I'm a boater! Email me yachts and information.

December 17th 2015. By John Burnham.

Kialoa II: Famous Aluminum Racer, 50 Years Later

The 72-foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl has raced and cruised around the world and has many miles yet to sail.

In 1973, after a decade of non-stop offshore racing, Kialoa II sailed from Miami to Jamaica in her last race under the command of Jim Kilroy, the L.A. businessman who built and campaigned her on the West Coast. Over the years, he had raced her to Mexico, Hawaii, Hobart, Bermuda, and across the Atlantic to four different destinations in Europe. While he cruised her in Mexico, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific, racing was Kialoa’s primary purpose, and the cruises occurred en route to or from the racecourse. The 72-footer, rigged sometimes as a sloop and sometimes, a yawl, won one of every four races she sailed, and finished on the podium in more than half of them.

Kialoa II close-hauled

Showing her distinctive yawl-rigged profile, Kialoa II close-hauled in Scotland.

When he built his third Kialoa, Kilroy donated Kialoa II to the U.S. Coast Guard as a training vessel, and she had other owners subsequently. But fast forward to 1999, when Jos Fruytier, a Dutch sailor with a soft spot for historic sailing vessels, flew to Honolulu on Christmas Day and bought her on the spot.

Kialoa II at anchor

A commanding presence in any harbor, Kialoa II at anchor

Fruytier had owned and restored other sailboats, including 8-Meter designs, and says, “After sailing lakes and coastal waters, I wanted the ocean experience.” He had considered buying a William Fife design but with Kialoa II landed “the best of both worlds—beauty, power, strength, speed, and history.”

One of the biggest differences between Kialoa II, built in 1963, and many earlier or similar vintage classics, was her construction—aluminum instead of wood. Kilroy worked with sailors experienced in airplane construction and helped them launch a new company, Yacht Dynamics, to build the boat of a corrosion-resistant aircraft grade of aluminum called Duralium in San Pedro, Calif. The hull was computer-lofted, also a first in yacht construction.

Kialoa II mid-deck winches and grinders

The mid-deck features her rebuilt, custom Barient winches and coffee grinder pedestals.

Thirty-six years later, a sound hull was one reason that Fruytier decided to point Kialoa’s bow southwest into the South Pacific and begin a 20,000-mile voyage lasting over a year. He flew home periodically to attend to family and business, but eventually delivered Kialoa II to Metur Yachts in Bodrum, Turkey for a full refit, completed in 2003.

Kialoa II galley

The spacious galley features a unique gimballed serving area for full plates and glassware while heeling underway.

According to a chapter in Franco Pace’s book Sparkman & Stephens: Giants of Classic Yacht Design, contributed by writer John Lammerts van Bueren, the hull was completely stripped and interior, removed. It was checked for corrosion after which a new paint system was applied. The electrical system and generators were brought up to date before the interior was renovated and replaced, faithful to its original styling of light paneling and varnished teak. On deck, as well, most of the custom hardware including the original Barient winches and grinders were rebuilt or overhauled, all standing and running rigging was renewed, and a new suit of sails built by TD Sails of Edam, in Holland.

According to Lammerts van Bueren, who has cruised with Fruytier in Scotland, “Sailing Kialoa II is a treat. She moves like a big America’s Cup 12-Meter. Once the breeze fills her sails, she leans over and takes off. Well-trimmed, she powers along at 15 knots and more, her long and deep keel makes her move as if on rails.”

Steering Kialoa II

Steering Kialoa II’s well-balanced helm from the leeward side of deep cockpit

In the last decade, Fruytier has cruised her, mainly in the Med and northern Europe. In his view, “she is designed by a genius—extremely seaworthy, fast and very safe, never hitting the waves but cutting them as with a knife. I sailed twice aboard her in hurricane conditions, and she was strong, quiet, and fast.”

As of this writing, Fruytier is ready to sell Kialoa II to a new owner who will appreciate her classic lines, her sailing characteristics, and her go-anywhere capabilities, not to mention her considerable history, much of which is recounted in seven chapters of Kilroy’s 2012 autobiography, Kialoa, Dare to Win. Lying in Portugal, the vessel is listed for sale on YachtWorld at a competitive price.

Kialoa II hull shape

Out of the water, Kialoa II shows off her hull’s graceful lines, as well as the large spade rudder added in 1968.

Kialoa II presents an interesting case of a yacht that is a classic vessel, yet built of more modern materials, i.e., not wood. For a prospective owner who can imagine steering her famous bow across a starting line, this limits her participation somewhat; for example, some popular regattas on the East Coast of the U.S. only allow wooden boats to compete. Then again, as Matt Brooks has proved in recent years with his 1929 S&S yawl, Dorade, if you’re willing to race offshore, it’s possible to win silverware against more modern boats if you have a well-prepared, well-sailed older design.

Kialoa II, 72-foot Sparkman & Stephens ketch

There are some trickier issues for the sailor who would love to cruise a boat like Kialoa II yet doesn’t want to compromise her authenticity. As former S&S chief designer Bruce Johnson points out, she can be sailed fairly easily by a small crew right now under a reduced sailplan of mainsail, roller-furled No. 2 genoa, and yankee jib. The sailplan could also be updated and made much simpler to handle with the addition of a roller-furling boom, and electric or hydraulic winches could be added for sheet and main halyard winch.

The interior presents a tradeoff. Kialoa II’s cabin was laid out for efficiency in feeding and sleeping a racing crew over long distances. She has been modified for better cruising with two separate cabins forward and one aft, but all in the original style. She was not laid out in the modern manner of gigantic master and VIP staterooms.

Forward cabin of Kialoa II

The forward starboard cabin on Kialoa II shows off its teak-paneled interior, good sea berths, and sturdy, lightweight storage areas.

On this matter, however, a new owner might choose to take a page from original owner Jim Kilroy’s book and make further changes to the interior if it suits him or her. During the time Kilroy campaigned Kialoa II, he constantly modified the boat. In part, he did it to optimize the boat as handicapping rules changed, but also to improve speed and maneuverability. When spade rudders began supplanting keel-hung rudders in the late ‘60s, it made perfect sense to Kilroy for his boat to have one, too.

That hasn’t been Jos Fruytier’s preference and it may not be for future owners, but if a classic is to thrive in her second half century afloat, evolution is to be expected, even as the profile of a yacht as beautiful as Kialoa II traces an unchanging course across the horizon.

Kialoa II’s listing, as of this writing, can be viewed on YachtWorld, as well as other Sparkman & Stephens designs.

John Burnham
John Burnham is a boat owner, leadership coach, marine writer, editor, and champion sailboat racer. He is the former editor of Sailing World, Cruising World, and boats.com.