Na Wahine O Ka Moku O Keawe, Kawaihae Canoe Club’s all-women crew, include, front row, from left, Katherine Groves, Shakeisha Angay-Pihi, Charven Rodrigues, Megan Ploski. Second row: Ginger Tennant, Makalapua Tavares, Rachel Gillis, Carol La‘au-Silva, Krystle Cabrera, Aukele Waikiki, Oilipua Pe‘a Atkinson. Third row: Ava Williams, Kahealani Veincent, Kim Kimi, Izzy Kalaau-Catrett, Luana Lu Stanley, Trisha Bell Tom, Louise Muscat. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Na Wahine O Ka Moku O Keawe, Kawaihae Canoe Club’s all-women crew, paddles in the Alenuihaha Channel on Oct. 26. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Na Wahine O Ka Moku O Keawe change paddlers for the third time during the Oct. 26 Alenuihaha Channel crossing. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Crew members experience an emotional moment before the channel crossing. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Crew member Rachel Gillis and coach Manny Veincent observe during a practice. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
The four Na Wahine O Ka Moku O Keawe members who have completed all four Alenuihaha Channel crossings with Kawaihae Canoe Club women include, from left, Ava Williams, Izzy Kalaau-Catrett, Trisha Bell Tom and Louise Muscat. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
From left, Tricia Tom, Isabel Kalaau-Catrett and Katerine J pose with the Pelekane after the race. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Pua Case and her halau chant in the paddlers with hei a string game. Case said she and her halau brought it down to the celebration to teach family members, friends and supporters so all would be able to participate. (PHOTO BY MA’ATA TUKUAFU| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Paddlers look out over the water. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Kawaihae women crew members work out during their last practice before the channel crossing on Oct. 26. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
The Pelekane comes into the harbor amidst cheering and chants. (PHOTO BY MA’ATA TUKUAFU|SPECIAL TO NHN)
Na Wahine O Ka Moku O Keawe paddlers give a cheer for Kawaihae. (COURTESY PHOTO BY JANE SIBBETT FOR NHN)
Amidst the lyrical sounds of chanting, singing and enthusiastic cheering off the Mahukona dock, the paddlers of Na Wahine O Ka Moku O Keawe — Kawaihae Canoe Club’s all-women crew of 19 — made their way into the harbor. On Saturday, Oct. 26, the six jubilant paddlers in neon green hats on the canoe “Pelekane,” were met by their fellow paddlers who jumped off the escort boat into the harbor.
Leaving Hana, Maui, at 6:30 a.m., the women crossed the treacherous Alenuihaha Channel in six hours and 50 minutes. With three crews of six women each, they made the crossing by changing paddlers every half hour. The large crowd of family and friends greeted the paddlers, with Pua Case and her halau group welcoming them back to Hawaii Island, performing a chant entitled “E ala e ‘Apapalani e.”
Their coach, Manny Veincent, believes that the canoe passage between the two islands was once a regular route, but after World War II, the knowledge was lost and paddling between the islands became a sport rather than a necessity.
“The routes between these two islands were described to me by kupuna from North Kohala – Uncle Sonny Solomon and his wife Aunty Marie Solomon, and Uncle Sonny’s brother, Uncle Tommy Solomon,” Veincent said.
This special day in 2013 was the fourth crossing of the Alenuihaha channel by Kawaihae’s all-women crew; the first was in 2004, from Mahukona to Nu‘u, an old Hawaiian fishing village on Maui. The second was a 2006, a crossing paddlers made from Kawaihae to Makena, and the third crossing took place in 2009, from Keokea to Hana. This was the first crossing going north to south; the previous three crossings were in the south to north direction.
After leaving Hana through partly cloudy skies and choppy sea, it took the paddlers one hour to get out of the Hana current. Veincent said the crew “was extremely strong,” the morale high, and everyone worked well in different combinations. He used three different strokers, Charven Rodrigues, Rachel Gillis and O‘ilipua Atkinson. Although Hawaii Island was completely obscured by the vog and visibility was limited, the canoe remained on course by using direction instructions relayed to the steersman from the lead escort boat by compass reading only.
By 10:30 a.m., the paddlers were halfway across the channel. Beautiful rolling swells continued in an east to west direction. With the crews averaging 6.5 knots per hour, and about 56 strokes per minute, the Pelekane glided effortlessly, her ama rigged on the right hand side.
“Steersmen Kahealani Veincent and Aukele Waikiki did an outstanding job keeping the Pelekane on course in the endless vog,” Veincent said.
In the vog, the Pelekane had drifted a little to the west of its course. But by 12:30 p.m., they were able to see the North Kohala coast through the vog, and the steersmen picked up their landmarks of Mo‘okini Heaiau and the tall pine trees at Upolu Point in the clearing conditions, and were able to correct their course.
The paddlers made it to the Mahukona dock at 1:20 p.m., the large crowd of friends and family ecstatic at the safe crossing of the crew. Pua Case and her halau performed the proper protocol and the 19 women, ages 21 through 54, expressed all ranges of emotion as they were greeted with gorgeous fern and flower lei, gifts and hugs.
Carol Laau-Silva, a second-time long distance paddler, said the Maui-Hawai‘i route was “coming home.”
“It’s been both spiritual and emotional,” Laau-Silva said with tears in her eyes. “We thank our illustrious leader, Uncle Manny.”
Aukele Waikiki, 21, was one of the youngest women on the crew. Paddling from the age of 8, she had one word to describe the elation she felt about crossing with her fellow paddlers.
“Indescribable!” Waikiki said.
Isabel “Izzy” Kalaau-Catrett stood by the docked Pelekane as the paddlers prepared it for travel back to Kawaihae, and spoke about how this crossing was such a happy one.
“Everyone has their own story in this,” Kalaau-Catrett said. “This has been incredible.”
Case said she was asked to lead the protocol for the paddlers and barely made it to Mahukona that morning because of how early they had come in.
“I wanted to welcome the paddlers for two reasons,” said Case. “The first reason is because I paddled during the first year of the Kawaihae Club, and because Uncle Sonny was married to my auntie. The second reason is that most of us will never have the chance to be able to accomplish something like this. When we stand right there, and you see me (as you paddle in), and we see you … that is ceremony.”
The energy throughout the crowd was palpable as the women gathered for their group shot with Jane Sibbett, boat videographer and photographer, and Edward Ku, land photographer. Veincent said a lot of credit for the success of this crossing goes to Kawaihae’s coaches on the escort boats, John Salvador, Tom Martinez, Shawn Merit and Quincy Salonga.
“It takes discipline to be able to accomplish something like this, and they did it!” Veincent said. “A special mahalo to our water safety specialist Renee Balanga, who helped keep all of the paddlers relaxed and safe in the water.”
It takes a lot of funding to make a crossing like this, and the women raised more than $20,000 to make it happen. The monies raised paid for escort boats, flights to Maui, shipping the Pelekane to Maui, and documenting the entire process as it unfolded.
Ava Williams, who grew up in Hilo, paddled canoe as a child. Moving to Boston, she actually paddled while living there, too. Back on the Hawaii Island and paddling for the Kawaihae Canoe Club for four and a half years now, she said this was her second time accomplishing the crossing with the team.
“I’m so proud of our amazing paddling sisters,” Williams said. “I’m feeling a lot of gratitude and our canoe, Pelekane, was amazing!”
“This (Hana to Big Island) crossing has been beautiful for the women, discovering who they are as individuals,” Veincent said. “I told them, ‘Go first class, or not at all!’ and they did a hell of a job!”