Designing Hokule’a

Designing Hokule’a

From Hawaiki Rising – a book by Sam Low

 Early in 1973, Ben Finney met with Herb Kane and Tommy Holmes, a famous island waterman from an elite kama’aina family. “We started talking among ourselves,” Ben recalls,“ and we said, ‘well let’s do it. Let’s build a big canoe and sail to Tahiti and back.’”

Their first task was to come up with an appropriate plan for the canoe. “We wanted to get an approximate design that would be generic to the age of ancient exploration,” Herb recalls. But how to choose the best design from all those drawings made by early explorers? Herb had studied anthropology at the University of Chicago and he was familiar with the “age-area” theory which proposed that the cultural attributes most common and widespread in an area must be the most ancient. A three dimensional visualization of this theory resembles what happens when a stone is tossed into a still pond. Where the stone hits is the source of a cultural innovation – a new canoe design, for example – and the ripples represent how the design radiates out over time. Innovation may occur at the source, producing more ripples, but the original early designs are distributed far and wide. Hence, those canoe designs that are the most widespread in an area – are the earliest.

“I looked for hull and sail design features most widely distributed throughout “Eastern” or “marginal” Polynesia (including Hawai’i, the Marquesas, Tahiti, the Cook Islands and New Zealand) when Europeans arrived,” Herb recalls, “and I figured these were the most ancient because they must have been common features in the era of exploration and settlement. To these features I added some distinctively Hawaiian stylistic elements-the end pieces and arched crossbeams.”

Archeologists debate whether the first arrivals in Hawaii came from the Society islands or the Marquesas, but there is agreement that voyages between Tahiti and Hawaii continued until sometime between the 12th and the 14th century. Then they stopped. Perhaps the islands were filling up and Hawaiians had decided to protect their precious real estate from new Tahitian migrants who they perceived as interlopers rather than ancestral brothers and sisters. Whatever the reason, Herb figured that when long distance voyaging declined, Hawaiians took to paddling their canoes rather than sailing them on the relatively short trips along the coast or between the islands. Chiefs traveled with a large number of warriors who could man the paddles and paddling offered the advantage of being able to power through calms or travel directly upwind. Herb surmised that the shape of canoe hulls changed to accommodate this change in power, from the deep vee-shaped hulls of sailing canoes to the more rounded and shallow hulls of canoes that were paddled – like the ones Cook discovered in Hawaii. Rounded hulls, like Ben Finney’s canoe, Nalehia, were not suitable for sailing. “Hulls of paddling canoes are round and are maneuverable but do not track well if you try to sail them,” Herb says, “making about seventy-five degrees to the wind in sheltered waters. On the open sea, in strong winds and buffeted by waves, such hulls would no doubt skid off the wind.”

Modern sailing catamarans have deep, flat-sided hulls which make them extremely fast and allow them to sail relatively well to windward. To maneuver such hulls, however, requires powerful stern-hung rudders – an innovation unknown in Oceania – and the hulls stand high out of the water and are affected by the wind. They also tend to plunge in heavy seas. Ben agreed with Herb that their canoe would be modeled on an ancient Tahitian variant, called a pahi, which had a curved vee-shaped bottom and rounded sides. The underwater vee shape would allow the canoe to sail to windward. The rounded sides would prevent her from plunging in swells. Given the distance between the predominant Pacific swells, Herb figured that sixty feet was a good size for the canoe. The hull would have tumblehome – a graceful inward curve at the top – because it strengthens the canoe laterally.

Herb enlisted others to help. Kim Thompson, an architect, designed the bow and stern pieces – the manu. Rudy Choy, an expert naval architect who had designed modern catamarans and written a book about them, helped with the line drawings for the hulls. The canoe was substantially funded as a part of the national bicentennial celebration, so it had to be ready to sail to Tahiti by 1976. That, and because there were no shipwrights who could fashion a canoe from a log, led them to build her of cold molded plywood covered with fiberglass.

“We needed to raise money,” says Ben Finney, “so we decided to form a non profit corporation – the Polynesian Voyaging Society. I drafted a succinct statement – ‘we are going to form the society to study Polynesian voyaging and do experimental voyages to gain information to model Polynesian migration and voyaging.’”

“We set a three year time table,” says Herb, “the first year to raise money, the second to build the canoe, the third to learn how to sail her and make the trip – from 1973 to 1976 to do the whole project.” They named their canoe Hokule’a – Star of Joy – the Hawaiian name for the star Arcturus, which reaches its zenith directly over Hawai’i and may have been a prime navigational guide for ancient navigators seeking the Islands.

Herb convinced Dillingham Corporation to provide a secure place to work – a large industrial building with a concrete floor. Warren Seaman lofted the lines and began work on the hulls, then boatwrights Curt Ashford and Malcolm Waldron took over, assisted by Tommy Heen, Calvin Coito and many volunteers.

The projected cost to build Hokule’a was a hundred thousand dollars, an enormous sum of money in 1973. To raise the funds, Ben Finney began writing grants to foundations known to fund anthropological research. The canoe was an exercise in “experimental archeology,” he wrote, a new field of study that tested ancient technologies by building something – a catapult, a fortification, a Roman chariot – and experimenting with it to see how it worked.


The Founders – Ben Finney

The Founders – Ben Finney

From Hawaiki Rising – a book by Sam Low


Ben Finney is a lean six foot three Californian with sandy hair and blue eyes. He grew up in San Diego surfing and diving for abalone. He learned to sail catamarans. He attended Berkley where he “wandered from engineering, to humanities, to history to anthropology.” It was the fifties and jobs were plentiful, so he was indulging his interests. Ben traveled to the Hawaiian Islands to surf and became fascinated by Polynesian culture. “My question was how did they adapt so well to the sea? Everything I read in anthropology was about land people. The Polynesians were a sea people – how did they learn to use the ocean so well, to create this ocean based way of life?”

