ELIA KAWIKA DAVID KU'UALOHA KAPAHULEHUA
Captain sailed Hokule‘a to Tahiti
He was soft-spoken and humble and an expert sailing captain who contributed greatly to the success of the historic Hawaii-to-Tahiti journey of the double-hulled canoe Hokule'a in 1976, friends say.
Elia Kawika David Ku'ualoha Kapahulehua, 76, died Thursday morning at the Queen's Medical Center after an illness.
"He was a great man," said Ben Finney, a founder of the Hokule'a and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Society President Nainoa Thompson said Kapahulehua, a native speaker, was deeply grounded in his Hawaiian culture, history and heritage and was a respected teacher and sailor.
"He lived his life every day in such a way that everything he did he did with love," Thompson said. "The success of that voyage was crucial to the future of Hokule'a, and Kawika was the perfect captain."
Born on July 13, 1930, on Niihau but eventually moving to Oahu, Kapahulehua became an expert sailor and a licensed captain of catamarans in the 1950s.
Kapahulehua befriended Finney, then a visiting California surfer, and took him sailing on a catamaran.
"His kindness set me off in a totally new direction," Finney said.
That new direction was the development of double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoes that would support the assertion that native Hawaiians were capable of sailing between Hawaii and Tahiti centuries before Europeans developed the chronometer and other Western instruments to aid in their long-distance ocean crossings.
Finney, who later earned a doctorate in anthropology and worked at the University of Hawaii, selected Kapahulehua as captain for the historic Hokule'a voyage.
Finney said that while there were conflicts among crew members during the voyage, Kapahulehua was conciliatory in his leadership approach and helped to get them safely to Tahiti.
"He said, 'All I wanted to do was to get the canoe to Tahiti and back with no one getting killed or hurt,'" Finney recalled.
Kapahulehua's interest in the Hokule'a voyages never waned, including the trip this year through Micronesia and Japan.
While in the hospital, he read news accounts, and the stories were posted in his room.
He was particularly happy when he heard the Hokule'a had switched back to crab claw sails in Pohnpei -- similar to the one used for the historic 1976 trip.
John Kruse, who sailed on the Hokule'a on the 1976 trip, said the voyage turned his life around, and he respected Kapahulehua's skill and work ethics.
"Coming from Niihau, he was a hard worker. ... He was a good guy," Kruse said.
Hokule'a founder Herb Kane said that as captain, Kapahulehua had approached crew members' employers to see if they could continue to receive some pay while on the voyage. "He tried to get some of the employers to help out so the families wouldn't go hungry," Kane said.
The family plans to announce services later. Kapahulehua's ashes will be scattered at sea after the Hokule'a returns from its Japan voyage.
The public is invited to share memories, stories or photographs of Kapahulehua at the voyaging society's Web site at www.pvs.hawaii.org