Voyaging canoe nearer to water

Moving inch by inch, the voyaging canoe Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani was hauled out of dry dock at Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina in a 20-hour process using ropes and winches Dec. 31 to Jan. 1.

The canoe, nearly 18 years in the making, was moved out of the hale outdoors for the first time to complete construction on the rest of the vessel, including the installation of two 40-foot main masts, spars, rigging, a helm or navigator’s platform and a captain’s chair, said a news release from Hui o Wa’a Kaulua, the nonprofit group that has been leading the canoe-building project.

Moving the deep-sea voyaging canoe was done without modern machinery; about 25 volunteers using their hands, ropes and winches pulled and pushed, inching the canoe out of the hale, said Katherine Kama’ema’e Smith, Hui o Wa’a Kaulua spokeswoman, Wednesday.

“It was all done very gently . . . moved inches at a time,” she said, adding that the canoe was on wheels to protect the hull’s bottom. “It could only be done once, and it had to be done successfully. We took it very slowly and carefully.”

They don’t really know how heavy the 62-foot-long double-hulled canoe is, she said. The Mo’okiha will be weighed when lifted by a crane as part of the marine certification process.

Mo’okiha will have to pass a state Department of Land and Natural Resources Recreation and Boating inspection and be registered by the U.S. Coast Guard, even if the vessel is intended to be manned and navigated in traditional ways without Western navigational tools, the news release said.

“Our organization is working very hard to get everything done well, and Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani is very close to going in the water,” said group President Kimokeo Kapahulehua. ” ‘Everything’ means not only carpentry and wood finishing but also installing safety and emergency equipment required for any vessel this size sailing in U.S. waters.

“Even though Mo’okiha’s crew is trained in traditional celestial navigation and way finding, when storms threaten lives or integrity of a voyaging canoe, an outboard engine, satellite phone, transponding beacon, life jackets, foul-weather gear, bilge pumps, radios and GPS must be available to the crew by law.”

Mo’okiha navigator, Kala Baybayan, will steer a course by the stars, winds and currents with the electronics locked in a waterproof storage box on deck, available if needed, Kapahulehua said.

Canoe builders, voyagers, inspectors and others now are sailing into uncharted waters. Maui inspectors will have to certify a deep-sea voyaging canoe, likely for their first time, and a boat trailer had to be custom designed by Lahaina Welding to transport a double-hulled voyaging vessel. And a Hawaiian voyaging canoe of this size has never been launched from Mala Wharf, said Capt. Tim Gilliom.

“We have never been here before,” said Gilliom. “From this point on, everything done to this canoe will be a first on Maui.”

He added that there is a lot of excitement and that “there is still a lot of work to do – a lot of finishing, lashing and rigging.”

Tahiarii Pariente-Yoram, an expert lasher and rigger from Tahiti, is working on the canoe, using 10 miles of rope to fasten things in place, said Smith. There are no bolts on the vessel, she added.

Volunteers are invited to join the effort and may go to the 525 Front St. dry dock in Kamehameha Iki Park any day after 9 a.m. to assist in final sanding, lashing, carpentry and electrical work, the news release said.

Smith did not have a fix on exactly when the certifications would take place or when the voyaging canoe would be launched. Mo’okiha had been scheduled to launch last month, but that was postponed because of a number of delays, including needed modifications to the custom-made boat trailer.

A new target launch date of Jan. 17 had been set, but Smith said Wednesday that “everything is fluid . . . dynamic at this moment.”

When completed, the Hawaiian traditional canoe will become Maui’s first modern-day deep-sea voyaging canoe capable of navigating vast distances across the Pacific Ocean. Much like the state’s first Hawaiian voyaging canoe, Hokule’a, which first sailed to Tahiti and back in 1976, Mo’okiha will be used as a living classroom to preserve ancient Hawaiian traditions and wisdom.

The canoe is able to hold as many as 24 people at a time, and plans include sailing around the state, to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as well as the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti and Rapa Nui using the traditional celestial and wayfaring techniques of navigation.

The group still needs to raise about $10,000 to cover final expenses, said Smith. Donations of high-cost emergency equipment also are welcomed.

To make a donation or obtain more information, go to the Hui o Wa’a Kaulua website at

* Lee Imada can be reached at