Nāmāhoe: Kauaʻi’s Voyaging Canoe

Photo: Nāmāhoe at the homecoming of Hōkūleʻa
Nāmāhoe at the homecoming of Hōkūleʻa in 2017. – Photo: Kaipo Kī‘aha

John Kruse, Dennis Chun, and the late Patrick Aiu are longtime members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and crew members on the Hōkūleʻa voyaging canoe. Inspired by their experience, they wanted to build a canoe for the Kauaʻi community to perpetuate the Hawaiian traditions of canoe culture, celestial navigation, and open-ocean voyaging for present and future generations.

“The community on Kauaʻi needed to have its own voyaging canoe to help perpetuate the culture and values of our ancestors, and to provide educational opportunities for our young people,” said Chun.

The trio established the nonprofit group Nā Kālai Wa’a o Kauaʻi (The Canoe Builders of Kauaʻi) in 1996 and embarked on building a voyaging canoe. In 2016, after two decades of construction, the 72-foot-long double hulled sailing canoe, Nāmāhoe, was launched at Nāwiliwili harbor.

While they were building the canoe, Aiu had a dream that inspired its name. He dreamt that he was sailing between Oʻahu and Kauaʻi in ancient times and the navigator mentioned a future canoe would be named Nāmāhoe.

“Nāmāhoe” means “the twins” in Hawaiian and encapsulates both the physical twin-hulled design of the voyaging canoe as well as the guiding constellation, known as Gemini, that serves as a celestial marker for wayfinding and open-ocean navigation.

In the months following the launch, Nāmāhoe did sail runs, crew training and eventually embarked on the 110-mile journey from Kauaʻi to Oʻahu in June 2017 to greet Hōkūleʻa when she returned to Hawaiʻi from her Mālama Honua Voyage.

This crossing of the Kaʻieʻiewaho channel, the widest channel among the populated islands of the pae ʻāina, was a significant achievement, testing the canoe’s capabilities and the crew’s skills. The voyage from Kauaʻi to Oʻahu is usually against the tradewinds and takes longer than sailing the other direction.

In 2020, Nāmāhoe was pulled out of the water for general maintenance work and to ensure its seaworthiness. At the time, COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prohibited groups of people gathering, so workdays were put on hold.

Now that restrictions are lifted, and people have returned to gathering, Nā Kālai Waʻa o Kauaʻi will be scheduling workdays to invite the community back to connect with Nāmāhoe.

If you live on Kauaʻi and are interested in learning about canoe building, traditional canoe sailing, and how to follow the movement of the stars to a destination, becoming involved with Nā Kālai Waʻa o Kauaʻi is a rich resource.

Kruse, Chun, and other volunteers work on Nāmāhoe Sundays before noon. She is currently out of the water (in drydock) and located across from Honsador Lumber next to the Kauaʻi Petroleum tanks in Nāwiliwili.

Visit their website www.namahoe.org to learn more.