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Hokulea’s Worldwide Voyage Leg 25: Virginia to Florida

Photo by Kaipo Kiaha/Oiwi TV
Photo by Kaipo Kiaha/Oiwi TV

By Kālepa Baybayan

A quiet warm south wind blows over the stern of Hōkūleʻa, lifting the canoe as we silently rock back and forth on the floating dock we are secured to. We arrived in Miami Saturday afternoon at 4pm and are now stationed at Shake-A-Leg Marina, which specializes in programming for youth and adults with disabilities. Theirs is an inspiring story of caring for members of their community who would otherwise be denied participation in at-sea sailing activities. Shake-A-Leg is managed Harry Hogan, President and Co-Founder of this amazing non-profit that is hosting Hōkūleʻa’s stay at their Miami marina for free for our entire two-week visit.

Leg 25 was a stark contrast in weather, hurricane damage, and immigration enforcement. The crew departed Hawaiʻi November 9, the day after the national elections; glum was the look on the faces of the crew. We arrived to very cool weather with temperatures in the 30˚F range, with ice on the deck of the canoe in the morning during our first weekend. We began our 1,110-mile march south from Norfolk, Virginia on Monday, November 14, making 16 ports of calls that included stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. With 16 stops along the way there are 16 opportunities for countless mishaps to occur, but the crew handled each stop with professionalism and competent seamanship.

When we got to the southern border of South Carolina, the evidence of the effects of Hurricane Matthew were all too obvious. Wrecked docks, marinas, washed ashore or sunken yachts lined the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) along the route we traveled through South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida.

When we began the trip there were relatively few other vessels on the water. Whatever vessels we did encounter along the way were all heading south like us, towards warmer weather. The weather began warming once we hit northern Florida, and we could finally remove the layers of warm clothing we had been wearing.

For the last three days of the trip we were either boarded or stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, or Marine Police who thought the canoe was a raft of illegal immigrants. The last stoppage demonstrated the full weight of the enforcement services as a helicopter circled overhead, police cars looked upon us from shore with flashing lights, and four enforcement boats surrounded the canoe and escort vessel. After a 20-minute stop in which the canoe provided documents of being a US flagged vessel and proof of citizenship, the crews were released and the agents explained that they were experiencing a wave of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. from the Bahamas.

Even with the events of the last  three days of the voyage, the Leg 25 crew experienced the friendship and generosity of the many communities we were privileged to visit. We were hosted by Bobby Puakea, son of famous “Uncle Bobby Puakea”, of canoe building and paddling fame, in Norfolk, Virginia where he is employed by the Defense Department. He along with his ‘ohana and friends put on a Hawaiian-style dinner for the crews as an appropriate send-off the night before we departed. In West Palm Beach, we were hosted by a couple of the most generous souls we have met on the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Elizabeth Dowdle and Raphael Clemente carry the spirit of community and hospitality of the warm southern Florida city that is privileged to have them as residents. A final thank you to Paula and Ronald Hamelik, and Heather Harvey, who greeted the crew in Miami with therapeutic lomi massages—your act of kindness is much appreciated.

The three-member team aboard the tow vessel Julie Cat did most of the “heavy lifting” for this leg down the ICW. Staffed by Captain Kalau Spencer, Pilot Randy Rickard, and Terry Hee, they navigated the ICW using three different technologies—an onboard Chart Plotter, a handheld GPS, and a Depth Recorder. In trying circumstances and unfamiliar waters, we are safely at dock in Miami under their expert seamanship.

Our Logistics Team, lead by Moani Hemuli in Florida and Heidi Guth from Hawaiʻi kept us on a record 20-day, 1,110-mile march south. The crew is now preparing the vessel for Leg 26, which will take Hōkūleʻa from Miami through the Panama Canal. They are packing and loading food, conducting final maintenance, manifesting, and going through checklists. I have been blessed to have a crew that listens well, learns together, and follows instructions. Every trip is a new event for me, and I have been very fortunate in the rich and positive experience the journey has provided me. It is with a heartfelt mahalo that I extend my appreciation to each of you:

Crew Leg 25
Kalau Spencer, Captain Julie Cat
Randy Rickard, Pilot
Terry Hee, Julie Cat
Moani Hemuli, Land Waʻa
Snake AhHee, Watch Captain
Kawika Crivello, Watch Captain
Tamiko Fernelius, Cook
Shantell Ching, Quarter Master
Keala Kai, Canoe Operations
Zane Havens, Canoe Operations
Wayne Washburn, Canoe Operations
Lamona Shintani, Auxiliary Power
Jackie Meggs, Education Coordinator
Kaipo Kiaha, Media Specialist

Mahalo a nui loa,
Kālepa Baybayan
Captain, Hōkūleʻa