SANTA CRUZ -- Local sailing legend was made at the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor Sunday as the tight-knit sailing community gathered to celebrate the launch of a recently restored trimaran that had been out of the water for 39 years.
The 24-foot, multi-hulled sailboat Kaija was built by Kurt Larsen of Pleasure Point in 1964, stored for almost 40 years and given to Niels Kisling of Capitola two years ago.
Kisling, a historian for the Santa Cruz Yacht Club and board member of the Capitola Historical Museum, held court Sunday at a relaunch party outside the yacht club.
"I'm a softy for history so I did this for everyone," he said. "Kaija is the people's boat. I've invited anyone to go sailing. And it's just really cool that Kaija has brought so many people back together. The sailing community has really rallied around."
Larsen, 70, started the Kaija project in his parents' Santa Clara frontyard in the early 1960s, while he was in college and his parents were in Europe. He went to Sausalito to meet the designer of the then-new trimaran, Arthur Piver, and was given a set of plans for a design dubbed the Nugget, Kisling said.
Kaija took a year to build and was docked in Redwood City, San Leandro and Moss Landing, with frequent anchorings off Capitola Wharf while Larsen managed the Capitola Bait and Tackle Shop.
After about nine years, Kaija was stored in the Larsens' backyard while they were busy running Larsen Sails. (The 17th Avenue business is now called Larsens Inc. and makes tarps and canopies for the motor sports industry).
The Larsens contacted Kisling two years ago after he wrote a story about a local sailor, Rich Gerling, who sailed a Piver Nugget from Los Angeles to Honolulu in 1961 and was among the first to successfully complete an ocean passage on a multi-hulled sailboat, Kisling said.
Kaija was restored by Kisling and friends in the yard of Norm Tracy's home in Live Oak, and a crowd also showed up for the first launch on Sept. 9, he said.
Two weeks later, he went for a longer sail with his sons, Jack and Christian, which he called reintroducing Kaija to the wild. He said she handled wind speeds of 15 knots "beautifully" and cut through some choppy waters at speeds close to 10 knots.
Sunday, more than 30 people showed up for the "official" relaunch celebration, including Gerling, who made the voyage to Honolulu 51 years ago.
The Larsens' 8-year-old granddaughter, Kaiya, sat on the sailboat for a while as admirers milled about. She was named after the boat though her name is spelled differently, her grandmother said.
Kurt Larsen, surrounded by friends, said only that it was sweet to see Kaija sailing again. The couple watched the boat from the bluffs at 37th Avenue on its first launch last month.
Sue Larsen said the occasion had some sadness for her as well, as her husband has not been well enough to sail the past few years.
"But the fact that Niels has taken the boat over and is giving it a new life is wonderful," she said.
Rod Trombly of Aptos, a Yacht Club member who attended the re-launch, said he thought it was a great thing too.
"It's wonderful to bring this boat out," Trombly said. "It was built at a time when these trimarans were really popular."
Kisling said trimarans are not commonplace, but are fast and becoming popular with the America's Cup crowd.
He said it was lucky that Larsen stored the boat well, so that it could be restored. And he said that everyone who shows up to see Kaija "has a good story to tell about the kindness of Kurt and Sue Larsen."
"All the attention Kaija garners is proof of what people around here think about Kurt and Sue," he said.
Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9