Hawaii Kai III - The Gold Cup Champion
On a summer's day, long ago, the famed "Pink Lady" Hawaii Kai III came out of retirement to win the most important race of her illustrious career. With Jack Regas driving, the tropical-rose and coral-mist-colored craft saved the Gold Cup for Seattle in 1958 and did so in record time.
These were the days when the Gold Cup race location was determined by the yacht club of the winning boat rather than -- as it is today -- by the city with the highest financial bid. This also was when each boat ran three heats of 30 miles in the Gold Cup rather than four heats of 15 miles.
Hawaii Kai III was the finest competitive machine in the history of Unlimited hydroplane racing at that point in time. The Kai was the epitome of the all-conquering Ted Jones design of the 1950s. The Edgar Kaiser-owned entry set records of speed and endurance that stood for many years. But she is best remembered for that richly sentimental triumph in the race of races on that unforgettable August 10, 1958, on Seattle's Lake Washington.
The hull that was to become Hawaii Kai III was built in the spring of 1956 at Les Staudacher's plant in Bay City, Michigan. She measured 30 feet in length with a twelve-foot beam and weighed 6,600 pounds. The hull was a trendsetter with its unique, aluminum-clad construction, giving it exceptional strength.
The original Hawaii Kai was destroyed at Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu during an attempt on the world mile straightaway record in April of 1956 with Ken St. Oegger driving. The craft was named after Kaiser's Waikiki Beach hotel.
After the original Hawaii Kai crashed, it was Kaiser's plan to build two new boats. The Hawaii Kai II was to be built in Los Angeles at St. Oegger's General Precision Company and was to be a copy of the original Kai. The second was to be constructed in Michigan by Staudacher from a Ted Jones design and was to be known as Hawaiian Village.
The Hawaiian Village was patterned after the Rebel Suh and was extra long since the Kaiser team felt this would facilitate the setting of straightaway records, and Jones felt that 30 feet -- rather than 28 feet -- would make a safer hull. The boat turned out to be 1,400 pounds heavier than Rebel Suh because of some extra heavy wood that was used in construction.
The completed Hawaiian Village hull was delivered to the Kaiser plant in Los Angeles in the middle of June 1956. At the time, no work had been done on Hawaii Kai II -- although materials had been purchased -- since Ken St. Oegger had still not sufficiently recovered from his accident to supervise construction of the new boat. Thus, the Hawaii Kai II project was shelved. But when Kaiser retired from racing after the 1956 season, the II was abandoned altogether.
A decision was then made to change the name from Hawaiian Village to Hawaii Kai III with the Hawaii Kai II designation being held for St. Oegger's proposed new boat for 1957.
The Kaiser family had been involved in big-time boat racing off and on for a number of years. They had briefly campaigned a veteran craft named Fleur du Lac in 1948. And they had experienced disappointment when a couple of highly touted new hulls -- the Hot Metal and the Aluminum First -- failed to make the competitive grade in 1949. The father and son team of Henry and Edgar Kaiser had confined most of their 1950s racing efforts to local events on Lake Tahoe.
Hawaii Kai III's first appearance in competition was at the 1956 Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy Regatta on July 7. She was a last- minute entry and lacked preparation time. With Howard Gidovlenko driving, the Kai took second place in a four-boat field but was outperformed by her sister ship, the Scooter Too, and also by the victorious Shanty I, owned by Bill Waggoner and driven by Russ Schleeh.
Moving on to Seattle for the Seafair Trophy Race, Hawaii Kai III experienced mechanical difficulty and failed to score any points. Nevertheless, it was at this event that the man whose name would become synonymous with Hawaii Kai III took his first competitive ride in her: Jack Regas.
Jack originally entered the race as driver of the other Kaiser-owned Unlimited, Scooter Too. The Too, unfortunately, sank in the first heat. When Gidovlenko -- who had failed to start the initial go-round -- asked to be relieved of his seat in the Kai, Regas was given the wheel for the second heat. A broken high tension lead in the magneto halted the boat and her new driver after only a couple of slow laps, but it was the start of one of the most colorful and successful associations in racing history.
