Captain Kawika Kapahulehua, the captain of the first ocean-voyaging canoe, Hokule’a, to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti in 600 years died May 17 in Honolulu. He was 76. The cause of his death was not reported.
Captain Kapahulehua was born on the island of Niihau off Kauai, and sailed and raced catamarans in Hawaii and off the coast of California. In 1976 he sailed a 62-foot, two-masted, double-hulled wood canoe from Hawaii to Tahiti using only rudimentary celestial navigation techniques. His goal was to draw attention to the ancient Polynesian voyagers who may have sailed from Tahiti to Hawaii six centuries ago. Whether or not theses ancient voyagers intentionally sailed to the Hawaiian islands and settled them is controversial. Some think they arrived there by happenstance and were washed ashore. Kapahulehua and others believe that the voyages were planned.
While Hokule’a’s voyage did not prove the ancient navigators had made the passage, it did demonstrate that this sort of long-distance navigation was possible. Since Hokule’a’s first voyage, dozens of similar canoes have been built in Hawaii and serve as ambassadors of Hawaiian culture, while training students in seamanship and navigation.