At the University of Hawaii, he met Kenneth Emory, then the world’s foremost authority on Polynesia, and folklorist Katherine Luomala who supervised his master’s thesis – “Surfing, the History of an Ancient Sport” which was published, rare for a scholarly treatise, and is now in its second edition. Loumala introduced him to a book called “The Ancient Voyagers of the Pacific” by Andrew Sharp.

“I don’t like this book and I want you to read it” Loumala told him.

Andrew Sharp had accepted the scholars’ conclusion that Polynesia had been settled from Southeast Asia, but he could not accept Captain Cook’s earlier theory that Polynesians had navigated their canoes by sun, moon and stars. How would they have plotted their course over thousands of empty sea miles without a map or have found their latitude and longitude without instruments? Sharp thought Polynesia was settled by accidental voyages – by castaways blown off course in storms. “On occasion,” he wrote, “voluntary exiles, or exiles driven out to sea, were conveyed to other islands on one-way voyages in which precise navigation played no part.”

“I didn’t believe it,” Finney remembers. “My response was partly emotional – I had been thinking of the Polynesians as great voyagers and this guy says they are not. Here are the Polynesians, sitting in the middle of this huge ocean and they’ve got these big canoes – the ones seen by Captain Cook on his voyages – so they must have sailed here. Sharp said flatly that you can’t sail more than three hundred miles out of sight of land without instruments because of navigational errors. But you have Hawaiian legends of people going back and forth between a place called Kahiki which is arguably – but not necessarily – Tahiti. Was Polynesia settled by competent sailors on purposeful voyages of discovery, or by accident – by storm tossed castaways? So the obvious idea occurred, ‘well, we have to rebuild an ancient canoe, relearn how to navigate and sail it and take some of the legendary voyages.’” Ben had the wits to know this is not something that a graduate student should be thinking about. You have to get your degree first. So he earned his Ph.D in anthropology from Harvard after arduous study in Tahiti. But all the time he was thinking about building a canoe.

In 1966, Ben got a teaching job at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He was newly married. He had a few thousand dollars saved up. He still dreamed of building a big canoe to sail throughout Polynesia but he settled on a more prudent first step. Why not build a smaller canoe of the same type and test that? “There was a mould for a Hawaiian shaped hull in California,” he recalls. “I could plunk down five hundred dollars and put my labor in and end up with two hulls for a forty foot double canoe.” He developed the project under the non-profit umbrella of his university, recruited some students as labor, and launched the canoe within a year. Mary Kawena Pukui, famous Hawaiian scholar, named her Nalehia – “the skilled ones.”

Ben received a grant from the National Science Foundation to find out how much energy was needed to paddle her. He shipped Nalehia to Hawaii where he conducted oxygen uptake tests and discovered that paddling long distances would take more water and food than the canoe could possibly carry. Clearly, Polynesian explorers must have been skilled at harnessing the power of the wind.

In the fifties, when Ben was in the islands as an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii, most Hawaiians seemed oblivious of their cultural heritage. “It was a thing of the past,” he wrote in his book – Hokule’a – the Way to Tahiti – “and better left that way seemed to be the common attitude on the part of Hawaiians, then a dispirited minority comprising less than one fifth of Hawaii’s multiracial population, dominated by Americans of Caucasian and Asian Ancestry.” But now, returning to the islands in 1966, he found new stirrings among Hawaiians. “Young Hawaiians who had grown up speaking only English were trying to learn Hawaiian and were studying old forms of chanting, dancing and other practices of the ancient culture.”

Finney knew some surfers and canoe paddlers at the Waikiki Surf Club – people like Rabbit Kekai and Nappy Napoleon, big names in those days. He enlisted them to crew aboard Nalehia and their fame soon attracted others. Among them was a young eighteen-year-old nicknamed ‘Hoss’ because he was big and clumsy. Hoss had just graduated from high school and was having trouble finding a job. He became deeply involved in the canoe. He soaked up Ben’s stories of his early ancestors. A few months after their first acquaintance, Ben met Hoss on the beach.

“Hey Ben, I got a job now,” Hoss told him.

“Yeah, what?”

“Working for the telephone company.”

“How did you get that?”

“Well, I went for the interview and I told them about the canoe project and what we were doing and I got so enthusiastic they said, ‘well, you are an enthusiastic guy, we’ll hire you.’”

“It was a revelation,” Ben remembers, “Look at what the canoe can do for Hawaiians. This project is not going to be another Kon Tiki – eight haoles on a raft. We will make it a Hawaiian-Polynesian project and I will get my Hawaiian and Tahitian friends involved.”

The Founders- Herb Kane

The Founders – Herb Kane

from Hawai’iki Rising – a book by Sam Low
Two men – Herb Kane and Ben Finney – share a vision of an ancient canoe

In 1968, an imposingly tall part-Hawaiian named Herb Kawainui Kane was working in Chicago as a commercial artist on an advertising campaign that featured a giant vegetable man – the Jolly Green Giant – who presided over a mythical Valley of Plenty. But as he sketched the affable Goliath, Kane found himself distracted by other visions swirling in his head – images of large ocean-going Polynesian canoes.

Herb was born in Garrison Keilor’s iconic American town – Lake Woebegone – to a Danish mother and Hawaiian-Chinese father. “My parents were on their way through Minnesota,” he recalls, “and roads and cars being what they were in nineteen twenty-eight, and my mother being in a state of advanced maternity, she delivered in Stearns County Minnesota which is the location that Garrison Keilor avers is Lake Woebegone.”

Herb grew up in both Hawaii and Wisconsin, the family moving back and forth. He finished high school and did a stint in the Navy. He then studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He took courses in anthropology at the University of Chicago, a hotbed of the discipline, and briefly considered a career in the field. He married, had kids and prospered. He bought a house in a little town called Glencoe on the shore of Lake Michigan “because they had a nice beach and a sailing club.” He learned to race catamarans and crewed on a yacht from Maui to Honolulu. He traveled often to the islands where he befriended the famous anthropologist Kenneth Emory of the Bishop Museum.

