Stars & Stripes USA 11 is docked at the Kona Kai Marina, Shelter Island San Diego.

From it’s inception, the Kona Kai Club was a Polynesian-themed “boatel,” intended to serve pleasure boat owners as a private club. Today, now called the Kona Kai Resort, the marina still serves pleasure boat owners with slips for both large & small yachts. The former America’s Cup race boat, Stars & Stripes USA 11 is one of those yachts.

It all began in 1952 when San Diego Port director John Bates started work on developing a swampy old sandbar just beyond the San Diego Yacht Club’s docks into a Polynesian paradise — Shelter Island. His old friend and fellow yacht-owner Conrad Arnholt Smith envisioned the Kona Kai Club as the premiere marina in San Diego.

‘I just got sick every time a storm would hit and I would look at all the damage to the docks and boats,’ he recounted. ‘We needed another harbor to give our boats some shelter!

Sand dredged from the bay’s channels and marinas was built up, rip-rap added along its banks, and the old causeway extended to connect the new island to Byron Street. As it was public tidal lands property under the custodianship of the Port of San Diego, land on Shelter Island could not be sold to private concerns. But generous, long-term leases could be negotiated. C. Arnholt Smith was first in line, and had already begun pre-selling memberships.

If you had a boat, Kona Kai Club was the place to stay! It saw many rich and famous on a regular basis — Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Arthur Godfrey, Connie Haines, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Liberace, Gregory Peck, Danny Thomas, Dick Van Dyke, Lawrence Welk, Meredith Willson, and many more.

“Our Kon-Tiki Bar abounds with exotic, exciting beverages — pineapple and banana daiquiri, Kiki Huna cocktails, or the more prosaic refreshments from the corners of the globe. A cozy lounge is provided for pleasant rendezvous — canasta or bridge. Dance under the stars to the soft provocative rhythms of the Kona Kai band.” – From a Kona Kai Club brochure

Today you can enjoy cocktails and dinner at the Kona Kai restaurant, the Vessel. And while doing so, be sure to look out at the Kona Kai Marina and find a tall black mast close to the restaurant. That 11 story carbon fiber mast belongs to Stars & Stripes USA 11.  The famous Stars & Stripes was designed and built to be raced in 1992, San Diego. If you’d like to join us for a sail, go to our website sailusa11.com.  You’ll be given the chance to drive this former race boat, and if you’re able, you can help grind the winches. Or if you’re so inclined, you can just hang on and enjoy the ride!