Wow, I take back what I said about the recent America's Cup races on San Francisco Bay being too high-tech, too high-speed, too high-testosterone.
With instant playback and computer-generated graphics, it was thrilling television watching the AC-72 catamarans fly over the water at the unheard of speed of 50 mph, swooping like great prehistoric birds.
"This is a new game. This is like bringing a monster truck to yacht racing," said my brother Drew, with whom I watched the spectacle night after night on the edge of my seat. "This caught the imagination of the common person. Before it was more like watching golf."
The man who dramatically changed the most coveted prize in yacht racing is Larry Ellison, the corporate warrior who won the cup in 2010 and got to call the shots this time around in terms of vessel and venue.
His Oracle Team USA came from behind and walloped the doughty Emirates Team New Zealand that had won eight races straight and needed only one more to seal the victory. Ellison's team had the talent, the money, and the sheer willpower to pull off one of the greatest coups in sports history, certainly in the 162 years of the America's Cup, and it says a lot about the man who recently bought Lanai.
The island has always been party to sole, sometimes eccentric, ownership.
In 1861, Walter Murray Gibson, who later became Kalakaua's premier, came to Hawaii after a picaresque career in which he was variously a New York merchant, a gunrunner in the Caribbean, and an escapee from a Dutch East Indies prison.
Gibson attached himself to the Mormon settlement in Utah and with church money, bought the lands of Palawai on Lanai where he built up the Mormon settlement. He also put title in his own name, earning excommunication when Brigham Young found out.
Gibson's property passed from his heirs into the hands of Charles Gay, who arrived with his family on Lanai in 1902. Gay purchased all but 600 acres of the island and established the Lanai Co. in hopes of building a sugar plantation. Lack of water doomed that venture, but he formed a ranch and grew pineapple under contract with the Baldwin's Haiku Fruit and Packing Co.
Harry and Frank Baldwin loved hunting on Lanai with Roland Gay. In 1917, they bought the Lanai Co.'s holdings for $588,000 and ran cattle. Fields were sown with grass seed. "Keystone," a prize bull from the Parker Ranch, provided the herd with a hundred quality calves a year. The water system was expanded.
In 1922, just when prospects seemed brightest, the brothers sold to the pineapple canning pioneer James D. Dole and his Hawaiian Pineapple Co. The $1.1 million raised went to purchase 'Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui.
The Hawaiian Pineapple Co. invested $1 million into water development and began operations in 1924 on 300 acres cleared from dusty scrub. Dole paved roads and blasted a safe harbor from a cliff at Kaumalapau, where barges loaded the fruit for transport to Honolulu.
The company became a subsidiary of Castle & Cooke, and when its canned pineapple operation was shut down, owner David H. Murdock converted Lanai into a resort.
In 1992, after I returned to Hawaii, I took my mother to the newly opened Koele Lodge. I was bemused by the sight of field workers newly minted into hotel employees in uniforms with gold epaulettes designed by Yves St. Laurent.
Now comes Larry Ellison. According to my brother, who worked in IT in the Bay Area for years, the man is audacious, relentless and brilliant.
"He's like a train who creates his own momentum. He's largely unstoppable through sheer force of will. He's always been a larger-than-life character. His public persona isn't very likable; he does what it takes. You couldn't say he was loved, but he certainly was respected."
Ellison made his fortune by creating industrial-strength corporate software. With its customized packages and 24/7 support, Oracle dominated that business for two decades and expanded from there. It's "a very driven organization," my brother says.
Along the way, Ellison built a large Japanese-style compound in Woodside, Calif., with traditional craftsmanship and formal gardens. "I think he considers himself a samurai."
Now I wonder even more what's in store for Lanai.
* 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.