Crew Blog | Kālepa Baybayan: Lessons from the St. Lawrence

Kalepa_BaybayanWritten by Kālepa Baybayan

The crew takes turns diving into the cool fresh water of the St. Lawrence River for their evening bath. Gone are the salty corrosive seas of the ocean we have traveled upon; we are now on the Great Lakes, home of 21% of the world’s fresh water. They splash, swim, lather, and shampoo as the sun sinks toward the western horizon. Keli Takenaga has made a pot of soup that warms the crew as they take dinner under a star filled sky. The afternoon has been busy with visitors to the canoe from Cape Vincent, the local town where we are stopped, who heard of Hōkūleʻa’s arrival through the coconut wireless.


At dawn before the sun rises we cast our lines and head 50 miles downstream to Ogdensburg, NY. The original inhabitants of this area were the Iroquois; we will be spending the next four days here as we await the arrival of new additions to this crew. We wind our way down the St. Lawrence Seaway, which connects the Great Lakes and Lake Ontario (which we have just crossed) to the Atlantic Ocean. We skirt mid-channel on this narrow river, in international waters – to our left is Canada, and to our right the US.  Both coasts are lined with large homes, elaborately landscaped yards and gardens, and boat houses to store pleasure craft  – those craft used for family and personal recreation.  We are transiting the Thousand Island region, home of 1,800 tiny islands; freighters, fishing boats, jet skis, and pleasure craft motor by Hōkūle’a as we work our way down river.


Tomorrow the crew will visit Adirondack Park, a New York State park and forest preserve. The park is part of the IUCN Protected Area Program and is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States – it is considered one of the greatest experiments in conservation, as half of the land is privately owned, with 102 towns and villages included in the park boundaries.

Today we bid farewell to crewmember Art Harris, our navigator and pilot, who will return to work in Maryland and will be sorely missed. Also departing is Nikolas Powell, a student and PVS volunteer, who will be returning to school in Toronto.


As we cross the border into Canada with plans to stop in Montreal, we will need to transit an additional seven locks. These are “commercial locks”, which means that Hōkūleʻa will need to share the locks with large freighters hauling grain and ore. We hope to connect with members of the Mohawk Nation and leaders of the ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (ʻAPL) in Kahnawake, Canada. Dorothy Lazore, a Mohawk nun, started the first indigenous language immersion program that we know of, even before Kōhanga Reo and Pūnana Leo, and she has helped and encouraged other indigenous peoples in search of language revitalization over the years. In the late 1980’s, she helped to develop 1st Grade materials for the newborn Kula Kaiapuni immersion program. I am excited about being reunited with my friends Pila and Kauanoe Wilson, Namaka Rawlins, and Amy Kalili, who are traveling on behalf of ʻAPL to meet us, and to mālama and honor this connection.


As we make our way down the St. Lawrence River, I am amazed by how these inland waterways feed the ocean I call home. Snow melt feeds the lakes, the lakes feed the rivers, the rivers feed the ocean. We live on a planet that is 70% water and seen from space, we are a pale blue dot.  Dr. Sylvia Earle says, “without the blue of the ocean, there is NO green on the planet”. As we wind our way down the green banks of the St. Lawrence River to once again connect with the salty ocean we call home, let us not forget the lessons of the inland lakes that are a part of the source of our oceanic homeland.

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Hōkūle‘a’s visit to the eastern United States is a historic milestone in her 40 years of voyaging.

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