Although cruising catamarans have really taken off in the last 10 years, Hawaiians have always known about the benefits of the “double canoe.” Legendary surfer and former glider pilot Woody Brown was. inspired by outrigger canoes he saw in the South Pacific after World War II. Using aeronautical engineering and lightweight plywood construction. It was so light that he recruited a team of beach boys to pick it up and carry it across a highway and down to the water.
The 36’ Manu Kai (“Sea Bird”) was the first modern ocean-going catamaran, and probably the fastest sailing boat in the world at the time. Before he knew it, brown had also invented the Waikiki beach charter business, which made him a good living for a few years. Other surfers soon recognized the breakthough Brown had made.
His second catamaran, a 38 footer capable of 20 knots,was built with the assistance of the young designer Rudy Choy. “Hobie Alter came for a ride on my catamaran, and he liked it so much, he said, ‘I wanna build one, Woody!,” Brown related. “I said, ‘Fine, go ahead!’ He went and did it, and he made a fortune! But I wasn’t interested in makin’ money. I was a freak all my life, you see?”
In 1954 Woody Brown and Rudi Choy designed and built the 40 ft Alii Kai for a wealthy Californian in the hope of winning the Trans-Pacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. In 1955, they made the first catamaran voyage between Hawaii and California to prove the seaworthiness of the design and qualify for the Trans-Pac race. Woody soon tired of the racing game and returned to the islands, became a farmer, and continued surfing until he was 90. He died in April 2008 at the age of 98.
Rudy Choy persevered on the mainland for the next 20 years doing business as C/S/K Catamarans, creating fast beautiful boats for Hollywood movie stars. He returned to the islands, made some money in real estate, then designed and built the 62’ racer Aikane X5, which broke the TransPacific seven-day barrier with a time of 6 days and 22 hours in 1989. By then, of course, the French had caught the multihull wave and are still riding it to success, along with several west-coast designers.
So long before catamarans became the latest craze for cruising, the charter business was thriving in Hawaii and a handful of NW sailors were getting excited about building their own multihulls—including me! In 1981, I designed and built my own small boat, but for various reasons it was a trimaran. (In 2015, an American team chartered a 105′ French trimaran, re-named it Lending Club and set a time of 3.5 days to Hawaii,