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Chad Kālepa Baybayan, Master Navigator and Captain of the Hōkūleʻa Dies at 65

April 10, 2021, 11:30 AM HST
* Updated April 10, 11:23 AM
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(PC: ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center)

Chad Kālepa Baybayan, master (pwo) navigator and captain of the Hōkūleʻa passed away suddenly on April 8 of natural causes while visiting and caring for ʻohana in Seattle, Washington.

Baybayan, a Kailua-Kona resident, was 65 years old.

“It is a huge loss for all of us, not for only his ʻohana here at ʻImiloa, but for the many who were fortunate to know Kālepa as a crewmember, captain and navigator aboard Hōkūleʻa throughout the Pacific and beyond,” stated Kaʻiu Kimura, executive director of ʻImiloa Astronomy Center, located on the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus, where Baybayan worked.

Born and raised in Lahaina, Maui, the 1974 Lahainaluna graduate went on to complete his Bachelor’s in Hawaiian Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi and eventually earned his Master’s in Education as well. The canoe however was Baybayan’s main classroom.

The passion for ʻimi loa, or to continually seek the knowledge of wayfinding, was sparked in 1975 when Hōkūleʻa docked in Lahaina. He was mentored by the celebrated master navigator Mau Piailug, credited for reviving the art of non-instrument navigation in Hawaiʻi, who eventually bestowed on Baybayan the esteemed title of Pwo Navigator.

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Baybayan sailed numerous voyages, traversing thousands of miles, many as one of the lead captains and navigators of the Worldwide Voyage from 2014-17.

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“I was challenged to preserve this art as a pwo navigator,” Baybayan once said. “It was really Mau passing on the stewardship of the art. But at the root of this is that you are an educator. You are a person who has to preserve the art. And the way to preserve the art is to share it.”

Kimura, one of the developers of ʻImiloa worked alongside Baybayan for years. 

“The impact of his (Baybayan) life’s work is evidenced in so many ways all throughout the community and while he will be sorely missed, we are committed to continuing his work of educating future generations about the wealth and applicability of our ancestral knowledge of wayfinding to (the) ongoing pursuit of new knowledge to the benefit of our community and our Hawaiʻi,” Kimura said.

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Kimura offered his condolences to Baybayan’s family.

“Our aloha goes out to Kālepa’s loving wife Audrey, his children Pāʻanaakalā, Pukanalā, and ʻAukai and Kālepa’s entire ʻohana,” he said. “They are overwhelmed by the endless expressions of aloha and ask for everyone’s continued understanding and respect for their privacy as they deal with the passing of this beloved husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, cousin, uncle and friend to so many.”

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