Lahaina icon sinks into deep sleep
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
LAHAINA, Maui — The Carthaginian II was given a bittersweet send-off yesterday as it was towed from its longtime berth at Lahaina Harbor and ceremoniously scuttled to the accompaniment of cannon fire.
The 97-foot, steel-hulled vessel, rigged to resemble a 19th-century brig and once used as a whaling museum, sank in 95 feet of water off Puamana, where it will serve as an artificial reef. The operation was undertaken by Atlantis Adventures, a submarine tour company that created similar marine habitats off Waikiki.
Although it had no true historical value, the Carthaginian II was one of Lahaina's most recognizable attractions, featured in thousands of artworks and visitor photographs over the past 32 years. The ship belonged to the nonprofit Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which was spending $50,000 a year to maintain the rusting hulk. When marine engineers advised against further repairs because of the increasing costs, Atlantis was approached two years ago to claim the vessel, which will enhance its underwater tours.
Foundation executive director George "Keoki" Freeland said he was relieved the Carthaginian II had reached its final resting place.
"I was worried the buggah might sink where it was," Freeland said.
The first Carthaginian was a replica of a whaling supply vessel used for the 1966 movie "Hawaii," based on the James Michener novel. The Lahaina Restoration Foundation purchased the wooden boat, but it sank in 1972 on its way to O'ahu for dry dock. A second vessel was acquired, a cement carrier built in Germany in 1920. Rechristened the Carthaginian II, it sailed to Lahaina in 1973. It took seven years for the historically accurate rigging to be assembled dockside.
"It was a focal point for downtown Lahaina. It's like taking a painting off the wall and all of a sudden the wall looks empty," said artist Peg Robertson. "It's sad. I'm going to miss it."
Atlantis spent approximately $350,000 on the Carthaginian project, including preparation of environmental studies. American Marine Services was hired to handle yesterday's operation. Jim Walsh, general manager of Atlantis Submarines Maui, said the sunken ship will not affect swimmers, surfers or other ocean users.
The tour company established its first artificial reef in Hawai'i in 1989 off Waikiki, eventually creating four underwater habitats using a Navy tanker, an old fishing vessel, large sections of two airplanes and a pyramid structure.
Walsh said Atlantis staff and Maui Community College students will be monitoring the Puamana site to determine how quickly marine life moves into the shipwreck and what kind of species take up residence there.
Before the Carthaginian II was towed from Lahaina Harbor yesterday, entertainers from the Old Lahaina Lu'au performed "Aloha 'Oe" and members of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation placed lei on the vessel and held signs bidding it aloha.
To prepare for the sinking, 10 tons of concrete had been loaded on board, adding to the 35 tons of material the boat already was carrying. Atlantis' small tugboat Roxie pulled the Carthaginian II out of the harbor before transferring the operation to the larger American Islander tugboat.
A flotilla of about 20 boats was waiting when the Carthaginian II arrived at Puamana, and spectators lined the shore or pulled over on Honoapi'ilani Highway to watch the spectacle. Kahu Charles Kaupu offered a Hawaiian blessing, and after a 3-ton anchor was secured to the bow and the boat was in position, patches were removed from two sets of holes that had been cut into the hull about 18 inches above the water line. Seawater was pumped into the hull, and 27 minutes later the Carthaginian was headed to the sandy bottom.
Observers let loose with applause and whoops of appreciation as the ship quietly slipped beneath the surface. Aboard the Atlantis shuttle boat, Freeland fired three air-shattering blasts from a miniature brass cannon.
Back on shore, Robertson was critical of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation for not having a replacement for the Carthaginian II that would continue to provide residents and visitors with a picturesque view and a historical link to the town's colorful past.
Freeland said because it was impossible to predict when Atlantis would receive state and federal approvals, the organization was not able to arrange for a new attraction to immediately occupy the berth at Lahaina Harbor.
The space is reserved for cultural or historical purposes, and with the Carthaginian now gone, Freeland said the foundation has 120 days to find a new vessel for the berth, or risk losing it to commercial operations.
Freeland has been in discussions with Hui O Wa'a Kaulua about placing one of the group's Hawaiian sailing canoes there. He said that would be ideal because it would be an operational vessel that could be used for educational programs.
Lahaina Harbor expansion plans by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources also will affect future use of the site. Freeland said he has urged DLNR officials to reserve space for the foundation.
DLNR officials were not available yesterday to comment.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.