Date set for ocean-voyaging canoe to finally reach water

July 11 is the new launch date for the double-hull, ocean-voyaging canoe Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani being built in Lahaina.

Capt. Timi Gilliom, builder of the canoe, said that the vessel that has been 18 years in the making will be launched between 3:30 and 4 p.m. at Mala Wharf Boat Ramp and sail under the first night of a full moon phase. Cultural canoe launch protocols and festivities begin at noon leading up to the launch at high tide, which is 3:53 p.m., said a news release from Hui o Wa’a Kaula, the nonprofit group building the canoe.

After her launch, Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani’s smaller sister canoe, Mo’olele, and a flotilla of Maui outriggers and racing canoe clubs will escort Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani to Lahaina Roads near Kamehameha Iki Park and the Hui o Wa’a Kaulua dry dock. A traditional celebration will ensue to commemorate the day, the news release said.

“Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani and her crew are ready to start sea trials,” said Gilliom. “Mahalo to all who put their mana and energy into this wa’a kaulua (double-hull canoe).”

Hui o Wa’a Kaulua had initially announced the launching of the canoe in December but pushed the launch date back due to difficulties, including with a custom-made boat trailer needed to haul the 62-foot-long vessel out of the hale next to Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina. The tides also had to be right, and there was fundraising to do.

Last month, Gilliom told The Maui News that the canoe was 97 percent complete.

“Everybody wants to know when it is going in the water, and I say it’s going in when it’s ready, and not until then,” he said in mid-April.

He considers the canoe a living entity.

“The wa’a (canoe) is in control,” Gilliom said in Wednesday’s news release. “No matter what the challenge, this canoe is destined to sail – and we will float her out on the July akua moon high tide.”

Since the project began in 1998, there have been hurdles for the canoe builders with “every challenge . . . brand new,” said crew member Kalani Kapahulehua. Gilliom is the longest volunteer – 18 years working on the canoe.

“Were it not for him, Mo’okiha would not be ready to go,” said Kapahulehua. “We are very grateful to him.”

The canoe is the work and inspiration of many people through the years, he said. Hundreds of individuals, Maui businesses and organizations have given cash and in-kind donations to pay for expensive safety equipment, coating materials, sails, specialty woods and the custom boat trailer. Volunteers provided nearly all the labor.

“Those here now and those of past years – all bring us to this moment,” said Kapahulehua. “He moku ka wa’a, he wa’a ka moku (canoe and island are one.) Mo’okiha and Hui o Wa’a Kaulua represent the work of many hands and the ‘ike of many halau (learning from many places).”

Mo’okiha O Pi’ilani, means “Sacred Lizard of Maui,” named after the mo’o (lizard) goddess and protector of Mokuhinia Pond that once surrounded the ancient island of Moku’ula in Lahaina.

Maui’s first modern-day, deep-sea voyaging canoe is capable of navigating vast distances across the Pacific Ocean, navigator and education coordinator Kala Baybayan told The Maui News in December. Much like Hokule’a on Oahu, which is preparing for its own Pacific voyage, and the hui’s smaller Mo’olele, Mo’okiha will be used as a living classroom to preserve ancient Hawaiian traditions and wisdom.

The canoe is able to hold up to 24 people at a time, and Baybayan said its first year in the water will be spent sailing around the state, including voyages to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as well as Kahoolawe. After sufficient training, the canoe will likely voyage longer distances to the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti and Rapa Nui. As done with Hokule’a and other Hawaiian voyaging canoes, crews will rely mostly on celestial navigation, sometimes across thousands of miles of open ocean.

This year, more than 700 Maui schoolchildren have attended “keiki crew training” sessions. Free video presentations about master navigator Mau Piailug, who trained Hokule’a navigators including Nainoa Thompson, and the history of Hokule’a are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Hui o Wa’a Kaulua’s voyaging theater at the dry dock in Kamehameha Iki Park, 525 Front St.

For more information, go to or friend Hui o Wa’a Kaulua on Facebook.

* Lee Imada can be reached at