Polynesian voyaging canoe captain, navigator dies at 65

HONOLULU — Master navigator Chad Kalepa Baybayan, who served as a captain of the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea, has died. He was 64.

Baybayan died suddenly while visiting family in Seattle, his family said in a statement on Friday. The cause of death was not immediately known.

The family thanked people for their thoughts, love and support, and for “allowing us this time and space to deal with the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, cousin, uncle and friend to so many,” the statement said.

His mother Lillian Suter told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the family was shocked.

Baybayan served as a crew member of Hokulea since 1975, when he was 19, after the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s double-hulled canoe docked in his hometown of Lahaina, Maui.

“Since he sailed for such a long time, he has such an extraordinary, deep, very deep relationship to the Pacific Islanders,” said Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and close friend to Baybayan. “When Kalepa arrives on the canoe, people come.”

Thompson said he became the youngest crew member to sail Hokulea on a deep-sea voyage to Tahiti and back in 1980, logging about 6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers). He served as a captain and navigator on the canoe for eight voyages, according to Hokulea’s website.

Hokulea is recently known for its three-year journey around the globe without modern navigation instrumentation from 2014 to 2017. About a dozen crewmembers, including Baybayan, relied on ocean swells, stars, wind and birds to sail across about 40,000 nautical miles (74,000 kilometers) to 19 countries.

Baybayan also was a Kailua-Kona resident and resident navigator at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo.

He also was an outspoken proponent of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. He received backlash from some in the Native Hawaiian community for his stance on the telescope.

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele of Hilo said he received news of Baybayan’s death “with great sadness.”

“Kalepa saw the Hokulea as a symbol of the accomplishments of the Native Hawaiian people in the face of great adversity, and a promise for all that is possible,” Kahele said.

Baybayan is survived by his wife Audrey; his daughters Kala Tanaka and Pukanala Llanes; and his son Aukai.

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