Monday, November 30, 2015         

LEON A.P. STERLING / 1945-2010

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Skilled mariner and voyager was integral part of Hokule'a

By Rob Shikina


Leon A.P. Sterling, a skilled mariner and longtime member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, will be remembered at a service tomorrow on Maui.

He died June 11 in hospice care after his condition deteriorated from a fall years ago, his brother said. He was 64.

Beginning in the 1970s, Sterling worked with the Polynesian Voyaging Society for 25 years, captaining the Hokule'a and maintaining the vessel at the dock.

A skilled carpenter and rope worker, he worked as a longshoreman for McCabe Hamilton and Renny for 11 years later in life.


Sterling graduated from Kailua High School and later took seamanship classes, said his brother, Wayne.

"There was something about the ocean that he discovered at a very young age," he said. "He was truly at peace when he was on the water."

He sailed on the Hokule'a to Tahiti, New Zealand and other places and captained the vessel from New Zealand to Tonga and Tonga to American Samoa in 1986.

Snake Ah Hee was on the same crew with Sterling on several voyages, including to New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Tahiti. He said Sterling was essential.

"To me he's one of the top people sailing on the canoe," Ah Hee said. "His ability was so great. You admire him because you learn from him, too."

When the Hokule'a overturned in 1978 and crew members were adrift for about 20 hours, Sterling continued checking on the boat and doing what he could to help others who were worn down from hanging onto the canoe, Ah Hee said.

Sterling helped lash a rope along the boat to keep the crew members safe, he said. When the Coast Guard arrived, Sterling and a few others stayed to keep watch over the canoe.

Besides sailing on the vessel, Sterling also prepared it for voyages, such as on the trip to Vancouver, British Columbia. As captain, he kept a tight watch to ensure everyone was safe, Hee said.

Services will be from 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow with a memorial service from 6 p.m. at Ballard Family Mortuary on Maui. Sterling's ashes will be taken on the Hokule'a and spread off the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Aug. 14.

Sterling died several hours apart from his ex-wife, Jo-Anne Kahanamoku Sterling, who was also a longtime member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. The couple sailed together, including a 34-day sail from Hawaii to Tahiti.

Sterling was married for 35 years to Kahanamoku Sterling, who was known as a master of Hawaiian feather lei making and niece of Duke Kahanamoku. She died in her home in Hilo.

Services were yesterday on the Big Island. Her ashes will be taken on a final voyage on the Hokule'a and spread off Waikiki on June 26.

Sterling is survived by wife Donna Dean Sterling, stepsons Christopher Simpson and Scott Simpson, stepdaughters Paige Harrison and Emily Simpson, brother Wayne and sisters Marion Salazar and Becky Kala.

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