Restoring Waiʻanae's Floating Classroom

Dec 18, 2017

Kaina Nakanealoha, Co-Captain of E Ala, Wai'anae's voyaging canoe, is seen here explaining the dry dock process.
Credit Sen. Maile Shimabukuro

As Hōkūleʻa continues its Mahalo Hawaiʻi sail across the island chain, school kids are getting a taste of this floating classroom. The voyaging canoe will spend another week on the leeward coast before continuing its statewide journey. Fortunate enough for aspiring voyagers in Waiʻanae, that community is working on its own voyaging canoe. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

Marine science was the most popular class at Waiʻanae High School in the 1990s. Why? Because the classroom was a 45-foot-long double-hulled canoe named E Ala.

The double-hulled voyaging canoe E Ala was the most popular floating classroom at Wai'anae High School in the 1990s. The canoe is being rebuilt after more than a decade of inactivity.
Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy

“The way I stayed in school was because of the canoe, was one way for just stay connected in a way,” says Sam Kapoi, a Hōkūleʻa crew member from Waiʻanae.

Kapoi represented the Waiʻanae community on Hōkūleʻa’s three-year worldwide voyage. He now co-captains Waiʻanae’s voyaging canoe E Ala, and helps run the E Ala Voyaging Academy.

“With the canoe you can learn everything,” says Kapoi, “You can learn your science, your math, your geography, biology, oceanography, technical sailing, speed sailing, everything.”

E Ala Co-Captain Sam Kapoi (far right) crewed the Hokule'a on its Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. E Ala's new home, a halau wa'a, near Wai'anae Boat Harbor is seen in the background. Kapoi is part of a new crop of voyagers in Wai'anae taking the lead in getting the community's voyaging canoe E Ala back in the water.
Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy

E Ala was inspired by the historic voyage of Hōkūleʻa in 1976. The successful voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti proved ancient Polynesians could have navigated more than 2,500 miles of open ocean without nautical instruments. While the voyaging canoe was in active use in the 90s, E Ala has been stuck on land for nearly two decades.

“After 2001, she sat on land for about 10 years because of financial issues and insurance and what not,” says Kaina Nakanealoha, who co-captains the canoe E Ala and is overseeing efforts to refurbish her.

E Ala's new home at Wai'anae Boat Harbor was dedicated in 2014. The community continues to meet here to work on getting E Ala back in the water.
Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy

“In that time through water rot and termites,” says Nakanealoha, “ W had to take her completely apart down back down to just the shell and rebuild her.”

Over the past six years, the community was able to secure a home for E Ala at the Waiʻanae Boat Harbor and successfully raised funds for the refurbishing work.

Nakanealoha is seen here towing Hokule'a out of Hale'iwa on it's way to Kaua'i as part of the Mahalo Hawai'i sail. Nakanealoha is one of several crew members from Wai'anae who trained on Hokule'a during the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage.
Credit E Ala Voyaging Academy

“The same process that we did with Hōkūleʻa in making her lighter, faster, and stronger, we wanna do with E Ala,” says Nakanealoha.

Nakanealoha was first introduced to voyaging on E Ala, as a student at Waiʻanae High School.  He’s committed to ensuring E Ala can inspire the next generation of voyagers coming out of Waiʻanae.

“Just her name alone, her name E Ala, to rise, yeah,” says Nakanealoha, “The reason for her name is hoping that anybody who came in contact with E Ala would have that feeling, that wanting to rise up, to take their place in their household, as a person, and in their community, in this island, in the world.”