a licensed USCG Master, has sailed professionally throughout the world. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your boat's fuel clean and bright. For more information, call 239-246-6810 or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount.

Planning to cruise the Hawaiian Islands?

These are must-have resources:

"Cruising Guide to the Hawaiian Islands" by Bob and Carolyn Mehaffey, Paradise Cay Publications, 2007
"United States Coast Pilot 7" from the National Ocean Service, 2013

Also visit:



For more marinas and an online cruising guide, visit yachtpals.com/maui

Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht's fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.

Related Articles
Lyman-Morse: Breathes New Energy into a Coastal New England Town

The buzz of construction at the docks of Camden, ME, is finished, and it’s been replaced with an air of excitement among residents and visitors who watched a beautiful new development emerge along the waterfront.

The rebirth of Camden’s harbor started in 2015 when Lyman-Morse bought Wayfarer Marine. Based in nearby Thomaston, Lyman-Morse has run a successful boat-building business since the 1970s. More than 120 vessels have been constructed in the yard, located in the same site where Malabar schooners, Friendship sloops and other fine vessels have been built for nearly two centuries. Lyman-Morse has expanded beyond custom sailing and motor yachts, now offering high-quality refits, and other services.

Lyman-Morse’s boatyard and nine-acre facility enjoy a long maritime tradition on Camden’s shoreline, ranging from building schooners in the 19th century to U.S. minesweepers and troop transports in World War II, and servicing vessels from high-end yachts to recreational boats.

The location of this acquisition is idyllic. Nestled in a lovely cove on Penobscot Bay, Camden has been a bastion of seafaring activity and a world-
wide nautical travel destination for centuries. The scenery is dramatic, with forested mountains that meet the ocean and offshore islands that are an explorer’s
paradise. The 1830s Curtis Island Lighthouse near the harbor keeps watch over the town’s quaint homes, shops, restaurants, opera house and galleries.

Inspired by the area’s natural beauty, the new development’s designers also understood Camden’s historic role in the region and wanted to carry that forward in modern form. They studied vintage photos, matched the style and created 33,000 square feet of new buildings for marine services and mixed-use commercial space.

Lyman-Morse’s Camden boatyard attracts maritime professionals and boaters with essential services for carpentry, mechanics, electronics, rigging and more, and brings the general public back to the working waterfront with amenities such as restaurants, a distillery, a few overnight accommodations, and a boardwalk big enough for a morning stroll or brisk dog walk.

Added bonus: Sensitivity to the environment was not overlooked in construction. Engineers took a sustainable approach when they elevated all structures above the flood plain, installed LED lights and upgraded all systems to today’s energy-efficient levels.

Read More
Camden, Maine

True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.

Camden is a magical little seaside town in the heart of Maine’s mid-coast. It’s historic but hip. “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” is their moniker, as Camden Hills and 780-foot Mount Battie stretch down toward the bustling waterfront where this 1769 New England village sits, creating a postcard scene.

Camden is super foot-traffic friendly, starting at Harbor Park and the beautiful brick Public Library that graces the top of the bay by the Town Docks. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling park lawn; there’s often a craft festival or free concert at the outdoor amphitheater. From the waterfront, stroll the quaint sidewalks leading to cafés, boutiques, craft stores and art galleries, pubs, and surprisingly trendy restaurants.

You can hike, bike or drive the toll road up Mount Battie in Camden Hill State Park, which encompasses 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails. Your reward is spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and Penobscot Bay below.

Eaton Point, at the eastern entrance to the harbor, is home to a new Lyman-Morse yacht facility. Camden remains a working harbor with lobster fishermen, boat builders, ferries and tall-masted schooners taking folks out for scenic sails.

Camden hosts festivals throughout the summer season of jazz, film and its trademark Windjammers. In winter, the U.S. National Tobogganing Champion-ships are held at Camden’s namesake Snow Bowl – our country’s only ski area with views of the Atlantic.

Camden is an ideal boater’s gateway with all the services and shops you need in walking distance from the waterfront. Excursions from this protected harbor are countless and legendary. A quick cruise brings you to quiet Lasell Island for a sunset anchorage. Farther on you reach Maine’s Maritime Academy home in beautiful Castine, and the rustic islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven and Deer Isle. Ultimately you can cruise north and east through beautiful Merchants Row, or the more protected Eggemoggin Reach, to Mount Desert Island, home to famed Acadia National Park, Northeast, Southwest and Bar Harbors.


Camden Public Landing
Town Docks

Contact the harbormaster for overnight slips, limited but in town, and moorings throughout the harbor.

Lyman-Morse at
Wayfarer Marine

Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.


40 Paper

Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.

Peter Otts on the Water

Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.

Franny’s Bistro

With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.

Bagel Café

For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.

Read More
Jamestown, Rhode Island

Located on Conanicut Island, Gould Island and Dutch Island, Jamestown welcomes boaters to Narragansett Bay.  Its southernmost point is on Gould Island and marked by Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park. The northernmost point is marked by Conanicut Island Lighthouse.  While Conanicut Island is the second largest island on Narragansett Bay, it is near the western mainland in Kingston, and Newport lies to the east on Aquidneck Island.  Hop on the Jamestown Newport Ferry to get the lay of the land and sea.

Jamestown was settled early in colonial history and was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685.  By 1710, many of Jamestown’s current roads were already in place and a lot of its early architecture is well preserved. Soak up some local history at the Jamestown Fire Memorial Museum, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum and Park, Jamestown Windmill, Watson Farm, Conanicut Island Sanctuary, Fort Wetherill State Park, and the Jamestown Settlement museum.

The main town, shops and restaurants are located on the eastern shore of Conanicut Island.  But even from the western side, Dutch Harbor and other attractions are easily accessed with a one-mile walk.


Conanicut Marina

This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field.  It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.

Dutch Harbor Boat Yard

Located on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, this small, local marina has good moorings, launch service and facilities.  At times, the harbor can be rolly from a SW wind up the West Passage.  The holding ground is excellent for anchoring, but the dinghy dock is by seasonal permit only.

Safe Harbor Jamestown Boatyard

Jamestown Boatyard is renowned for excellent workmanship on all types of boats.  It also has a large mooring field and is in a beautiful location on the East Passage.


Slice of Heaven

This family-owned café and bakery with an outdoor patio is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch, especially if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free and vegetarian options.

J22 Tap & Table

This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.

Village Hearth Bakery & Café

Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine.  To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.

Bay Voyage Restaurant

Inside the Wyndham Bay Voyage Inn, this casual dining establishment presents a seasonal menu of American cuisine standards and seafood with fresh ingredients and a stellar view of Narragansett Bay.

Read More

Want to Stay In the Loop?

Stay up to date with the latest articles, news and all things boating with a FREE subscription to Marinalife Magazine!

Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.