Skip to content

Epic Rampage for the Ages in Lahaina, Hawaii

Another thing we old folks are good at, besides treachery, is remembering stuff. For example, that story last week about the nut case who stole a motorboat in Newport Harbor and rammed several other boats before he was apprehended. Most people who read about it (and saw the video) probably shook their heads and moved on to the next news blip. Not former managing editor John Riise.

“What an amateur!” said JR (who these days puts the Changes In Latitudes column together every month). “This guy has nothing on the Lahaina Rampage.”

After searching it out in the archives — the article appeared in the August 1984 issue — we have to agree: When it comes to rampages-by-boat, the Newport guy was a rank amateur. We’ll also agree that, after almost 40 years, the Lahaina Rampage is pretty unforgettable. See what you think …

Lahaina Rampage 1984
This story first appeared in our August 1984 issue.
© 2022 Latitude 38

In the early morning hours of June 25, an Australian sailor on leave from his ship anchored in the Lahaina roadstead, having spent too much in the bars or on whatever else may be available in Lahaina, determined to steal a boat. His reasons are still unclear. Dave Russell, skipper of the Lahaina charter boat Sea Wolf, describes the ensuing chaos.

“This Australian sailor broke into another charter boat, the Aerial, a 44-ft Pacemaker,” Russell reports. “He must’ve been familiar with boats, because he found the master switch and got both engines started, let the lines go, pushed the throttle full ahead — two 300-hp Detroit diesels at full RPMs — and slammed it into gear. It took off like a shot. Well, what he didn’t know was that the boat was being worked on and the hydraulic steering was disconnected. So he couldn’t steer and the boat went straight across the harbor and up onto the seawall. A guy on a boat next to all this looks up at the Aussie on the flybridge and says, ‘Get off of there, you’re going to hurt somebody.’

“The Aussie says, ‘Fuck you mate,’ slams it in reverse and goes back across the harbor backwards — about eight knots I’d say — into the bow of the Jude Ann, a 44-ft trawler, lifts her three feet out of the water and splits the transom open on Aerial. He slams the throttle forward and takes off across the harbor in a different angle, shears off the transom of a 60-ft trimaran, Trilogy, then ran into our stern, which pushed Sea Wolf against the others in a domino effect. The impact with my boat knocked him from the flybridge onto the foredeck and he jumped off of the Aerial into the harbor. Now Aerial is taking off down the harbor all on its own. It shears off 10-12 lines of the boats moored Tahiti-style and impales itself on a Grand Banks 52. By then, everyone was awake, and someone jumped on Aerial and throttled back. Aerial was destroyed, totaled from the cabin forward. Now, when you dig a big hole like that in the water — well, it gave off a stern wake that pushed 133 boats up on the seawall, just like a tidal wave had done it. They’re laying all over, tangled masts, snapped rigging and broken spreaders.

“Meanwhile, sailor boy climbs over the seawall, crosses the reef, and swims out to a charter boat, the Broadbill, moored about 350 yards offshore, gets it started and takes off again. The Aerial III, with a Maui police officer on board, gives pursuit. The Aussie comes out of the dark with no running lights and tried to ram them. He spent the next hour roaring around trying to ram the five to six boats trying to stop him.

“When later questioned whether he really intended to ram the boats, the sailor replied, ‘Sure. They were chasing me. I wanted to get rid of them.’

“At dawn he was spotted near Lanai, and with the pursuers close behind, drove over the reef, grounded Broadbill on the coral with engines still wide open, and ran into the Keawe trees.

By now this guy has crossed two reefs and a rock seawall covered with bottles, chains, cables and beer cans, and he charges into trees covered with thorns. “It’s like running into a rosebush,” says Russell. “We lost him then,” he adds. By 7 a.m. the Lanai police finally had him in custody.

So who’s going to pay for the Lahaina Rampage? For the actions of one sailor who damaged 17 boats and put 10 charter boats out of commission? The captain of the supply ship and the Australian Consul, at their first meeting with those involved, accepted no responsibility. Says Russell, “Insurance companies, generally speaking, will pay for the damages, but, you know — when a boat’s hit that hard it may never be the same. Aerial’s a total. Broadbill’s a total. I can safely guess there’ll be $3 to $4 million in claims. We’ve got 25 people directly out of work, and then there’s the support groups, the guys who make the lunches, the girl who sells the tickets, the guy who sells 1,500 gallons of fuel every day in Lahaina Harbor. We’ll lose $200,000 in gross revenues for the month. That’s a lot of money that’s not going to move around.

“Now I’m not blaming the Australian Navy or Australians,” he adds. “They’re great people and there are rip-roaring, fun-loving sailors everywhere, but I am a little irritated by the attitude of their government, because, basically, they told us — ‘It’s your problem.'” “I’d say,” adds Russell, “that right now Lahaina would not be a very nice place for an Australian cruising boat to visit.”

— Annie Sutter


  1. greg clausen 1 year ago

    Its a narrow harbor, must have been like playing pinball!

  2. -Jude 1 year ago

    Great read! Thanks for sharing

Leave a Comment