Jack was in his third year of driving for the Kaiser team. The Livermore, Calif., resident had won a pair of races on Lake Tahoe in 1954 with the original Scooter and had almost won the 1956 Mapes Trophy in Scooter Too, when he was leading in the final heat until the supercharger let go.
Flying the burgee of the Seattle Yacht Club, Hawaii Kai III entered the 1956 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River. Also representing Seattle were Slo-mo-shun IV, Shanty I, Maverick, Miss Seattle and Miss Thriftway. The SYC team had lost the 1955 Gold Cup in Seattle to Joe Schoenith's Gale V -- which represented the Detroit Yacht Club.
After suffering extensive hull damage in a pre-race test run on account of propeller failure, the Kai took fifth place in a 14-boat field and gave national champion Shanty I a good battle in Heat 2B. The race ultimately went to Miss Thriftway, owned by Willard Rhodes and driven by Bill Muncey. This assured a Gold Cup race on Lake Washington in 1957.
As things developed, another Seattle boat sustained damage in a pre-race accident at the 1956 Gold Cup as well. The "Grand Old Lady" Slo-mo-shun IV was wrecked beyond repair when it encountered the wake of an illegally moving patrol boat, and crashed, seriously injuring driver Joe Taggart.
The crestfallen Slo-mo IV owner, Stan Sayres, offered the use of his spare Rolls-Royce Merlin engine to the Kai, which had previously used Allison power, and his top-notch volunteer crew to maintain it.
Here was a windfall if ever there was one! This was the same basic group of mechanical wizards that had won five of the previous six Gold Cups with Slo-mo-shun IV and Slo-mo-shun V and had set the then-current mile straightaway record for propeller-driven boats at 178.497 miles an hour in 1952 with Slo-mo IV. This team consisted of crew chief L.N. (Mike) Welsch, Wes Kiesling, George McKernan, Rod Fellers, Elmer Linenschmidt, Fred Hearing, Pete Bertellotti, Bob Stubbs, Don Ibsen Jr. and Jack Watts.
Starting with the 1956 President's Cup in Washington DC, the entire Slo-mo organization -- with the exception of Taggart -- transferred its affiliation to Hawaii Kai III, which in essence became "Slo-mo-shun VI" in the minds of countless Seattle fans.
With Jack Regas continuing as driver, the Kai finished third in the President's Cup with a victory in Heat 2B. Wrong selection of a propeller was blamed for the boat's inability to place higher.
A second Unlimited contest for the Rogers Memorial Trophy, designated as the American Speedboat Championship race, also was contested at the '56 President's Cup Regatta. Equipped with a new, smaller propeller, Regas charged to victory in both heats, beating the favored Shanty I and shattering all records for the event. Hawaii Kai III's best heat speed of 103.487 was only one mile an hour off the world record of 104.775 for the 15-mile distance, set in 1955 at Elizabeth City, N.C., by Danny Foster in Tempo VII.
The Rogers Memorial was the first of ten first-place trophies that the "Pink Lady" would win during her career and also the first indication of her high speed potential.
The craft continued its winning ways at the season finale in Las Vegas for the Sahara Cup on Lake Mead. Regas scored victories in all three heats, after Shanty I went dead in the water while leading in the final. The Kai, nevertheless, turned the fastest lap, heat, and race averages of the regatta.
Hawaii Kai III's late-season brilliance vaulted her to second place behind Shanty I in a field of 31 boats in the 1956 National High Point Championship Series, although this accomplishment was scarcely recognized at the time. This was on account of the High Point Championship not being accorded the prestige that it enjoys today. On the contrary, these were the days when the Gold Cup reigned supreme as the one prize that outweighed all others in terms of sentiment and pride of possession.
During the winter of 1956-57, Edgar Kaiser announced that, due to business pressure, he would have to retire as an active Unlimited hydroplane owner. However, in recognition of the crew in making the boat a frontrunner, Kaiser gave the Kai to the former Slo-mo team for the '57 season. Mike Welsch was designated as the representative owner.
