Crew Profile

Blog | Mel Chang: Jolene’s Sunglasses: Live From the Deck of the Hikianalia

Mel Chang Written by Mel Chang.

This bright September morning felt like the right time to kanikapila (play music) for the crew and Doug and his family.

Maui Tautotaha, a fellow crewmember and expert ʻŌiwi TV videographer, started the hand signals and countdown for the filming of an impromptu music video as I sat on the hard wooden deck of the Hikianalia, a modern double-hulled voyaging canoe. “Hiki” as we have come to nickname her is accompanying the iconic Hawaiian sailing canoe Hokule’a on their Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage to raise awareness of the need to take care of the earth.  I am serving as the medical officer for both canoes.  “Five, four, three…” rolled from his lips as thoughts ran through my mind of why I was glad he had decided to place his microphone on the deck in front of me to record a classic song “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” that I was about to play.  The canoes are en route between Swains Island and Pago Pago and I had come off my early morning watch and decided to take out my guitar to play some slack key guitar music for the crew as they set about preparing breakfast on what was shaping up to be the start of another beautiful day. We are surrounded by the calm and deep blue ocean around Samoa with clear skies and smooth sailing.

I tried to steady my picking hand and fingers in order to play the notes in as nahenahe (sweet) fashion as possible on the gently rolling deck.  As I played I recalled the promise I had made to a guitar-buddy, Doug, that I would play “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u,” written in 1976 by Jerry Santos, to commemorate on the Malama Honua Voyage he and his wife Jolene’s love of this song, which they enjoyed during their high school year, five-year courtship, and throughout their marriage.  Jolene and Doug had first met in third grade and had been married for twenty-six years before she succumbed to cancer earlier this year at age fifty-three, leaving Doug behind with their two sons.  Other personal and unexplained health calamities had befallen Doug around the time of Jolene’s passing, and he confided that he had sunk to emotional depths not previously experienced.  He acknowledged to me that he was struggling to right his ship and to determine a new sail plan for him and his sons to follow without the all important Jolene beside him.

I had been honored to play slack key guitar instrumentals for Jolene’s memorial service a few months before my sail on Hiki and Hokule’a.  During the memorial Jolene’s best friend sent her regards via a video tribute that sang the praises of Jolene as a loving and caring wife, mother, daughter, sister and best friend.  However, the video seemed a bit atypical in that Jolene’s friend donned dark glasses for a part of the tribute.  She later explained that the sunglasses were given to her by Jolene as a helpful money-saving tip that her best friend was known to pass along thoughtfully to family and friends.  In this case Jolene had sent a pair of inexpensive, $19.99, non-prescription, polarized sunglasses called “Fits Over” glasses that work worn over regular eyeglasses, thereby sparing the expense of spending hundreds of dollars for prescription shades that she felt was unnecessary.

In my rush to tie up loose ends for my work and to get personal items for my planned five week sail on Hiki, I ran out of time to obtain prescription sunglasses as I had originally planned.  Luckily I remembered the video about Jolene’s sunglass recommendation and was able to buy a pair of the glasses from Walgreen’s the day before my departure.  I shared one of the pair with a journalist traveling with us on Hokule’a.  After wearing the glasses on the voyage and for a variety of land activities for the crew, I wrote an email to Doug indicating the excellent function and good value of the sunglasses on the high seas and also that I had worn them in the presence of the Head of State of Samoa, the United Nations Secretary General, and a number of other marine conservation guests aboard the canoes.  Doug wrote back that the knowledge that Jolene’s advice and spirit were sailing with Hiki and Hokule’a was very therapeutic, uplifting and soothing to him.  He indicated that sharing with his family and friends the story of Jolene’s sunglasses sailing on both Hiki and Hokule’a was most cathartic for him and served as a springboard for him to speak about his loss, and also to recall the wonderful relationship he had enjoyed with his wife and the music that was significant to them during their marriage.  He was sure that his wife’s caring and nurturing spirit traveled along with me on the sail, and it prompted him to request if I could play “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” on my voyage as one of their favorite songs.  The song coincidentally was written in the same year that Hokule’a first travelled from Hawai‘i to Tahiti and I was happy to comply with his request.

This bright September morning felt like the right time to kanikapila (play music) for the crew and Doug and his family.  “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” was recorded live from the deck of the Hikianalia in one take with ukulele and vocal support from my watch captain, Brad Wong.  Though I do not typically wear dark sunglasses when playing music, my eyes were shielded and protected from the brilliant morning sun by Jolene’s sunglasses.

With Captain’s permission I will leave my pair of Jolene’s sunglasses and Doug’s story in my Port 3 bunk for the next medical officer to use as Hiki and Hōkūle’a continue on the Mālama Honua Voyage.


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