The Hokule‘a voyaging canoe made a stop at Hawaii island Sunday to pick up the ashes of navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan so that he could join the crew on its first major training voyage since the pandemic.
Baybayan, 64, died of a heart attack April 8, the evening after he asked to join the training voyage, which had been bound for the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, the area of the Pacific Ocean known as “the doldrums.”
Nainoa Thompson, navigator and Polynesian Voyaging Society president, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday that he still remembers Baybayan’s enthusiasm for the trip during a Wednesday Zoom conference with other pwo navigators — a designation reserved for a small group of 10 master navigators who have been initiated into the ancient art of wayfinding.
“He told his wife that he wanted to go, and the following night he died,” Thompson said. “We asked the family if we could take him. We started with a crew of 11 on the Hokule‘a, but we will depart the Big Island with a crew of 12. There is also a crew of 12 on the Hikianalia.”
Thompson said dangerous conditions in the Alenuihaha Channel between Maui and the Big Island delayed the Hokule‘a and its sister voyaging canoe, the Hikianalia, on Maui for more than a week. He said the delay means that the training voyage can’t make it all the way to the ITCZ.
Thompson said the plan now is to travel through Kealaikahiki, an ancient pathway to Tahiti, and take Baybayan as far south of Hawaii island as the canoes can get and still get home by Friday. He said the crew will take Baybayan on another sail this fall to Tahiti, which was like Baybayan’s second home.
PVS said Baybayan first sailed on the Hokule‘a in 1975, and participated on all major Hokule‘a voyages since 1980, including 18 legs of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. PVS said that he also served as captain on the voyaging canoes Hawai‘iloa and Hokualaka‘i.
In 2007 Baybayan was initiated into the order of Pwo, a 2,000-year-old Micronesian society of deep-sea navigators, by Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug.
Thompson remembers Baybayan as a lifelong student who completed a Bachelor of Arts in Hawaiian studies and a master’s degree in education. Thompson said Baybayan also was an inspiring teacher who shared his passion for Hawaiian studies and navigation with students across the globe.
“(Baybayan’s) family will be able to meet our young crew, but more importantly, our young crew will be able to meet his family,” he said. “This is the time that I know that we will be able to extend and grow his legacy because the world needs to know it.”
Thompson said Baybayan dedicated his life to ancient Hawaiian navigation, but more importantly, to training young leaders to be able to handle today’s storms and the storms that are coming.
“We believe these trips are about training young leadership about dealing with storms. The storms are here whether you want to call it COVID, whether you want to call it climate. And, some of the storms that I think are the most debilitating are things like ignorance, apathy, racism and indifference,” Thompson said. “In many ways these voyages are supposed to step out and take risks and be courageous to get young people to be able to handle new situations and the coming of very difficult situations.”
Thompson said PVS’ goal is to have 120 new crew members trained by the end of the summer in preparation for next year’s Moananuiakea Voyage, a circum- navigation of the Pacific.
“The circumnavigation will be longer in time and distance than the worldwide voyage,” he said. “All that we are primarily doing in 2021 is to train young people to succeed and take over leadership of canoes.”
Thompson said the latest training exercise is the first voyage in about 15 months. All crew members have been vaccinated for COVID, he said.
“The pandemic had a huge footprint and impact on everything from the dry dock and preparation of the canoes to the training of the crews. But I will say these two canoes are in top shape. Hokule‘a has never been better,” Thompson said.
The PVS vessels, which had been moored off Maui since May 13, left Lahaina at about 11 p.m. Saturday.
Just before dawn Sunday the vessels began a five- to six-hour crossing of the Alenuihaha Channel en route to Keauhou on Hawaii island. From Keauhou, Thompson said, they will sail to Kalae, or South Point, then into Moananuiakea, which is a cold, dark, deep region of the Pacific Ocean.
“When we come back and drop off Kalepa on our way back to Oahu, we’re going to intentionally go up to the northern tip of Hawaii island and cross the Alenuihaha Channel at night,” he said. “It’s their final test. By many it’s considered the second- roughest channel in the world.”
Upon their return, PVS said the crew will have received 900 miles of training and crossed seven of the nine major channels in the lower eight Hawaiian Islands.
To follow the voyage, visit a live canoe tracking map at hokulea.com/waamoana/hokulea-live.