The first three competitive outings of 1957 -- the Apple Cup, the Mapes Trophy, and the Gold Cup -- were all disappointments for the Hawaii Kai team. They established that they had the fastest entry on the circuit but failed to bring in any victories due to an inability to go the 90-mile distance. There was some consolation, however, in that the Kai and Jack Regas won every heat they finished and set at least one course record in every event.
In the Apple Cup at Lake Chelan, Washington, Hawaii Kai III set a world competition lap record of 116.004 on a 3-mile course. The previous best had been Tempo VII's 106.007 at Madison, Ind., in 1955. The Kai's mark would stand until 1963. A case could be made for Hawaii Kai III being the most significant record-breaking boat of the post-World War II era. This is because it raised the competition lap record by more miles an hour and held it longer than any other craft.
Also at Chelan, the Kai did five laps at approximately 110.4 miles an hour in a ten-lap heat. This unofficially bettered the previous 15-mile competitive standard by almost six miles an hour.
Still, a race boat must be durable as well as fast. So, victory went to Bill Waggoner's Maverick, driven by Bill Stead, at the Apple Cup. Bill Boeing's Miss Wahoo, driven by Mira Slovak, won the Mapes Trophy. And Miss Thriftway's Bill Muncey once again did the honors at the Gold Cup, returning the "Golden Goblet" to the trophy shelf of the Seattle Yacht Club for yet another year.
The Kai, however, turned the fastest 30-mile heat on a 3-mile course in the history of Unlimited racing with a record speed of 109.823 in Gold Cup Heat 1C. This performance erased the previous high of 108.717 set by Miss Wahoo in Heat 1A of the same event.
There is a tide in the affairs of boat racing, and Hawaii Kai III's tide was about to come in. Unlike her previous races of 1957, which were 90 miles in length, all of the remaining contests were 45 miles or less.
On August 31, 1957, one year almost to the day that the Kai, Regas, and the Slo-mo crew joined in partnership, the "Pink Lady" scored an impressive victory over 15 other boats in the Silver Cup Regatta on the Detroit River.
After finishing second to Miss Wahoo due to engine trouble in the initial go-round, Hawaii Kai III won the next two heats. The Gold Cup champion Miss Thriftway was fairly and squarely beaten in the finale, 104.161 to 101.199.
The President's Cup, three weeks later, was another classic. The Kai won all three heats and was clearly the class of the 15-boat field.
On the same weekend, the "Pink Lady" proceeded to win her second straight Rogers Memorial Trophy (in spite of jumping the gun in the final heat) and was simply overwhelming. Moving on to Madison, Ind., for the Governor's Cup on the Ohio River, Hawaii Kai III made it four in a row, winning another three-heat grand slam. The Kai also clinched the 1957 National High Point title by a wide margin at Madison.
In the last race of the season, Hawaii Kai III bowed out in style, retaining her Sahara Cup title while placing first, first and second in heat action. The Kai needed only to finish the last heat to win the race on points. Jack Regas nevertheless staged a thrilling down-to-the-wire duel with Brien Wygle and Thriftway Too in the final stanza, which was run on rough water and in almost total darkness!
As if all of this wasn't enough, Hawaii Kai III then became the fastest propeller-driven boat in the world. On November 29-30, 1957, the Kai raised the mile straightaway record by nine miles an hour to 187.627, a mark which would stand until 1960. The "Pink Lady" also raised the world kilometer record by ten miles per hour to 195.329, a mark which would stand until 1962.
According to the American Power Boat Association rules, a straightaway record is determined by the average of two runs in opposite directions over the same certified course.
During the time trials off Sand Point, in Seattle on Lake Washington, the Kai made one pass through the kilometer trap at 199.726 miles an hour. The boat's raw time for this run was 11.162 seconds, which under APBA rules was rounded off to 11.2 seconds for the 199 mph clocking. If the raw time had been used, the speed would have been 200.409 instead. Thus, Hawaii Kai III was the first propeller-driven craft to turn an "official" 200 miles an hour.
With five straight race wins, the High Point Championship, and a host of speed records to her credit, the Kai stood at the very top of the racing world. She was the logical choice for the cherished number one spot on Yachting Magazine's 1957 motor boat All-American Racing Team.
