Hui O Wa'a Kaulua crew members are "so close" to finishing the Mo'okiha O Piilani double-hulled voyaging canoe, a project nearly 18 years in the making, but said they don't want to rush to put it in the water without "making sure she's ready."
"We've been pushing hard for this, and we're so close," said apprentice navigator and education coordinator Kala Baybayan. "I know we're bummed we couldn't make the date . . . but we want to wait for the right conditions. If she's not ready, we're not going to rush to put her in the water. We're going to take the time and do it right. That's how our kupuna would've done it."
The deep-sea voyaging canoe was scheduled to be launched last Saturday from Mala Wharf, but the date has been postponed due to a number of delays, one of the major delays being modifying the custom-made boat trailer needed to haul the 62-foot-long vessel out of the hale next to Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina.
The Mo‘okiha O Pi‘ilani, a 62-foot-long double-hulled voyaging canoe, sits nearly completed in its hale next to Kamehameha Iki Park in Lahaina.
Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua Facebook photo
The new target launch date is Jan. 17, conditions permitting, crew members said.
Capt. Tim Gilliom, who has helped with construction and woodwork on nearly all the large voyaging canoes of Hawaii - including the famed Hokule'a - and who has been working on this project for 17 years, said he is hopeful to launch on the January date, especially because it is the same date Queen Lili'uokalani was imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of Iolani Palace in 1893.
If conditions do not allow the canoe to be launched on the January date, the crew will likely have to wait until February due to the tides, Gilliom said.
Construction of the canoe is nearly finished with only minor tweaking to the boat trailer required so that the vessel can be moved out of the hale - though the nonprofit organization still needs about $20,000 that would cover mostly permitting and safety training.
Over the last five months, the hui has been able to raise around $62,000, mostly through individual donations, business partnerships and "every sort of fundraiser," Gilliom said. He said hundreds of people from all over the world have volunteered over the past couple of decades. This week, volunteers from Oahu and Tahiti are helping the crew put the finishing touches on the canoe.
"I can't wait to see it happen, it's the most efficient thing I've ever been on, out of any kind of vehicle," said Gillion, a lifelong fisherman. "Just add wind, and you go."
Baybayan also has put in hundreds if not thousands of volunteer hours over the last decade into building Mo'okiha O Pi'ilani (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.
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, Baybayan said. Much like the Hokule'a on Oahu and the hui's smaller Mo'olele on Maui, the 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 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, she said. As done with the Hokule'a and other Hawaiian voyaging canoes, the crews will rely mostly on celestial navigation, sometimes across thousands of miles of open ocean.
"I see the canoe as a school of knowledge. The students who learn on her, they're learning science in a different way," Baybayan said. "You don't just read it in a book, the wisdom you learn is priceless . . . and extremely empowering. I want this opportunity to be for all the kids of Hawaii, especially in Maui. I want to give the next generation that empowerment of never being lost."
Baybayan started sailing when she was in her 20s as a way to connect with her father, Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a master navigator born and raised on Maui who sailed on Hokule'a when he was just 19 years old.
Today, he calls sailing "a matter of pride" and a way to get "put back in time close to living the way your ancestors lived."
Hui O Wa'a Kaulua has consulted him for advice as they put together their voyaging canoe, and Chad Kalepa Baybayan said the Mo'okiha will probably be one of the largest canoes in the state.
He said it could take up to a quarter century to build a good canoe, and that the hui should not rush the process because "once the canoe goes into the water, you cannot make changes or additions as easy as if on land."
"Now's the time to really see the canoe through all its final details," he said.
As for Kala Baybayan, a mother who also works two jobs, making time to volunteer to bring the canoe to water "is definitely a passion."
She said the Mo'okiha was "never meant to be a museum" but to be a living classroom used to pass on ancient traditions and knowledge to future generations.
"I have friends who've worked on the canoe since when they were kids, and now they have their own kids. They want to be able to use it to teach their own children and be able to say, 'Hey, I did this,' '' she said.
Hui O Wa'a Kaulua still needs volunteers over the next few weeks to put the final touches on the canoe.
For more information, visit huiowaa.org or the Hui O Wa'a Kaulua's Facebook page, call 667-4050, email huiowaa firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the hale at 525 Front St. in Lahaina.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.