By KEKOA ENOMOTO, Staff Writer
Battling 10-foot seas, 20-knot winds and extreme heat at times, a Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society crew completed a 480-mile, 73-hour journey through part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The 16 paddlers reached Kanemiloha'i, or Kure Atoll, about 5 p.m. July 14 after paddling a six-person canoe nonstop through the last leg of a six-year, 1,650-mile transarchipelago odyssey.
A Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society crew battles 6- to 8-foot swells off Pearl and Hermes Reef between Laysan and Kure in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
SOUL FABRIC FILMS photo
They had undertaken the culminating two-week journey July 7 by commuting via escort boat from Hanalei, Kauai; paddling from Laysan (Kauo) to Kure from July 12 to 14; and finishing a seven-day return commute to Hanalei on July 21. They beat the estimated total time of 92 hours by 18.5 hours, with each crew member paddling an average 26 aggregate hours.
"Voyaging out to 'na mokupuni na kupuna' is a totally different venue," said Kimokeo Kapahulehua, the voyage's spiritual leader, referring to the elder islands of the Hawaiian archipelago.
"We're not attached to streetlights. We're far, far away; so uhane (one's spirit) is part of the islands, and the islands are part of us," he said.
The canoe, Ke Alaka'i O Mau Kupuna (The Pathway of Our Ancestors), was accompanied by the 100-foot, 160-ton escort boat Lady Alice. Surrounded by a limitless ocean/sky continuum, canoe and escort boat were the paddlers' universe.
"We're totally dependent on each one of us - on being holomua (forward moving), positive in actions and words," recalled Kapahulehua, 60, a Kauai native who works as cultural ambassador at The Fairmont Kea Lani Maui resort.
"Whether it's a windy day, a big- or small-wave day, we view that as part of the evolution. It was meant for us to be on a calm day, a windy day or a rough day; we were part of them (the elements), and they were part of us."
The mission was to paddle the entire Hawaiian island chain to follow the pathways of Hawaiian ancestors, according to the vision of Kapahulehua's late uncle, Elia David Ku'ualoha "Kawika" Kapahulehua (1930-2007), the first captain in 1976 of the Hokule'a voyaging canoe.
Besides Kimokeo Kapahulehua, the crew included Chris Luedi, Peter Neiss, George Rixey and Jamie Woodburn, all of Maui; Matt Muirhead, Kendall Struxness and Pepe Trask, all of Kauai; Theron Forrestor, Wayne Hess, Dave Lostalot, Chris O'Kieffe and Dave Waynar, all of California; and a trio of Maui women: Anita Anderson, Kathryn "Ryn" Hughes and Colleen Kirkley.
"Anita, Colleen, Kathryn - all three women were physically strong and spiritually strong . . . really, really great wahine paddlers. They pulled their own weight in the boat, no different from the men," said Kapahulehua, who called remote Kure the punana, or geological "birthplace of our chain."
"The key was that we always have our women. It was a cultural and spiritual thing. They are the ones who carry the punana in their womb; so culturally it's a great thing," he said, saluting not only the women, but also the youth and bounty-of-the-ocean aspects of the voyage.
"Alex Ibarra, 16 years old from Baldwin High School, paddled some shifts while we were paddling in the dark and in the day for 73 hours. Alex was in there at least 16 to 20 hours; he fully pulled his own deal."
Kapahulehua said the crew was mentoring Ibarra to lead future epic voyages and, in return, the youth snagged an 80-pound ono, a 25- to 30-pound aku and a 100-pound marlin.
"He was able to fish for us, clean it up and cook it, and he fed us."
Logistically, the crew members had hourlong paddling and rest shifts, with exchanges done in a Zodiac launched from the Lady Alice. As the voyagers passed the Pearl and Hermes Reef, they persevered through 6- to 8-foot seas driven by 20-knot winds for about six hours. Once past this atoll, the paddlers began surfing the canoe on a southerly course.
Many crew members did not sleep during the three-plus days of paddling, keeping watch for the canoe because it continually disappeared in the swells. The nightly setting of the moon was dramatic; at about 3 a.m. the moon receded and left the canoe in an enveloping, black velvety darkness.
A Soul Fabric Films crew of Colorado joined the last leg and will create a documentary due out next year with the working title "The Voyagers."
The just-completed $170,000 venture was underwritten by sponsors including Doc Martin's Sunscreen, Dowling Co., Goodfellow Brothers, Honua'ula, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Maui No Ka Oi Magazine, Patagonia and Werner Paddles. Donors may send tax-deductible contributions to the nonprofit Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society made to: HOCVS, c/o 33 Wahelani St., Kula 96790.
After half a dozen years and countless blade strokes, Kapahulehua, Luedi and Woodburn paddled all eight legs of the unprecedented 1,650-mile journey from Hawaii Island to Kure Atoll. Struxness completed the entire trek, but did a section among the main islands in one-person and sailing outrigger canoes. Muirhead also paddled the four Northwestern Hawaiian Islands legs.
Woodburn said Friday by phone from Utah that the highlight of the final leg was "the culmination of a six-year effort. The reward for me was just bringing this effort to its completion and working along with the ohana of paddlers that have made it possible.
"It was particularly emotional for the group of us that have been organizing and working over the last years to complete this connection. It was nice to bring it to closure and do it in spite of the regulatory hurdles," the Kula resident said, referring to federal rules governing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which have been designated as the Papahanaumokua-kea Marine National Monument.
The next HOCVS goal is to paddle the entire island nation of Tonga next summer.
But for now, after more than three days of sometimes high seas, buffeting winds and scorching heat, the crew remained "one big hoe waa ohana (paddling family)," Kapahulehua said. "We cling to one another, we have compassion with one another. . . . Each member of this team was great, great - physically and mentally in great spirit.
"The biggest thing was we were all together."
On the Net: Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society www.HOCVS.org
* Kekoa Enomoto can be reached at email@example.com.