We took the ferry over to Lanai last weekend for a day at Hulupoe Beach, that perfect, wide crescent of white sand on a lovely little bay where the dolphins come in to play (except when we're there).
The ferry was full, but we were the only ones trudging the short distance from the harbor with two beach chairs, one cooler on wheels and a backpack full of unread material left over from our last expedition.
Lanai is that most private of islands, and I count on having the place to ourselves. "There's only 40 people on the whole beach," a guy from San Diego marveled when we arrived.
Ah, but that changed. I moved our camp several times when new arrivals from Trilogy and the noon boat invaded our shady spot. By 3 p.m. they were gone, though, leaving us with two trees (one kiawe, one hau) and seven picnic tables to ourselves.
Privacy. Just us, the mynahs and the satiny, blue ocean. Peace finally descended. That is, until I picked up The New York Times Magazine and got my dander up.
Ever since Kalakaua's premier, Walter Murray Gibson, bought the lands of Palawai in the late 19th century, Lanai has been the fiefdom of one private owner after another. The latest is Larry Ellison, fifth-wealthiest man in the world, who is immersed at the moment in the televised extravaganza this week that he has made of the America's Cup races (live streaming at nbcsports.com).
For decades since the schooner "America" crossed the Atlantic and beat the best of the British fleet in 1851 as part of the world's first trade fair, the America's Cup was in the hands of the United States, whose yachts won the ensuing international competition year after year after year.
It was such an American sinecure that the fusty New York Yacht Club built a special circular room to display it. I made a special trip into Manhattan to see the beautiful, baroque silver cup when the San Diego Evening Tribune sent me to cover Dennis Conner's defense of it in 1983 at Newport, R.I., where the races were always held.
It was quaint; the New York Yacht Club officials in their yellow slacks and matching blazers, the sleek 12-meter sloops moored in the harbor of the picturesque, historic town. It was a gentleman's race; the only real way to see it was in a spectator yacht, and even so, one was kept far behind the course.
I dutifully chugged around the marker buoys in a fume-laden press boat with the veteran sportswriters and couldn't see a thing. I spent my time filing "color" dispatches about Newport's grand mansions: Hammersmith Farm, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy's childhood home, and the gilded "cottages" of the robber barons.
I was flabbergasted along with everyone else when Dennis lost - lost! - the America's Cup for the U.S. for the first time in 132 years to Australia.
He reclaimed it in 1987, after which the sport turned ugly when a challenger demanded to race in a larger, different class of boat. That was the last year for the 12 meters, beautiful they were in the water, expressive like birds, the beautiful spinnakers unfurling in the breeze on the downwind leg. The competitive edge became all about new designs.
The winner gets to dictate venue and vessel, and when Ellison's team won the cup in 2010, it stunned the yachting world by picking a boat that is so prohibitively expensive owners agree it can't be raced again. This is the AC72, a highly engineered, 72-foot catamaran capable of sailing at 50 mph. Adjusting the fixed sail and the hydrofoils requires the crew to operate at 85 to 95 percent maximum heart rate.
The head of Ellison's Oracle Team USA freely admitted the decision to use the costly, dangerous, largely untested AC 72s was made because they look better on the screen and can race in more diverse wind conditions, essential to meeting broadcast schedules.
Now there are computer-generated graphics to make the course visible, via a hovering helicopter with a camera and GPS signals from the boats. With all the advertising endorsements on the structure, the boats look more like race cars than boats. In fact, they don't even call them boats; they call them "platforms."
It's all high-speed, high-tech, high testosterone. Just what we come to Lanai to escape. I wonder what's in store for this sleepy old island.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.