Herb read the journals of Cook and other early explorers. He studied the drawings of canoes they published. “I saw that some of them were very clumsy. What I read about the canoes did not correspond to them. In those days, people were trained to draw headlands and distinct landforms in the Navy Academies for recognition purposes. It was a part of cartography but that did not make them artists – their drawings were all out of proportion. The figures on the canoes, the sails, were out of whack. So I wondered ‘what did these damn things look like’? I got very curious and I started researching.”

Kane’s research took him to a famous book – Canoes of Oceania – reams of text and thousands of drawings, paintings and sketches of canoes gleaned from early European explorers by A. C. Haddon and James Hornell. Armed with a letter of introduction from Kenneth Emory, Herb sent queries to world famous museums. Responses poured into his Glencoe studio. He sat at his drafting board and redrew the canoes, smoothing their crude lines into seagoing shapes. “Having synthesized all these fragments into drawings, I was curious to see what they looked like on the sea with people on their decks.” He began to paint a series of illustrations that would inspire a stunning revival of interest in Polynesian origins and, more important, a search by Hawaiians themselves for their cultural roots.

Among Hawaiians today there’s a notion that a call has gone out to their mainland brothers and sisters. “Come home,” says the call, “we need you to help us reclaim our culture and our land.” No one is keeping track, but in the last generation or so, thousands of Hawaiians have heeded the call. Herb was one of them. Hawaiian artist and cultural practitioner Sam Ka’ai put it this way: “A man on Bear Island in Lake Michigan at the Chicago Institute of Art thought of the old songs. He started to paint pictures of waka (canoes). First they were Maori canoes, then Marquesan canoes – then more elaborate ones – then there were Hawaiian canoes. He was up there in Chicago. Why would he do that? Because he has this ma’a, this tattoo. It’s not a tattoo on his skin, it’s imprinted on his heart. His name is Herb Kawainui Kane. His spirit started to move.”

In 1970, this spiritual awakening caused Herb to move back to Hawaii where his canoe paintings were exhibited, reproduced as prints and on postcards and calendars. Their enthusiastic reception reinforced Herb’s curiosity – how did these canoes sail? Were they seaworthy? Could they carry large cargoes of people and goods? “What I really wanted to do was build one and take it out and find out. A lot of people didn’t get it. They thought I was going to build a canoe as some kind of monument. They were rather appalled when I explained ‘no this is something I want to take out and actually sail.’

One of the few people who knew precisely what Herb had in mind was Ben Finney.

CREW PROFILE – Kahualaulani Mick

Kahualaulani Mick
Tahiti – Hawaii 2000
By Sam Low

 When Kahualaulani Mick was only four years old, in 1975, his mother took him to see Aunty Emma DeFries, a descendant of Kamehameha I and Queen Emma who was Kahu of a well known educational halau specializing in teaching Hawaiian culture.

“It didn’t matter to her or not if you had Hawaiian blood,” Kahulaulani says, “she would look into the soul of each prospective student to see if they were open to her teaching. Even though I am not Hawaiian – she took me into her halau and now, looking back on it, that was a turning point in my life.”

For five years, every Saturday, Kahualaulani met with Aunty Emma and her other students in an apartment at Queen Emma’s summer palace where she was a custodian.

“She took us all over the islands and she taught us a lot about Hawaiian culture and history. Although she passed away in 1980 I still talk to her. My decisions in life are still based on her teachings. “Among Aunty Emma’s gifts was Kahualaulani’s name which she translated as “fruitful branch of Heaven.”

After graduating from Kalaheo High School in Kailua in 1989, Kahualaulani went to Colorado State College in Fort Collins to study Animal Sciences. He lasted a year. “It was too damn cold and the surf was terrible,” he jokes about it now, but mainly like so many young Hawaiians who travel “away” to school – he missed the islands.

“They put me in a dorm with three other Hawaiians and all we did was talk about home. When people found out we were from Hawaii they always asked us ‘why are you here?’ After a while I asked the same questions and, when the first year was over, I came home.”

The next year he enrolled in the Hawaiian Studies program at the University of Hawaii to “make up for lost time. Being away led me to really appreciate being Hawaiian,” he explains, “and I think my decision goes back to the influence of Aunty Emma.”

In 1990, Kahualaulani first joined the Protect Kaho’olawe `Ohana and since 1992 he has attended every one of the annual Makahiki celebrations there. “Aunty Emma was one of the advisors to Emmet Aluli and George Helm in the early days,” Kahualaulani remembers, “and I think she knew I would one day become a member of the `ohana. She had Ike Papalua – foreknowledge. It’s hard to explain but even though so many years have passed I feel like she’s right here. The day she passed away, a night heron came and perched on a wall at our house in Kailua and so the heron has become a kind of family aumakua. I always associate Aunty Emma with that beautiful bird.”

Kahualaulani took the first navigation course taught by Chad and Nainoa and made his first voyage on Hokule’a in October of 1994 on an interisland trip to Moloka`i. In 1995, when Hokule`a went into dry dock, Kahualaulani showed up to help. Later Dennis Kawaharada asked him to be a teacher in PVS’ ho`olokahi program.
“That was a really different experience,” he recalls, “I was really green. I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t know enough,’ but somehow I did – and being a teacher taught me a lot.”

For three months that year Kahualaulani virtually lived on the porch of the school at Honaunau on the Big Island – teaching in classrooms some of the time and on the decks of the voyaging canoe E`ala the rest. During 1997, he voyaged aboard Hokule`a for five months during her statewide sail.

“We made connections with so many people. I could see it in their eyes when they came aboard. They all felt the same thing as I did when I first stepped on Hokule`a’s deck, a sense of awe – pure and simple – a sense of beauty.”

