Cleopatra’s Barge was an opulent yacht built in Massachusetts in 1816. It became The Royal Yacht of King Kamehameha II who named it Ha’aheo O Hawaii (Pride of Hawaii), but was wrecked in 1824. It cost about $50,000 to build, and about the same amount for luxury furnishing. The main cabin was 19′ x 20′ with mahogany panels inlaid with other decorative wood. Furniture was covered in red velvet with gold lace, and the kitchen included custom silver, china and formal glassware. The starboard side was painted in colorful horizontal stripes, and the port side a herring-bone pattern. It even boasted indoor plumbing.
On April 6, 1824, in Hanalei Bay, the Ha’aheo O Hawaii ran aground on a shallow reef. A recent theory for why the ship was in such a remote area was that it was in a scouting expedition, investigating plans for the rumored rebellion that would take place by King Kaumualii’s son Humehume. Although this theory gives retribution for Kaumuali’i’s capture as a motive for potential sabotage, the missionaries blamed the wreck for the frequent drunkenness of the crew.
A section of the hull wrecked anchor, Dec. 30, 1844, that was already damaged by shipworms, and two cannon were recovered in 1857. Several tsunamis and hurricanes helped disperse the wreckage.
In January 1994, Paul Forsythe Johnston of the Smithsonian’s Institute National Museum of American History applied for the first underwater archeological permits issued by the state of Hawaii. CPT Richard W. Rogers volunteered the research vessel Pilialoha outfitted with a proton magnetometer and in July 1995 the search began. After several years of work, the shipʻs remains were finally located, carefully excavated, and many artifacts were recovered. A section of the stern was uncovered and documented.
Photos: Kauai Museum