Crew Blog | Kālepa Baybayan: 6 Days on the Water

Kalepa_Baybayan Written by Kālepa Baybayan

In the quiet of early morning, we slip our docking lines and silently leave Newport Marina, on the shores of New Jersey. It’s 3 A.M. but the New York skyline is lit up as we skirt the east side of the Hudson River.  Even at this early morning hour, towering skyscrapers are aglow in the “City That Never Sleeps”. As we cross under the Washington Bridge, the New York skyline disappears and is replaced by the rich and fertile Hudson River Valley.


The Algonquian-speaking Mahican and Lenape peoples inhabited the Hudson Valley; peoples from the six tribes of the region still call this area home. The Hudson Valley is also a home for farms and industry, as well as a Tech Valley that rivals Silicon Valley in the West – IBM has a large facility in Westchester County. Supporting this technology ecosystem are a number of institutions, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and New York Polytechnic Institute. As Hōkūleʻa makes her way towards Poughkeepsie, we also pass by the West Point Military Academy, and can see cadets lining the shoreline taking part in drills and exercises. At Castleton, we lower the masts and prepare to enter the first of 30 locks in the Erie Canal System.


Locking is a new experience for the crew and we are excited about the process. We will climb 420.5’ above sea-level before being lowered 157.5’ back down to the level of Lake Ontario, where we will end our 30-Lock passage. Federal Lock 1 in Troy raises the canoe 14’ above sea level. We park the canoe in the town of Waterford, waiting for morning to transit Lock 2 thru 10 and transit the Mohawk River.

In the morning, our entry into the locks is full of nervous energy. We enter and exit the first 9 locks without incident. Upon Nainoa’s recommendation and for better stopping ability in the Locks, we have rigged a dinghy with a 25-hp engine between the bow of Hōkūleʻa, to assist the canoe by providing brakes when we need to slow down – the process works well.


The interior New York Canal System, between Troy and Syracuse, is lined with fertile farms and charming river homes. On either side of the banks of the canal, cornfields stretch inland. We are skirting northern Appalachia as we wind our way along the river. On our third day of the passage within the Locks, we transit Locks 11 thru 18. Our highest climb of the entire trip comes at Lock 17, a massive 40.5’ of height. The entire crew is aboard for the ride.

On the 5th day of our transit, we enter and exit Locks 19 thru 22 and pull into Sylvan Beach on the western shore of Lake Oneida. Upon our arrival we are greeted by the 115’ Norwegian Viking ship, Draken. They are on a 1-year voyage to learn about their Viking seafaring traditions. We exchange tours, share our voyaging missions, and socialize into the evening.


We are only 8-Locks from finishing our transit of the Erie Canal System; by now the crew has turned into a professional lLocking tTeam. We clear the final 8-Locks without incident and are now moored at Oswego, the southeastern corner of Lake Ontario. The crew quickly re-stands the two mast and sails of Hōkūleʻ’a and the deck is restored to order – we once again look like a canoe.

Yesterday, we were invited by the six tribes of the area to an event at the New York State Fair. We offer makana and our friendship to the tribes and commit to a more formal visit upon our return. In the evening we tour Niagara Falls, a fitting end to our Erie Canal experience.


We can only accomplish the complexities of such a journey with excellent planning and logistical coordination. Our Voyage Planner for this leg was Lehua Kamalu, who did an excellent job of researching the Locks – I could not consider doing this without her help. Heidi Guth has always seen to the needs of the crew, arranging marinas and hotels on very short notice, since we never really know exactly where we are going to stop until we can evaluate the distance just completed.

The brain and intelligence behind this journey is Nainoa Thompson; we could not have done this leg of the Voyage without his inspiration and vision. Mahalo to him for having the faith and surety that such a challenge as this Lock system could be accomplished by Hōkūleʻa and her crew.


I am only the “Bus Driver” on this leg, and could not have done this without the assistance of 13 dedicated volunteers who are a part of a much larger volunteer ‘ohana back in Hawai’i:

Keala Kimura, Captain, Julie’s Cat
Art Harris, Navigator and Pilot
Haunani Kane, Watch Captain
Nakua Konohia-Lind, Watch Captain
Kaʻ’ai McAffee-Torco, Captain, Land Wa’a
Nikolas Powell, Safety Officer
Trissi Chun, Doctor
Sam Kapoi, ‘Ōiwi TV and IT
Keli Takenaga, Cook and Quartermaster
Michi Wong, Makana Coordination
Kalau Spencer, Dinghy Operator
Waimea McKeague, Crew
Maleko Lorenzo, Crew

My heartfelt thanks goes to all of you, on wa’a and on land, for all of your support.

Mahalo a nui,
Kālepa Baybayan
Captain, Hōkūleʻa

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