In addition to voyaging aboard Hokule`a, Kahualaulani has spent a great deal of time sailing with Makali`i and her `ohana. “I really like being on Makali`i too,” he says. “She’s a different canoe and I learn a lot being aboard – and the Makali`i family is wonderfully supportive. I’m honored to think I may be a part of it.”

“I remember the first day of the navigation class at U.H.,” he says looking back to the beginning of his experience with voyaging. “Nainoa came in and told us that navigation was not about sailing – it was about life – about having a vision of where you wanted to go and making good decisions. I knew then that studying navigation and sailing would change my life, and it has.”

Now, facing his first long voyage aboard Hokule`a as apprentice navigator, Kahualaulani admits to being “somewhat scared. But I’m going anyway. I’ve studied for this trip for five years. I’ve been teaching navigation and now this is my chance for validation – to actually do it, not just talk about it.”

Of the five separate legs of the “voyage to Rapa Nui” he feels extremely honored to be on this one. “There are three reasons why I wanted to be on this leg. First- it’s an ancient voyaging route; second – it’s the trip that all my mentors made when they were just starting out – guys like Nainoa and Snake; and finally, we will be going home to Hawai`i.”


CREW PROFILE – Kaui Pelekane

Kaui Pelekane
Tahiti – Hawaii 2000
By Sam Low

Among those called to medicine, it is probably accurate to say that the innermost sanctum of practice is the operating room of a major hospital. A hospital like The Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, Hawai’i’s largest, where Kau`i Pelekane has been a surgical nurse for the last four years. Her ascent to this extremely demanding position has not been easy – calling for a complex juggling act in which the needs of a career had to be matched always against those of her two children, Ikaika and Kaimipono, now thirteen and eleven years old.

Kau`i was born in Long Beach, California on January 24, 1965, but was raised in Kailua-Kona by her parents Mike and Monique Pelekane. In 1983 Kau`i graduated from Konawaena high school and enrolled in nursing school at the University of Hawai`i, which she attended for a year before taking time off to marry Tim Mencastre (they are now divorced) and begin having children. To support her family, Kau`i worked for a time at a bank.

“Then I began to consider my life and my responsibility to both myself and my kids and I decided that I didn’t want to be a bank teller for the rest of my life,” Kauai says. “When I was in high school I worked in a doctor’s office as a secretary and when the doctor did minor surgery I occasionally was called on to assist him. I found that I liked helping people and I think that’s where I got the idea to become a nurse.”

In 1989, pregnant with her second son, Kau`i returned to nursing school, enrolling in a two-year associate degree program which resulted in her qualification as a registered nurse. For three and a half years she worked in the oncology ward and then learned that Queen’s was opening a six month surgical training program. Only four applicants would be accepted from many candidates.

“I got in the second time I applied,” Kau`i explains, “and now I have been working as a surgical nurse for four years. It’s very intense sometimes,” she adds, “but I really feel that I am helping people.”

Although Kau`i was born on the mainland, she doesn’t remember much about her life there because she was so young when she returned to Hawai`i.

“My family on the Big Island was heavily involved in paddling,” she remembers, “and they started the Kaiopua canoe club in Kona. I have been paddling since I was ten years old. My dad took me fishing and taught me how to pick `opihi. My family had a catering business so I learned how to cook for a luau. In Hawai`i,” she continues, “we had avocado trees and never paid for fish. Vegetables and other fruits came from our neighbors. When I first moved to O`ahu I couldn’t get used to buying fish in the market ” – here Kau`i pauses for a moment to laugh at herself – “and I refused to pay for fish for about a year.”

Today, Kau`i and her two children live in Kailua and she paddles for the Hui Nalu canoe club where she first met Nainoa.

“I have always known about Hokule`a,” she remembers, “but I never dreamed that I would ever sail aboard her. Then, late in 1998, Nainoa asked me if I would be willing to be the medic on board for the last leg of the Rapa Nui voyage. How could I say no? Even though I had big reservations about it – taking on such a large responsibility – I said ‘yes, I’ll go.”

Kau`i was not only concerned about being responsible for the health of the crew during a voyage far from land, she also worried about her two young children. How would they deal with her absence for such a long time and could she endure the separation herself?

“I spent about a year preparing them – maybe I should say preparing us – for the voyage. We talked about how important it was. I told them that I would be safe. They said, ‘Okay.’ Then they asked, ‘How long?’ I told them five weeks.”

Here Kau`i pauses for a moment considering her children, obviously missing them.

“It’s difficult. I know they are being well cared for and I know they understand the meaning of the voyage. They were in the Hawaiian immersion program for a long time and so maybe they even understand it better than I do. But I just can’t help worrying about them.”

To prepare for her anticipated role as both Hokule`a’s only health care provider and as a crew member, Kau`i stepped up her regular regime of paddling and read about the medical problems she was likely to encounter aboard the canoe – heat stroke, dehydration, common illnesses and various psychological issues which she subsumes under the heading of “cabin fever.” She now feels well prepared for any eventuality but, as it turned out, the responsibility of caring for Hokule`a’s crew will not be hers alone. A few months ago, Dr. Ming-Lei Tim Sing also joined the crew.

“That was actually a great relief for me,” Kau`i says. “We make a great team and I’m much more secure now that we can handle any problems we might encounter.”

In January, 1999, Kau`i remembers attending the first meeting for crew members at the Maritime Center.

“Bruce and Chad explained the goals of the voyage and of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and I became even more excited about going. They talked about the opportunity for them to pass on the knowledge they have gained to the next generation of sailors and to do something that our ancestors had done centuries ago. And then I thought about my own children. I realized that I’m not making the voyage just for myself but also for them. When I come home, I will certainly have learned something that I can pass on to them.”


CREW PROFILE – Joey Mallott

Joey Mallott
Tahiti – Hawaii Voyage 2000
by Sam Low


“When I was younger, I fished with my Dad every summer,” says Joey Mallott. “We went power trolling for salmon and long lining for halibut in the Gulf of Alaska. It was a lot of hard work and long hours. The waters were rough and cold. We also fished for Coho salmon in the Inside Passage. Sometimes the water was mild and we would nest up with other boats in an isolated cove, cook dinner, tell stories. In the morning we woke up surrounded by an almost undisturbed wilderness. It was beautiful.”

