Master Navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan, part of the Hawaiian renaissance of Polynesian voyaging since 1975, died suddenly Thursday in Seattle. He was 64.
Baybayan was one of only five Hawaiians along with 11 Micronesians initiated in 2007 into Pwo, a 2,000-year-old society of deep-sea navigators, by Master Navigator Mau Piailug of Satawal.
His mother, Lillian Suter, said he died suddenly while in Seattle where he and his wife were supporting their 6-year-old grandson who is undergoing chemotherapy.
She said that her son and his wife brought the grandson’s siblings to join their parents in trying to help motivate him.
Baybayan was fine shopping and putting boats in the water at Lake Washington, but his wife later found him Thursday unresponsive on the floor after a Zoom call in which he was the last speaker and gave a presentation on canoes, which “was really inspiring,” Suter said she was told.
Baybayan was captain and navigator of the Polynesian voyaging canoes Hokule‘a, Hawaiiloa and Hokualakai, the Polynesian Voyaging Society said.
He sailed on major voyages in the South Pacific, the West Coast of North America, Micronesia and Japan.
He also held a master’s degree in education and was fluent in the Hawaiian language, PVS said.
Baybayan served as past site director of Honuakai, of Aha Punana Leo, which teaches Hawaiian to the crew aboard the Hokualakai.
He was serving as a navigator in residence at the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii to develop a curriculum in wayfinding and conducting outreach activities.
“A pwo master navigator, educator and explorer, Kapena (captain) Chad Kalepa Baybayan’s mission was to expand the knowledge of Native Hawaiians by looking to the stars,” said U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele.
“Kalepa has been an instrumental crew member of the Hokulea dating back to 1975, when he was just 19 years old. Kalepa saw the Hokulea as a symbol of the accomplishments of the Native Hawaiian people in the face of great adversity, and a promise for all that is possible. Kalepa’s legacy will live on through the thousands of children throughout Hawaii and the world that he inspired to look to the heavens and dream that anything is possible.
“I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and ʻohana waʻa whose lives he touched with his spirit of aloha. Thank you Kalepa for your contributions to our community and for your unwavering voice for all that you believed in.”