But one important accolade was still missing. One more element was still needed to make the team's triumph complete. The "Pink Lady" had still not won the Gold Cup.
The year of 1958 dawned with the status of Hawaii Kai III uncertain. It was unkown whether Edgar Kaiser would campaign the boat one more year. While the other Unlimited hydroplane teams prepared for the upcoming season, the defending National Champion languished in drydock, unattended.
In June, Kaiser announced that the Kai would not race again under his ownership and was available for sale. One of the primary reasons for this was the lack of time to properly pursue the sport by both Kaiser and the crew.
But as Gold Cup time neared, there were those who still hoped that Kaiser, Regas, the crew, and the Kai would come back for one more curtain call.
And they did.
Just two days before the July 31 deadline for filing Gold Cup entries, the APBA office in Detroit received a phone call from the Kaiser camp that put Hawaii Kai III back on the active list of Unlimited hydroplanes.
This move was to guarantee any last-minute buyer of the boat a place in the August 10 race, Kaiser explained. It was not until the afternoon of August 1 that he finally agreed to send the Kai to the starting line one more time under his ownership.
The crew quickly reassembled. Their main concern at the outset of the race was the APBA rule which forbade engine changes between heats of an Unlimited race, although component parts (such as spark plugs) could be changed.
If the Rolls power plant had an Achilles heel, it was the quill shaft, which drove the supercharger impeller. In the past, more than one boat had been beached for the day when the quill shaft had twisted or been broken in the heat of competition.
Solving this problem was crucial to Hawaii Kai III's chances since the craft had not finished a 90-mile race since before it was a contender.
Edgar Kaiser had an idea. Why not change the quill shaft between heats? Such a difficult task had never been attempted, but the crew agreed that it was worth a try.
The first practice attempt took 46 minutes, which would have been too long for the boat to be back in the race. But after additional practice, the crew was able to do it in 26 minutes.
Jack Regas, who had not settled himself into a hydroplane cockpit since the record run in November, lacked the sharpening of a recent race competition. While the other top drivers had all seen previous 1958 action, Regas had only a few days to regain his 1957 form for the most important race of the year.
In Jack's words, "I knew that I had to beat Bill Stead." This was a correct assumption. The Reno, Nev., cattle rancher was coming off back-to-back wins in his two previous races with Maverick, the former Rebel Suh, which ironically was the boat after which Hawaii Kai III had been patterned.
In previous seasons, the Bill Waggoner-owned entry had affiliated with the Seattle Yacht Club. But Waggoner had recently transferred his loyalty to the Lake Mead Yacht Club of Las Vegas, Nev. For Seattleites, Maverick was now in the enemy camp.
On the first day of qualifying, Stead turned a record lap of 120.267 and a record three-lap average of 119.956. This indicated that Maverick was apparently three miles an hour faster than the previous year. This was considered significant since the best that the "Pink Lady" would do was 119 before going dead in the water.
In addition to the Kai and the Maverick, much pre-race speculation focused on Miss Thriftway, the Miss Bardahl and the Miss U.S. I. But the drivers of these boats -- Bill Muncey, Mira Slovak and Fred Alter -- simply lacked the speed that Regas and Stead enjoyed.
Race day dawned bright and warm. The water was calm and ideal for competition. Hawaii Kai III and Maverick found themselves drawn into Heat 1A.
The Kai crossed the starting line first, just ahead of Miss Bardahl with Maverick a close third. Stead powered past Slovak and took off after Regas. Maverick tried but could not keep up with Hawaii Kai III. Regas ran the first five laps of this ten-lap heat at approximately 112.8 miles an hour (compared to the world mark of 112.312 for the 15-mile distance, set by the first Miss Thriftway at Madison in 1957). Jack then backed off to a more conservative pace for laps six through ten, as per instructions from his crew, and took the checkered flag 22 seconds ahead of Maverick for an average of 108.734.
No one could deny that the "Pink Lady" was back and stronger than ever. Her historic performance of 112.8 for the first five laps of Heat 1A would stand unchallenged until 1964.
