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BYUH sailing canoe, Iosepa, takes to the water

Friday, 30 May 2008

Mike Foley | University Advancement | 30 May 2008

After being in dry dock for three years behind Hale 5 dormitory, BYU-Hawaii's 57-foot traditional wa'a kaulua or twin-hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe, Iosepa, has spent the past several weeks temporarily moored off Hukilau Beach in Laie. Two co-captains from BYUH's Hawaiian Studies program and 10 student crewmembers have been sailing it along windward Oahu from Kualoa to Kaena Point and preparing for a training voyage to the island of Hawaii. Wind and weather permitting, the canoe and 28-foot escort vessel Nihipora tentatively plan to embark in the coming week.

When Iosepa returns, the beautifully crafted vessel will make its home when not on the water in the new halau wa'a or canoe compound in the Polynesian Cultural Center's Hawaiian village, where it will be available to the university, the broader community as well as visitors. The PCC has set June 28 as a free* "family day" [see description at the bottom] to mark the special occasion.

Kamoa'e Walk, Assistant professor of Hawaiian Studies and one of the co-captains, explained during the "extensive period of dry dock we did a lot of work on the canoe that needed to be done, and got it to the point where we're confident that it's ready." He indicated this included repairs to the hulls, and a new spar and hollow-core mast "which gives it greater strength and lightens the weight."

Walk said the Hawaiian Studies program requires student crewmembers to enroll concurrently in two courses this term related to the Iosepa: "One is called holo wa'a and the other is ho'okele wa'a. Holo wa'a is learning the skills necessary to sail a traditional voyaging canoe, and ho'okele wa'a is learning about the intricacies and beginnings of navigation and celestial wayfinding." At the same time, he added, the students are also committed to their land-based agricultural project at Kahuola, mauka [inland] of the General Classroom Building.

BYU-Hawaii sailing canoe Iosepa at Hukilau Beach in Laie The other co-captain, Kawika Eskaran — Hawaiian Studies Administrative Assistant, Special Projects Coordinator and master carver of the canoe along with Tuione Pulotu — said since the canoe went back into the water, "we've allowed Iosepa to 'speak to us.' It's saying that it needs certain things and repairs. We're trying to get more speed out of Iosepa, so we're preparing the canoe in that way, to be able to sheet it up and get more tension in the sails. We're also preparing the crew in learning to tack."

"I have to say that the students we have right now are probably the best crew we've ever trained, the most prepared," he continued. "And personality-wise, everybody is meshing together really well. Their hearts are in it, and they've given us their all. We've gone through sleep deprivation. They have to know what that's like, to be able to work under stressful conditions with fatigue. It's hard, really hard; but it's also been so exciting and exhilarating. It's been wonderful."

Walk also praised the crew for the spiritual moments they've shared. "We've had spiritual moments on both the ocean and the land. We've had a lot of life-changing lessons and experiences," he said.

"This group of students will definitely come out of the program with leadership skills far beyond what they thought they had to pass before. They have already pushed themselves beyond the limits that they had, and there are many more yet to go. They're also keeping journals for their classes, but which are really for them and their posterity, to help understand and know about these wonderful experiences they're having — the experiences that our kupuna [ancestors] had, the experiences that they have now in the ho'ailona, the signs that we get that our kupuna are with us every step of the way, from the rainbows to 'iwa birds and promptings."

Walk also paid tribute to William K. "Uncle Bill" Wallace III, director of the BYUH Hawaiian Studies program, as well as Uncle Bill's son, William Wallace IV, owner and captain of the escort vessel, which is named after his late mother.

"We express our love for Uncle Bill. We can see that he wishes he could be with us. We wish he could be with us, also," Walk said. "He has been able to come down a few times and spend a few minutes with us, but of course, he is undergoing intense chemo treatment which physically does not allow him to be a part of some of these rigorous activities. We know he loves and support us, and has expressed that, and we look forward to the time when he'll be able to join us again and sail on Iosepa."

"Young William is also doing a fantastic job. We couldn't be more happy with his performance and the performance of the boat he has. It's wonderful because it allows us greater flexibility in our program to have the escort vessel here in our community. We're proud of him and the job he's doing to keep us safe."

BYU-Hawaii sailing canoe Iosepa off Laie

Eskaran noted that once in Kawaihae the BYU-Hawaii crew will meet up with the Makali'i canoe and "family" organization, Na Kalai Wa'a Moku o Hawaii, as well as its "sister canoe, Kanehunamoku, out of Kualoa. All three canoes will be there, and it's going to be fantastic."

He explained that members of the Makali'i family have been helping and training Iosepa from the very beginning, and also invited him and Walk to participate in a historic sail about a year ago: The Makali'i family created the 54-foot Alingano Maisu and sailed the two canoes from Hawaii to Satawal in the Caroline Islands in honor of Pius "Papa Mau" Mau Piailug, the traditional Micronesian navigator who is credited with restoring non-instrument wayfinding among the Polynesians, starting with the canoe Hokulea in 1976. Eskaran spent about six weeks on board, while Walk put in 10 weeks.

"Being on Maisu was a great learning experience and practice, too," Eskaran said. "Kamoa'e and I, on one of the Maisu's last sails, were the captains. We were doing it a little hesitantly, while the others were on the escort, watching. This time around I feel like we're clicking. We're sailing almost without any hesitation or fear. Even in the larger swells, it's exhilarating."

Walk agreed: "We learned in practice what we had learned in theory about navigation and about sailing in the open ocean. Having those experiences greatly increased our abilities in what we're doing. We've been training for years, and every time it increases our knowledge and allows us to do more. So, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to apply all of the training that we've had from Makali'i and also being on Maisu, and to share that with our students and help to increase the visibility and viability of our training program."

"I am more indebted to the people who went before us, who took a chance on us, because they weren't sure," Eskaran added. "A lot of people have dreams that never come to fruition, but for us, we made it happen. It's the greatest feeling to know we've come this far, and we have much still to learn. We're also grateful for the community support and the excitement that Iosepa is building. They support us so much."

Walk also thanked "President Wheelwright, and our new vice president of Academics, Max Checketts, who have both been very supportive of what we're doing. We're grateful to them for exhibiting confidence in our program and ensuring its viability, as well as this aspect [Iosepa] of our program, which is very much a part of what we do."

He said Iosepa might stop at Kalaupapa, Molokai, on the return voyage to "make the connection between the Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian Language and Cultural Studies, and Napela, the namesake of our center, who spent the last years of his life dedicated to the service of others, particularly members of the Church, at Kalaupapa, the former leper colony."

BYU-Hawaii Iosepa crew and co-captains, May 2008

BYU-Hawaii crewmembers (one missing) and co-captains take time out
from sailing to care for their taro at Kahuola, the land portion focus of
the university's Hawaiian Studies program.

— Top three photos by Monique Saenz, bottom photo by Mike Foley

:: Watch video clips of the Iosepa sailing...  

* The PCC is offering free general admisison to kamaaina with photo ID on June 28 from 3-6 p.m. in celebration of the grand opening of the Halau Wa'a O Iosepa attraction. At 4 p.m. the PCC will stage a special cultural presentation at the halau, and a free concert in the Hawaiian village at 6 p.m., featuring Willy K. Kamaaina will also receive a 15% discount on all purchases at the PCC's retail gift shops during the celebration.