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Crew Blog | Billy Richards: Reflections in Flight

Billy RichardsWritten by Billy Richards

So, where do I start? At the beginning I suppose.

Forty years ago this past July, I boarded Hōkūle‘a for the first time. I was in my twenty’s, a Vietnam combat veteran, and a college student earning a living playing music nightly as one-third of a trio.

Then one summer day in 1975, I find myself at Honaunau on the island of Hawai’i. And, anchored in the bay just off of Hale o Keawe at the City of Refuge was the voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a, who together with its surroundings created a living mural from out of the past.

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Manaiakalani ~ Bite the Hook

On the day that the canoe was to depart, Hōkūle‘a’s crew came to the shoreline, many dressed in malo, and wearing leis of maile and ti-leaf, which added to the visual that recalled another time, when we were “we”.

I was standing on the rocky shoreline watching them with my friend Andrew who paddled for the then newly formed Keoua Canoe Club, when Hōkūle‘a’s captain, whose name I later learned to be Herb Kane, approached and asked if we would help take the crew out. “Shoot, of course” we said, and commenced to shuttle the crew from shore to vessel.

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When all were aboard, including two kupuna from the area, Aunty Clara Manisse and Papa Moses, they formed a circle at the stern, and bowed their heads as Aunty started to pray. Out of respect Andrew and I waited in our koa outrigger racer until they finished before heading back to shore.

“Amene”… At one point during their pule, a crew member looks down at me from Hōkūle‘a’s deck as we’re sitting along side in the outrigger. When the prayer ends, he jumps down into the hull of the large canoe and says, “I think you belong on this boat”. Confused at first, I say “what?” And he holds his hand out as if to invite me aboard and says again “I think you belong on this boat.”

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I grasp his hand, he pulls me aboard and I enter the making of a whole new world of responsibility, enlightenment, and change… There occurred at that moment for me, a shift in the axis of time, and it was from that point on that I have existed in two worlds, with one foot planted in the past, and the other in the present.

An elder I have known named Hale Makua, who has since passed but who I continue to respect and admire once said, “Sometimes the Gods will send down a hook. And when you see it, bite it. Bite that hook as hard as you can so it will set, and you will find yourself being pulled up and then be amazed at what you will see…”

Out of Africa

It is forty years later, and my cell phone buzz’s. I check the caller ID to see who it is… Nainoa Thompson. I smile a bit, because you can never reach Nainoa on his cell, but he can reach you. I answer, hello?!

“Hey Billy, this is Nainoa. You wanna go to Africa?”

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So here I am, along with other members of the Leg 15 crew, aboard a Hawaiian Airlines plane called Heiheionakeiki, the Hawaiian name for the constellation Orion. We are making our way to the island nation of Mauritius to rendezvous with Hōkūle‘a, which is something that more than a few of us have been doing for three or four decades.

The crew consists of long time veterans, next generation voyagers, and a first timer. They are both male and female, of all ages, from different backgrounds and locations, and all walks of life. But they have one thing in common. They all bit the hook…

B~>>>  *  \)\)_


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