Crew Profile

Blog | Kālepa Baybayan: The Navigatorʻs Journey

 Kalepa_BaybayanWritten by Kālepa Baybayan.

For myself, it has been a great pleasure meeting old friends as we sailed across the central Pacific and to introduce new crew members to the many island communities we visited. One thing remained consistent throughout all three legs of the journey, the energetic spirit and enthusiasm each crew member brought to the voyage and its mission.

The balcony of my apartment overlooks Malaloa Dock where our sailing canoes Hikianalia and Hōkūle’a are now at rest. On the horizon a row of purse seining tuna boats and tuna processing plants string the edge of Pago Pago harbor, and the strong smell of aged fish produces a pugnent odor.

The past 30 days has been filled with a short sail around the Samoan islands and stops at the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Apia and a visit to the now uninhabited Olosega Mamao (Swains Island). The crew have returned to the comfort and sanctuary of our hotel rooms at the Sadie Thompson Inn along the edge of Pago Pago harbor, where we have to remain vigilant against the bites of mosquitoes. The week has been busy with cleaning up the canoes, sorting through food and water containers, and conducting long needed vessel maintenance. We have begun our Mālama Honua education outreach program by opening up the canoes for tours and  providing star compass demonstrations and informational stations featuring the research initiatives conducted aboard the vessels. The crew has been conducting daily school presentations and participating in marine monitoring surveys and community service projects.

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The past few months have been long for me, having to endure the separation from my family. I am blessed to have a loving wife, Audrey, who patiently awaits my return from the voyage for a brief break. I began my tour with the Polynesian Voyaging Society in the middle of March, and it has been a fast learning journey for me, having to organize the final stages of Hōkūle’a’s outfitting and loading while eradicating ants that required the canoe to be tent-fumigated only hours before our departure from O’ahu. I am learning very quickly how to keep the crew organized while in port, juggling our education initiatives, managing canoe maintenance, logistics, and pre-departure preparations.

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The last 3-legs have been very different from each other, reflecting the changing theme for each leg of the voyage and the specific requirements to bring onboard crew members that can fill roles with the requisite skill sets. The personality of each leg represents the sum of the many personal experiences each crew member has contributed to this collective journey. The first leg was focused on navigation and the skills of determining direction, estimating position, and sailing the canoe as close to the wind as possible. The crew was made up of young apprentice navigators who demonstrated the intellectual capacity to problem solve their position daily. Given time, they should develop the wayfinding skills necessary to navigate; patience, time, and maturity is what is needed.

The second leg of the journey from Tahiti to Samoa was the longest, 53 days, with 16 different stops. We entered a number of narrow passes and had to steer along the edge of the channel to avoid the swift moving current. This crew demonstrated very strong protocol skills and chanted with loud voices and pride. With a stop at the United Nations SIDS conference, the third leg of the voyage was filled with high-level meetings hosted by international policy makers.

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Each leg of the voyage had its challenges, with weather and health problems. The first leg of the voyage took the crew across the Pacific tradewind field in both the northern and southern hemisphere as the canoes sailed close to the wind making a Tahiti landfall. The Tahiti to Samoa leg sailed generally downwind with the prevailing tradewinds. There were bouts with wind reversals, winds coming from the direction we were sailing towards, which kept the canoes tacking back and forth for several days until the wind returned from the desired direction. There was 18 hours of a gale off of Mitiaro and Atiu, with sustained winds of 50 knots and seas up to 6 meters. We had difficulty making the upwind point on the return trip to Pago Pago from Swains Island and had to take a tow for the last 20 miles of the trip. There were two incidents of crew members coming down with cases of dengue fever. One crew member had to be medically evacuated from a remote island.

One of the most memorable moments was a visit to 1-Foot Island within the turquoise inner lagoon of Aitutaki. We took all crew members aboard Hikianalia and sailed to the remote island within the lagoon and had a picnic lunch on the shores of a sandbar. The crew had a wonderful day, full of snorkeling, exploring the reef, and collecting shells. I believe that our greatest success despite all our challenges is that we have sailed over four thousand nautical miles without damage to the canoes, and all crew arrived safely. We have demonstrated good stewardship of the planet in fulfillment of our mission, been excellent canoe-hosts and educators to the communities we have visited, and we are building a network of collaborators and partners who will care for the earth we live on.

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For myself, it has been a great pleasure meeting old friends as we sailed across the central Pacific and to introduce new crew members to the many island communities we visited. One thing remained consistent throughout all three legs of the journey, the energetic spirit and enthusiasm each crew member brought to the voyage and its mission. The crew brought the highest level of professionalism to their respective canoe kuleana, and they all demonstrated good teamwork. The most important quality that I appreciated was that they listened to my instructions and executed on planned activities. The rule that if you were late for a meeting, you would need to provide entertainment for the next evening event, helped to motivate crew members to be on time.

I will now step away from the project for a few weeks to reconnect with family and to get caught up on home maintenance. The Mālama Honua voyage will remain close to my heart, but I will need to monitor its progress from afar. I wish success to the crews as they continue on our mission to Mālama Honua.

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