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Hokule‘a marks 45th anniversary of maiden voyage to Tahiti

Crew also pays tribute to late Maui navigator

Hokule‘a sailed into Honolua Bay and past the family home of late pwo navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan on Saturday. The canoe also sailed by Kalaupapa on the way back to Oahu. JAKE MAROTE/OLUKAI photos

The Maui News

Forty-five years after Hokule’a departed Honolua Bay on her maiden voyage to Tahiti, the legendary voyaging canoe returned to Maui on Saturday to mark the historic anniversary.

May 1, 1976, was the first time in more than 600 years that a Polynesian voyaging canoe sailed down Kealaikahiki, the ancestral sea road connecting Hawaii and Tahiti, using traditional navigation, according to the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Hokule’a and sister canoe Hikianalia sailed from Oahu and arrived at Honolua Bay on Saturday morning to remember and honor the voyaging visionaries, Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug and the 1976 crew members whose daring voyage helped reawaken a lost tradition and restored pride and dignity to Native Hawaiians, the voyaging society said.

The crew also sailed past the Lahaina family home of the late pwo navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan, who as a young man in 1976 quietly helped paddle crew members from the shore of Honolua Bay to Hokule’a for departure. Baybayan, who dedicated his life to voyaging, navigation and Hawaiian culture and language, passed away in April at the age of 64.

Voyaging canoes Hokule‘a and Hikianalia sail into Honolua Bay on Saturday to mark 45 years since Hokule‘a first departed Honolua Bay for her maiden voyage to Tahiti.

The Hokule’a crew members on the 1976 voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti included Clifford Ah Mow, Shorty Bertelmann, Ben Finney, Tommy Holmes, Sam Kalalau, Boogie Kalama, Kawika Kapahulehua, Buffalo Keaulana, John Kruse, Dukie Kuahulu, David Lewis, Dave Lyman, Billy Richards, Rodo Williams and Piailug, who used the wind, waves, stars, birds and clouds to find their way to Tahiti, despite never having sailed the Southern Hemisphere.

National Geographic photograph Nicholas DeVore and filmmaker Dale Bell were also on board.

Four of the original crew members — Bertelmann, Keaulana, Kruse and Richards — as well as Bell, are still living.

The voyage to Honolua Bay on Saturday not only marked a historic anniversary but was also part of a series of training sails to help prepare the crew for the 41,000-mile, 42-month circumnavigation of the Pacific that will cover 46 countries and archipelagos, nearly 100 indigenous territories and 345 ports. The goal of the Moananuiakea Voyage is to develop young crew members, navigators and leaders for the planet, the voyaging society said.

“A year from today, May 1, 2022, we will launch the Moananuiakea Voyage and in five years from today we will return here to Honolua Bay to mark 50 years of Hokule’a and voyaging,” said Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. “We believe the world needs navigators, and we are laying down that challenge now, that in five years when we return to Honolua Bay, we will have inspired and elevated 10 million navigators and young leaders of all kinds to lead our earth into a sustainable, thriving future.”

On the way back to Honolulu, Hokule’a and Hikianalia also sailed by Kalaupapa to remember, pay respect and aloha the community that welcomed the crew that brought Hokule’a home from Tahiti in 1976. Thompson said the crew was told to hold off and not return to Oahu yet while celebratory preparations were underway, so they decided to wait off of Kalaupapa for safe anchorage, away from big crowds.

“The crew didn’t go ashore, but the Kalaupapa patients crowded into a row boat with their ukulele and went out to Hokule’a, climbed on board and they were joyously singing in the canoe,” Thompson recalled.

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