The Inside Passage is a legendary waterway – often violent and extremely dangerous, about which author Jonathan Rabin wrote this in his recent book, Passage to Juneau: “The water on which the northwest coast Indians lived their daily lives was full of danger and disorder; seething white through rocky passages, liable to turn violent at the first hint of a contrary wind, plagued with fierce and deceptive currents. The whirlpool – capable of ingesting a whole cedar tree, and then spitting it out again like a cherry pit – was a central symbol of the sea at large, and all its terrors.”

Joey was born in Anchorage, Alaska on June 2nd, 1977 to Byron and Toni Mallott. Through his father, he was also born into the Killer Whale clan of the Eagle moiety of the Tlingit Nation and through his mother into an Athabaskan group of people – more specifically the Koyukon Tribe who lived in the interior of Alaska on the Yukon River.

“I spent most of my summers growing up in small Indian villages,” Joey says. “My parents wanted me to have that kind of experience, living in small indigenous communities rather than in big cities.”

Joey’s father, Byron Mallott, is well known among his people. He was born in a time when you saw signs posted which said “No Indians and Dogs Allowed.”

“From a young age my dad was motivated by a strong desire to help his people,” Joey says, “because he saw a lot of pain among them and the problems of poverty, alcoholism and high rates of illness and early death. He worked hard all his life. When he was only 18 he captained a 56 foot schooner from Washington to Yakutat on the inland passage.”

Growing up on this difficult ocean, Byron Mallott learned early to be determined to reach his goals, either at sea or on land among his people. As a young man of only 34, he was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Sea Alaska Corporation, which manages a huge tract of land belonging to native Alaskans, and he used funds from this enterprise to help lift his people from poverty and depression. Joey Mallott lived with his grandmother as a boy where he learned many of the same values that have motivated his father.

“The day I arrived in her village,” Joey says of this experience, “my grandmother handed me a 4/10 gauge shot gun and told me to get dinner. She taught me how to hunt, fish and trap and to live and survive in the outdoors, but more important, her lessons were about patience and kindness and about being open to everyone you meet.”

Joey graduated from elementary school and high school in Juneau, Alaska and went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at the University of the Pacific in 1999.

“Life in college was different than the way I was raised. I saw a lot of vanity there and selfish acts.”

In 1991, Nainoa first traveled to Juneau to meet with Byron Mallott to discuss receiving the gift of two giant spruce trees from the Sea Alaska Corporation to build Hawai`iloa. The two men became fast friends which led to a joining of the Thompson and Mallott families which Joey describes as “one single family.”

When Pinky Thompson asked Nainoa to choose an Alaskan representative to journey on at least one leg of the voyage to Rapa Nui Joey was offered the position. “I got the call in 1998,” Joey remembers, “and I knew right off that I wanted to go.”

In 1999, Joey moved to Hawai`i where he now lives with his girlfriend Lissa Jones in Pauoa Valley on O`ahu. “I wanted to take some time off between college and beginning my teaching career, and we both like the idea of living for a while in the islands. Besides, I have family here now.”

The experience of being involved with building Hawai`iloa and living in the islands has allowed Joey a deep insight into Hawaiian culture. “I think there’s a great deal of similarity between any indigenous culture and how we view the world. That’s why Hawaiians and Native Alaskans share so many values. We both respect our elders and believe in taking care of our environment, for example, and we’re motivated to recover our native traditions and pride and to bring back our sense of community.”

In time, Joey expects to return to Alaska to begin his career as a teacher. When he does, he will bring with him a vision inspired by sailing aboard Hokule`a and Hawai`iloa.

“My people were a seafaring people,” Joey explains. “When my father was a young boy he saw large dugout canoes which were used for fishing and traveling from village to village. They’re still made today, but mainly as works of art, not for sailing. One of the first things I want to do when I get home is start a project to build a traditional canoe in the traditional way.”


Wayfinding – Chad Baybayan

Chad Baybayan
by Sam Low

 Chad Baybayan stands about five feet eight inches. He has a swimmer’s body, suggesting a capability of delivering powerful strokes and a strong finishing kick. He is dark both by genetic makeup (he is part Hawaiian, part Filipino) and because he spends a lot of time in the sun attending to his duties as one of Hokule’a’s navigators. Chad will readily tell you that voyaging aboard the canoe has been the seminal experience of his life – accounting for the fact that he is about to receive a master’s degree in education, for his happy marriage and fatherhood, for his inner sense of confidence.

“When I first saw Hokule’a in 1975, it just grabbed my heart. I knew that if there was anything in my life that I wanted to do it was sail on her.”

For a time, it appeared that Chad’s wish might not happen. Chad was too young for the 1976 voyage to Tahiti. In 1978, when the canoe swamped on a second journey, it looked like voyaging might end. But shortly thereafter, new management took over the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Baybayan spent countless hours working with sandpaper and paintbrush, helping to overhaul the canoe for another voyage. In 1980 he made his first ocean passage to Tahiti as the “youngest member of the crew” and began to study navigation by “asking Nainoa Thompson (the canoe’s navigator) a lot of questions.” During the next nineteen years he spent as much time as he could afford aboard the canoe, eventually working his way up the informal hierarchy to full fledged navigator.

Among Hokule’a’s navigators (there are three other fully qualified ones – Nainoa Thompson, Shorty Bertelmann, Bruce Blankenfeld) Chad may be the most charismatic, and it is for this reason that he is often chosen to be the Voyaging Society’s spokesman. So it was that one evening in May of 1998, Chad stepped forward to talk to crew candidates for the upcoming voyage between Hawaii and Rapa Nui. The men and women assembled before him were about to go through a final four day training session that would include an open ocean swim of nearly two miles, a sail aboard Hokule’a, and many hours of testing their navigation and seamanship skills. They all knew each other well. Most of them, excluding a few young rookies, had sailed on previous voyages during the canoe’s twenty-five year career.