While the Kai crew prepared for the next set of preliminaries, Heat 1B produced a surprise victory by longshot Miss Pay 'n Save. Driver Al Benson's average speed, however, was only 93.701.
The new and improving Miss Thriftway won Heat 1C quite handily. The defending champion Bill Muncey was fast -- at 108.259 -- but not as fast as Hawaii Kai III. Muncey, unfortunately, was unable to capitalize upon his solid 1C performance.
At the start of Heat 2A, Miss Thriftway lost its rudder and crashed into a 40-foot Coast Guard patrol boat. Muncey, who had jumped from the cockpit at the last instant, was pronounced "dead" when a rescue worker could find no pulse. Bill revived, however, to race again.
But as far as the 1958 Gold Cup was concerned, Seattle's chances were not good. The other six local boats were either out of the race or were too far behind in both speed and points. With two 30-mile heats left to run, Hawaii Kai III was the only hope.
The re-run of Heat 2A was surprisingly won by Coral Reef, a perennial tailender from Tacoma, Wash., which had come alive and averaged a respectable 101.237 for the ten laps.
Maverick led at the start of Heat 2B and through the first turn. As they entered the first backstretch, Jack Regas made his bid and thundered past Bill Stead to take over first place. Maverick fought gamely but couldn't catch Hawaii Kai III. Regas maintained a lead varying from 100 yards to a quarter of a mile with Stead charging after him, many times airborne, in the Kai's wake. Then, on the final backstretch, Maverick slowed so that the "Pink Lady's" winning margin was stretched to a full mile
The Las Vegas challenger had been decisively beaten. Stead now trailed Regas, 600 points to 800, and by almost a minute in total elapsed time. The Maverick driver sheepishly conceded, "I had forgotten how fast the Kai could go."
In addition to averaging 106.299 for its second 30-mile heat, Hawaii Kai III had done approximately 108.5 miles an hour for the first 45 miles of the race. This unofficially raised the Kai's own record of 106.061 for that distance, set in 1957 at Madison. The mark would stand until 1962.
As the shadows lengthened on that storied Gold Cup afternoon, the seven finalists took to the water for the last time. But one of them never left the dock. Maverick had broken a spline coupling in its twin-stage Allison engine, and the crew couldn't replace it in time. There would be no victory celebration for the Bill Waggoner camp on this day.
Hawaii Kai III exited the first turn of the final heat in first place and went on to win, hands down. Coral Reef pilot Harry Reeves tried desperately to catch Jack Regas but to no avail. Every time the Reeves made a bid, Regas punched his throttle and sprinted ahead out of reach, maintaining his safe lead.
The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, prepared so meticulously by the Slo-mo crew, was performing perfectly, as the partisan Seattle crowed cheered the "Pink Lady" on to the checkered flag.
The Gold Cup was safe for another year! The Kai had done it! Even after many months on the shelf, the Edgar Kaiser craft had demonstrated its complete mastery over the rest of the fleet.
Hawaii Kai III had finished the 90 miles, which the critics had predicted she could not do, and done so at a record-breaking 103.481 mph, beating Miss Thriftway's 1957 mark of 101.979.
The Kai had become the first Unlimited hydroplane to win six consecutive races. This also was the first time that a thunderboat had completed 300 consecutive miles at a winning pace. The previous mark was the Skip-A-Long's 299.3 miles at a winning pace in 1949. The record would stand until 1962.
A jubilant Edgar Kaiser, the Slo-mo crew, and Jack Regas were the heroes of the day. Their triumph was now complete. There were no more worlds to conquer.
Now the team could disband with a clear conscience. And they did ... within a matter of days. The 1958 Gold Cup was their last race together. There would be no encore.
No one who was there will ever forget that incredible day in August, so many years ago, during the heyday of Seattle's love affair with Unlimited hydroplanes. Hawaii Kai III, the Gold Cup champion, is gone but not forgotten. She and the men who raced her so successfully have earned a permanent place of honor in the annals of boat racing history.
(NOTE: The author is indebted to David Greene and Philip Haldeman of the APBA Unlimited Historical Committee for their editorial assistance in the preparation of the preceding article.)