The wreck of the Nettie Merrill

In February 1888, the inter-island schooner “Nettie Merrill,” Captain Ezra D. Crane (1831-1898) commanding, was shipwrecked in rough seas and strong winds off Waimea, Kauai, while laden with a cargo of lumber scheduled for delivery to the Kekaha sugar mill the following day.

Its crew managed to escape the wreck by swimming ashore amidst tremendous waves, but Captain Crane, being unable to swim, remained trapped on board, clinging to the schooner’s useless helm.

Had it not been for Pale Kapahee (1868-1925), a sturdy Niihau woman who swam from shore to the floundering schooner to rescue him, Crane would certainly have been killed in the shipwreck.

Once ashore, a most grateful Crane offered Kapahee a token of his thanks, but she refused and calmly walked away.

A native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Crane first went to sea at the age of 13 on a whale ship aboard which he first visited the Hawaiian Islands.

After spending the next 10 years cruising the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on whale ships – gaining experience and seamanship skills all the while, and eventually being promoted to whale ship captain – Crane retired from whaling in 1844 to become an inter-island schooner captain and permanent citizen of Hawaii, where he resided for remainder of his life.

As a captain of inter-island schooners, he was well-known from Niihau to the Big Island and was an especially trusted friend of Native Hawaiians. In fact, members of Hawaii’s reigning families and chiefs favored traveling aboard schooners captained by Crane.

He was also appointed Sheriff of Kau, Hawaii during his inter-island schooner days.

Following the wreck of the “Nettie Merrill,” Crane left the sea for good and took a position with the Water Works Department in Honolulu.

With his wife, Emma, Crane had three sons and a daughter. One of their sons, Charles Crane, was the mayor of Honolulu from 1938 to 1941.

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