Canoe gets welcomed home
• Photo gallery: Voyaging canoes in Pokai Bay
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
WAI'ANAE — A welcome-home party at Pōka'ī Bay yesterday for the voyaging canoe E Ala spanned generations and provided an opportunity for many of those who attended to celebrate their Hawaiian heritage.
The E Ala nudged up against the sandy shoreline well before its scheduled arrival time of 8:30 a.m. At the helm was Sam Kapoi, one of three captains-in-training from the Wai'anae Coast who are learning the art of piloting voyaging canoes.
The E Ala had departed the Marine Education and Training Center on Sand Island on Tuesday morning and sailed the length of the Leeward Coast along with two other voyaging canoes, the Hōkūle'a and the Kama'uheuheu.
Two other young captains from the Wai'anae coast, Kaina Holomalie and Waimea McKeague, joined with Kapoi in guiding the canoes on the three-day journey.
The first night was spent camping in Mākua. On Wednesday, crews sailed the canoes back to Nānākuli. Yesterday, the Hōkūle'a and Kama'uheuheu escorted the E Ala from Nānākuli on its triumphant return to Pōka'ī Bay.
"It was amazing, brah. To see just one of the canoes sailing alone on the ocean is super cool. But to see all three sailing together is super powerful," said Kapoi, his eyes drifting out over the water toward Mākua.
Plans call for the E Ala to remain on the Leeward Coast and be used as a floating classroom, in part to train crew members for a worldwide voyage planned for the Hōkūle'a, Kapoi said.
Also taking part in the three-day sailing that ended at Pōka'ī Bay were students from Wai'anae and Nānākuli High and Intermediate schools and Kamaile Academy, a public charter school in Wai'anae.
Among the youngest crew members were Christian Razo and Stetson Pavao, seventh-graders at Kamaile Academy. The pair and two other classmates earned their passage on the E Ala based on their grades and a written essay.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life," Razo said. "I could feel all of the energy from the sea going through the canoe. It was a great honor for me to help bring it home."
Razo said he and Pavao even got to take turns steering the canoe, whose rudder resembles an oversized canoe paddle.
"It weighs more than 100 pounds, but we got fellow crew members to help out. We're an 'ohana now, and no one can ever break that bond," Razo said, brushing tears from his eyes.
Sitting on a folding chair about 100 yards up the beach next to a coconut tree was Phillip Naone, who guided construction of the E Ala.
"We started in December 1981 and she was launched June 12, 1982," said Naone, 78.
A machinist by trade, Naone had built a number of koa racing canoes, but the E Ala was his first voyaging canoe. He worked off plans sketched by his uncle, Sol Naone.
Gege Kawelo, president of the Waianae Hawaiian Civic Club, said planning for the E Ala stretches all the way back to the mid-'70s, when the club got a grant to build the vessel.
"It feels wonderful to see her floating in Pōka'ī Bay again," Kawelo said.
The next task, she said, will be to raise money to build a hale for the canoe, hopefully in the same spot where the canoe was built.
Meanwhile, the Waianae Hawaiian Civic Club will join with the Nanaikapono, Lualualei and Makaha Hawaiian civic clubs and the Wai'anae Valley Homestead Community Association to feed crew members from the three voyaging canoes for the next few days.
Andrew Gilman of Mākaha was among those greeting the E Ala and the two other canoes.
"You know, if you're Hawaiian, it makes you feel proud inside here," he said, tapping on the area of his T-shirt over his heart. "It makes you feel things about our ancestors and how they did 'em."
For more information on the E Ala or fund-raising efforts, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.