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The Lahaina Fires Left 2700 Families Without Stable Housing

January 8 will mark five months of being shuffled among hotels, motels and Airbnbs for thousands of displaced Lahaina residents. Tiny-house communities are finally popping up, but there isn’t a tree for miles, and “Lahaina” translates into relentless sun in Hawaiian.

Lahaina Harbor
The fire is long over but Lahaina will be struggling to recover for a long time.
© 2023

One local nonprofit is using salvaged superyacht sails to create custom shade solutions ranging from rooftops and awnings to community spaces and parks.

Latitude has been following Sail to Shelter for a couple of years. The mission of the organization is to transform decommissioned elite sails into shade and shelter for humanitarian aid. The dead-sail problem is as old as sailing. We all know it. Bags are great, but some of these sails are 13,000 square feet of some of the most technically advanced material on the planet. Founder Angela Abshier is committed to reconstructing them into valuable shade and shelter and creating jobs for locals in the process.

Former Maui resident and sailmaker Barry Spanier commented, “In my long career as a sailmaker, I worked on fabric development and testing of all types. The materials in these huge sails (three-ply Spectra with carbon inserts, maybe 18oz sailmaker weight) will make long-lasting, super-tough shade and shelter. I have cut it, sewed it, and there has even been on-site testing of prototype samples that shows us it is worth investing the time and energy required to get it cooling the areas around the temporary housing being made available to displaced Lahaina residents.

“The Lahaina situation is extraordinary. An entire town has been wiped away; it is Christmas, and so many have no place that is home. My son, Cutter, is among them, and he is ready to put his sewing and sailmaking skills to work to help secure a safe haven for himself and many others. I fully support Sail to Shelter and Angela’s effort to help not only Lahaina, but anywhere these materials can be of benefit.”

Using sails as an alternative building material is a story in itself. At this time of year, the story is about support.

So much of the Sail to Shelter mission is achieved through partnerships. Material, designs, overwater freight and storage for tons of material have all been donated through generous private donors as well as corporate support from CO Architects, Ocean Voyages Institute and Matson. But once the material arrives at its destination, Sail to Shelter relies on donations to hire locally. Donations go directly to local labor on the island. The sails are en route to Maui. They are asking for donations now. If you want to make an immediate impact for families who lost everything, please consider making a donation here.



  1. Michelle Melendez 7 months ago

    I’d love to contact them for an interview but they don’t have a contact page.

  2. Tom Morr 7 months ago

    Hi, Michelle:

    We do PR for CO Architects and would be happy to connect you.

    Tom Morr
    Taylor & Company P

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Emeryville sailor Craig Russell wrote us last week to share some if his sailing story, and asks how many days a year other sailors get out on the Bay.