“You are all here because you share a powerful vision for Hawaii,” Baybayan told them. “And that vision joins you together across differences in ethnicity and race and where you may have been born and raised. You share a common desire to make this world better.”

Baybayan’s notion of ethnic and racial unity was not always a part of the voyaging consciousness. The early 1970s marked a cultural revival among Hawaiians that inspired not only pride but also renewed painful memories of a history marked by near genocide, loss of land, and culture. The times were ripe for sectarianism. On the first voyage to Tahiti in 1976 – a near mutiny was inspired by some crewmembers who felt that only authentic Hawaiians, as they defined it, should be allowed aboard the canoe. But now, almost twenty-five years later, seated before Baybayan were men and women of many extractions – Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Hawaiian, Portuguese, German, English, American. They had shared hundreds of hours working together during which potential differences between them had come to mean not a whit.

Confronting the sea on long voyages, Chad has had much time to integrate all that he has learned and he has done so by bundling an astonishing number of lessons into a general philosophy that he (and the other sailors and navigators as well) calls “wayfinding.”

Chad distinguishes wayfinding from navigation – the technical art of finding land without the use of instruments or charts. He will tell you that wayfinding is “a way of organizing the world.” He has also said that it’s “a way of leading,” “of finding a vision,” “a set of values,” “how to take care of the earth,” and, in general, “a model for living my life.”

Chad’s vision of wayfinding eventually evolved to contain principals that appear astonishingly universal and timeless, while, at the same time, being rooted in values that Hawaiians have come to recognize as inherent in their own unique history. Values like vision, for example.

“Our ancestors began all of their voyages with a vision,” Baybayan explained during his talk to the assembled crew. “They could see another island over the horizon and they set out to find these islands for a thousand years, eventually moving from one island stepping stone to another across a space that is larger than all of the continents of Europe combined.”

“After many years, I began to understand that wayfinding was really a model for living,” Chad continued. “Once you have the vision of a landfall over the horizon, you need to develop a plan to get there, how you are going to navigate, how much food you need. You must evaluate the kinds of skills you need to carry out the plan and then you must train yourself to get those skills. You need discipline to train. Then, when you leave land, you must have a cohesive crew – a team – and that requires aloha – a deep respect for each other. The key to wayfinding is to employ all these values. You are talking about running a ship, getting everybody on board to support the intent of the voyage, and getting everybody to work together. So it’s all there – vision, planning, training, discipline and aloha for others. After a while, if you apply all those values, it becomes a way of life.”

Chad Baybayan’s concept of wayfinding is not exclusive to him. It is, in fact, a voyaging subculture shared by everyone who is attracted to the canoe and who sticks around long enough to learn the lessons it has to teach.

In the last decade or so, the philosophy of wayfinding has “moved ashore” so to speak. New words have entered the wayfinding vocabulary, “stewardship” for example, or “sustainable environments.” Lessons learned at sea are now being applied to the land. The ancient philosophy of wayfinding is now merging with the new world view of environmentalism, as Chad explains: “To be a wayfinder, you need certain skills – a strong background in ocean sciences, oceanography, meteorology, environmental sciences – so that you have a strong grounding in how the environment works. When you voyage, you become much more attuned to nature. You begin to see the canoe as nothing more than a tiny island surrounded by the sea. We have everything aboard the canoe that we need to survive as long as we marshal those resources well. We have learned to do that. Now we have to look at our islands, and eventually the planet, in the same way. We need to learn to be good stewards.”

This new vision is at the core of the Voyaging Society’s “Malama Hawaii” program which we celebrate on this voyage home.

“At the beginning of this new millennium, we honor the first 25 years of Hokule’a’s life and the achievements we’ve all realized working together,” Nainoa once said. “Since 1975, the canoe has sailed more than 90,000 miles, taking us to each of the points of the Polynesian Triangle. We’ve learned a lot during these voyages – the power behind shared vision, the energy generated through collaboration, the continuing thrill of exploration and discovery and the joy of kinship.”

“But by far, the most compelling lesson we’ve learned in all of our travels has to do with home. We’ve come to appreciate anew, the uniqueness of Hawaii and her people and our responsibility to work together to maintain that uniqueness.”

“Learning to live well on islands is a microcosm of learning to live well everywhere. Here in Hawaii we are surrounded by the world’s largest ocean, but Earth itself is also a kind of island, surrounded by an ocean of space. In the end, every single one of us – no matter what our ethnic background or nationality – is native to this planet. As the native community of Earth we should all ensure that the next century is the century of pono – of balance – between all people, all living things and the resources of our planet.”

Crew Profile – Tava Taupu

Crew Profile – Tava Taupu
2000 – Tahiti to Hawaii
by Sam Low

 On April 6, 1945,Tava was born in Taiohae on Nukuhiva, Marquesas Islands. His father worked on a sailboat that made interisland trips carrying passengers. As a young man, Tava went to Tahiti to learn to carve wooden tikis from his uncle Joseph Kimitete. Pape’ete, the capital, was a place where young Tahitians like to rough up boys from the outlying islands, so Tava learned to box.

“When I went boxing, I got proud,” he recalls. “I was amateur, six rounds. I won’t drink anymore. I exercise, forget kid stuff, no more smoking cigarettes.” What Tava doesn’t tell you is that he boxed so well he earned the title of lightweight champion of French Polynesia.

“I first learned about Tava’s boxing when I was on a voyage with him in 1980,” recalls Chad Baybayan. “We were going to go out on the town and Tava began to get dressed up. Then he stood in front of the mirror and began shadowboxing. It was scary. I always knew him as an extremely gentle person, and now I was seeing his wild side. When we went into the bars, he would walk in the door like a superstar. People came up to talk to him. I was surprised how many people knew him in Pape’ete.”

