story by Julia Steele
In 1778, when the English explorer James Cook showed up in Hawai‘i on board his 90-foot sloop Resolution, he would have seen swift, sleek sailing canoes plying the seas. In those days the outrigger sailing canoe was an integral part of Island life: used for transport, to fish, to travel. It was perfectly engineered for the ocean: stable, light, versatile. But as time passed and lives changed, the canoes began to disappear. There were horses and then cars and then outboard motors, roads and fiberglass, supermarkets. By the end of the twentieth century, the outrigger sailing canoe had become a relic.
Three years ago a young, nautically inclined couple—they even fell in love at the California Maritime Academy—decided to do their part to resuscitate the outrigger sailing canoe: Sage and Liz Spalding founded Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures on the beach in Wailea, and now, two times a day, seven days a week, they take people out in one of the rare vessels.
“It’s very relaxing,” says Liz as she prepares to launch the couple’s canoe, Hina. “There’s no engine, and you’re so close to the water, you hear it. It puts you in tune with the ocean’s energy and takes you into a different world.” Hina is 40 feet long, gold and red, comes from Moloka‘i and is named for the Polynesian goddess of the moon. She takes six passengers, no more, and her relatively small size allows guests to try steering or paddling. “It’s very interactive,” confirms Sage as he tacks west, out toward the reef. “And for people who are into sailing, it’s interesting to come out on a boat like this.”
He reaches a deep-sea mooring and slips over the side to tie up the canoe. Then all on board dive in to explore the reef. Today there are turtles, tangs, goatfish, even an octopus in the coral heads. After time in the water, everyone swims back to Hina and climbs on. The sail is hoisted again. In the distance are Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, West Maui, Moloka‘i. The waves murmur, the wind hums. Liz smiles. “To be on the ocean we love, to share that with people ...” she says. “It’s a dream come true to sail this canoe every day.” HH