Kauai’s voyaging canoe stirs spirits, smiles

LIHUE — When Namahoe glided into Nawiliwili Harbor Sunday evening, its captain was not expecting a crowd.

But this was one of those times Dennis Chun didn’t mind being wrong.

About 50 people cheered, applauded, snapped pictures and took videos as Kauai’s voyaging canoe returned under a setting sun after a trip to Oahu to welcome Hokulea from its three-year journey.

It was a wonderful welcome.

“We weren’t expecting that. We really weren’t,” Chun said, happy to be holding his 9-month-old daughter. “We were expecting to come in, tie up, clean up and unload and get home to families. It was a surprise. We expected people’s families, but that’s about it.”

The crowd was happy to provide the greeting the double-hulled canoe deserved. Locals and visitors awaited, keiki to kupuna, some helping carry equipment to waiting trucks, others welcoming crew members with hugs and lei.

“We had read about (Namahoe) and when we saw it coming into the harbor, we thought it would be cool to welcome it back to Kauai,” said visitors John and Marcia Jensen of Ohio.

There was a bit of history happening.

Namahoe was under construction for more than 20 years before it was officially born on Sept. 11 with a ceremony and celebration at Kalapaki Beach. This was its first cross-ocean trip, and a good one, Chun said.

It was towed the estimated 90 miles to Magic Island on Oahu for Hokulea’s return two weeks ago. The return to Kauai, with little winds, also required it to be towed, to beat darkness.

Chun thanked the crew of 25 men and women who capped their successful voyage with a blessing ceremony and a spirited, powerful performance of a haka.

“It was really good. Winds were light to moderate, seas were pretty calm,” he said. “It was a pretty smooth trip. Really nice. The crew worked really well.”

“It was a good learning experience,” he added.

Being in Oahu to welcome Hokulea was an awesome experience, Chun said.

“Especially for us, being the youngest, to see all the other canoes, all the other crews, all the old voyagers, voyagers that came before us, just being able to meet with each other, have a good time, share stories, it was unreal.”

For the experienced guys on the crew, he said it was a touching time.

“It was one of the few times all these guys get together and it’s not a funeral. It’s a time of joy, a time of unity, a time of companionship and friendship,” Chun said. “That was real awesome.”

While the outing went well, there is work to do. He said Namahoe’s crew will continue to train and get the younger members up to speed.

“We’re getting accustomed to how she sails,” Chun said. “We’re learning from this canoe. It takes at least a couple years just to get to know the canoe.”

Chun, Hawaiian studies coordinator at Kauai Community College and one of the original builders of Namahoe, hopes to get Namahoe in front of the community a little more, too.

“Continue what we started out to do, the cultural and educational aspects of voyaging, and try to integrate that with some of the schools and academic kinds of things,” he said.

The hulls of Namahoe, which means “the twins,” are constructed of modern materials, including fiberglass and foam technology. Most of the decking, stanchions, railings, masts, booms, cleats, dead eyes, and others are wood from various sources, including Kokee. Miles of rope were used to lash the canoe together as well as various parts on the vessel.

“In our minds, all of the contemporary voyaging canoes are descendants of Hokulea,” Chung previously told TGI. “So, Namahoe is a child of Hokulea.”

The best part of the trip, overall, he said, was the comradeship and the learning that took place and the unity that people gained from working together and experiencing things together.

Sunday night, asked if he had any plans to celebrate being home, Chun said no.

“Now it’s back to work, back to caring for the canoe.”

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