In 1970 Tava came to Hawai’i on a visa arranged by Kimitete’s son. He worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center in La’ie building traditional houses and carving tikis – in general carrying on the traditional arts of the Marquesas. In 1975, he saw Hokule’a for the first time.

“When I saw Hokule’a, I think ‘what is this big canoe?’ I never see big canoe like this in the Marquesas. We have 30-foot canoes with outriggers, single canoe, not double canoes. I am excited. It all comes back to me – my ancestors. I feel my ancestors all around me. I wonder how they sail this canoe? how they survive on the ocean? Right after seeing her, I began to work on her. I work at my job all week and go spend weekends working on the canoe.”

In 1975 Tava sailed on Hokule’a interisland. Later he learned from Mau Piailug how to build canoes in the traditional Pacific Island way, with sennit for lashing and coconut husk and breadfruit sap for caulking. At about the same time, he met Nainoa, who was just beginning to study the stars.

“I met Nainoa at Ala Wai. He is a very quiet guy because there is something he is learning by himself – the stars. I see him looking at the sky. I never know what he is looking at. ‘What you looking?’ I ask. He say, ‘I looking at stars. I learning navigation, to be a navigator.’ I try speaking Tahitian to him but he no understand me. He look at me and say, ‘Sorry I can’t understand.’ He was really quiet, and I very quiet too. I ask him what he looking at and he point to the sky. ‘You see that star over there?’ he says. He tells me navigator star. I don’t know which one. I say to myself, ‘What’s that ‘navigator star?’ I keep quiet but I thinking, what’s that navigator star?’”

Since meeting Nainoa and beginning to voyage aboard Hokule’a, Tava has sailed at least one leg on each major voyage. “I always ask Tava to come with me,” Nainoa says. “Tava loves the canoe and what it stands for. He gives the canoe his life, and the canoe gives him her life. Tava takes care of me while I am at sea and he provides a net of security around the entire crew. He makes it comfortable for me to concentrate on navigation.”

During one voyage, an important piece of equipment went overboard, and Nainoa impulsively went in after it. When he finally got back on board, he was shivering uncontrollably – near hypothermia. “I was just sitting there on deck unable to get warm and Tava came up from behind me and hugged me; he shared his warmth so his friend would not be cold.”

Tava’s personality emerges from what others say about him:

“First impressions of Tava can be off-putting – his head is shaven and he is clearly a strong man. If you saw him in a dark alley, you would surely turn around and walk the other way. That impression is rapidly dispelled when you meet him. There is a firm welcoming hand shake and a smile so genuine that it warms the room.”

“He’s genuinely kind. He lives by the standards he learned as a child growing up in the Marquesas.”

“He bridges the gap between the old and the new, between traditional and modern society. If you see him being greeted by the older people throughout Polynesia, you see the respect he is given.”

“He is powerfully intelligent, yet clear and direct in his thoughts and expression. He is clear about his role on this canoe.”

“He has a pure spirit and puts me at ease when I’m with him.”

“He sees what needs to be done and does it. He makes himself an integral part of doing any task. There is no work too hard for him.”

“He is a quiet, caring and gentle person, always there when you need him.”

“One of the most loving human beings I have ever met.”

“To look at him, you would be scared. Who is this guy – bald headed and mean looking? But he is a kind, kind man.”

It was surely the warm, loving side of Tava that his wife Cheryl saw in 1980 when they first met. Tava and Cheryl have two children – Rio, 18, and Helena, 6. Today when Tava is not sailing, he works for the National Park Service at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, as a cultural expert, demonstrating wood carving and canoe making.

“I like working there. Sometimes I work in the halau, sometimes I work on the roof, sometimes carving, or building a stone wall.”

Over the last 25 years Tava has become so integral to Hokule’a that to see her without him standing on her deck at the forward manu, dressed in his bright red malo would be like seeing the canoe with only one mast – or with some other key part of her missing. Yet this trip back from Tahiti may be his last.

“It’s time for retirement. I am 55 years old. I like see my wife on the land. I like build my house now. I am excited.”

Even so, in conversation with him on this voyage, it is clear that what Nainoa says of Tava is true – that he gives life to the canoe and receives life from her. When he leaves Hokule’a he will leave an important part of his life behind. “I will be sad because I am used to voyaging. But better for me to stay on land. I feel like crying, but I no cry. That is my rule – always show a smile to the canoe.”

It’s not that he will ever leave the canoe or her family completely, because he plans to make interisland voyages aboard her and because he knows he has left a part of himself behind with the new younger crew members.

“I come on the canoe when I am young, and now I am looking. Maybe some of the young people are like me. It’s time to leave the canoe, so the young people can learn. You have to learn to sail by hand – how to steer, how to trice, how to look at other people, how to behave. The canoe’s mana means all the crew take care of the canoe and the canoe take care of the crew. The canoe take you all the way home.”

“When I don’t sail, I don’t feel bad if I have trained other people. It is for you now, like Chad, like Bruce, like Shantell, like other young people. It’s your turn.”


Shantell Ching – In The Zone

Shantell Ching – In the Zone
2000 – Tahiti to Hawaii
By Sam Low


For the past week, Shantell Ching, navigating Hokule’a home, has gone without appreciable sleep.

“I catnap” she says, “for maybe an hour or so a day. Last night, I was so tired that my head was bouncing. I like to sit in the navigator’s seat but I was afraid I might go to sleep and fall overboard so I moved over to the platform.”

What Shantell is going through is part of any navigator’s rite of passage – attaining the mental and physical stamina needed to constantly process a steady flow of information and make good decisions.

“It takes a lot of adjusting just to get in synch with the ocean after being on land for so long, ” Shantell explains. “I need to get to where I can mentally see the canoe in the middle of the star compass in the middle of the ocean – so I see the compass points on the horizon. I have to reorient myself to the southern stars, for example, so I don’t have to think about where they will come up but I seem to know by instinct”.

Most top athletes attain a similar instinct when they’re performing at their peak. Basketball players, for example, report having “eyes in the back of their heads.” They know what’s happening in the court all around them – how other players will move, where the ball will be. “I’m in the zone,” they say. Sport psychologists think to enter ‘the zone’ a top athlete must learn to use both sides of his brain, first mastering the mechanics of the game in the right-hand, rational side of the brain – then switching to the left side, the control center for human artistry, to become truly creative. The process that Shantell describes seems to be similar. She’s entering her own version of ‘the zone’.

“I’m gradually getting the entire sky in my head, ” she says. “I’m getting a good feel for how the waves make the canoe move when we’re steering different courses. I need to get in synch with the canoe – to feel in my body when she’s pinched too far into the wind or when she’s sailing too far off the wind – when she’s struggling and when she’s free.”

“Lack of sleep is no longer a problem. I can be immersed in the navigation, for example, but when we encounter the beginning of a squall I snap right out of it and know exactly what to do. I’m right there. I’ve been learning about navigation now for six years and this is a chance to apply what I’ve learned. If I’m successful, the credit goes to my teachers – to Nainoa and to Bruce and Chad. And, really, to all the teachers who inspired me. When I was in elementary school I was too young to understand how important math would be in my life but a lot of navigation is basic math – addition, subtraction, simple trig. Now, when I solve a math problem in my head, I thank all those teachers who were strict with me”.

“I can see Hawai’i in my mind and that’s a good sign. Nainoa taught me that to find an island, you first have to see it mentally – and that’s also what Mau taught him.”


The “Old Men” of Tautira

The “Old Men” of Tautira
by Sam Low

You could imagine a meeting like this in a thatch-roofed canoe house hundreds of years ago with the visitors’ double-hull voyaging canoe drawn up on the beach outside. But this meeting is held in the white-washed conference room of Tautira’s mayor – Sane Matehau – and the date is January 27th, the year 2000. Only the feeling is ancient – a sharing of stories by friends from distant islands, a bonding together of a wide-spread `ohana.

Outside the conference room, the setting sun colors clouds over nearby mountains and a cool wind washes ashore over the reef. Inside, we are seated in a circle with representatives of Tautira’s community, including Kahu from the Protestant, Catholic and Mormon churches. Sane has called the gathering to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the joining of Tautira’s people with the people of Hawai`i.

The first to speak is Tutaha Salmon. For a Tahitian, he appears almost delicate, yet his bearing is dignified, suggesting confidence. His graying hair indicates he may be in his seventies. Tutaha was once the mayor of Tautira – a position now held by Sane – his son-in-law. He is now the governor of a large Tahitian district including Tautira and three other towns: Faaone, Taravao and Pueu.

“It’s an honor that whenever Hokule`a sails to Tahiti she lands here in Tautira,” Tutaha tells us. “How many times have you come? I cannot count them. But what’s important is that you are now our family – our brothers and sisters.”

Following protocol that is ancient, Tutaha then speaks of his elders. The enfolding story of Hokule`a’s relationship with Tautira began with “the old men” – a six-man canoe team who paddled their way into the history books

“Our dream of cultural exchange was born twenty-five years ago. In those days the man I remember first is Puaniho. He has now passed on but he showed us the way. He was a quiet man, but powerful. There was Mate Hoatua the steersman on the canoe from Haleolono to Waikiki. He steered the whole way, without relief. Henere, Tevae, Nanua and Vahirua paddled the canoe. We called them “the old men” because their minimum age was fifty. This is our time to remember them and to tie that rope tight to the mast.”

“The old men” of Tautira’s Maire Nui canoe club first traveled to Hawai`i in 1975 to compete in the Moloka`i race. Pinky Thompson next rose to speak in response to Tutaha’s welcome.

“I want you to know that we feel at home ever since you took a strange looking Hawaiian youth into your homes 25 years ago, my son Nainoa. You recognized immediately that he was a stranger in a land that was strange to him and you malama-ed [took care of] him.”

Nainoa came to Tautira in 1995 as a member of Hokule`a’s crew. He recognized immediately that the “old men” of Maire nui paddled differently then any team in Hawai`i.

“They were so smooth,” Nainoa recalls, “their movements were fluid, no lost energy, and their canoe seemed to leap forward – faster than anything I had every seen.”

He wanted to learn from them and in 1977 he got the chance. In that year’s Moloka`i race, Nainoa’s team from Hui Nalu lined up next to “the old men.”

“They were twice our age, and we were a pretty strong crew but they left us in their wake, paddling easily.”

In that same year, Nainoa traveled to Marina del Rey to serve on a motor boat escorting Maire Nui in the Race to Newport Beach, California.

“They finished the race, took a shower, and were drinking a beer before the second place canoe arrived. They beat them by an hour and 4 minutes.”

Nainoa invited Maire Nui to stay in Niu Valley when they came to Hawai`i in 1977 for the Moloka`i race and again in 1978 when they won the koa division for the third consecutive time – retiring the famous Outrigger Canoe Club cup to an exhibit case at Sane Matehau’s home in Tautira. Over the years, visits by Maire Nui to Hawai`i and by Hawaiians to Tahiti continued. Puaniho built a Koa canoe for Hui Nalu and later another famous Tautira canoe builder flew to Kona to build six Koa canoes – helping to inspire a renewal in traditional canoe building that thrives today.

Nainoa, Bruce, Pinky and their Hui Nalu colleagues studied the Tahitian way of paddling and became champions themselves. Pinky remembered those moments in his presentation at the Mayor’s office.

“You helped us become champion paddlers, but you did much more than that. You helped us to return pride to our Polynesian people by restoring our native craft of canoe building and paddling.”

“’The old men’ taught us what it means to be champs,” Nainoa added. “It’s not about outward appearance. It’s about what happens inside. They didn’t talk much because they knew that the mana comes from within. They didn’t think of themselves representing just a club – they represented all their people.”