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Old Time Transportation

It is amazing to me that with all my trips to Maui, I still discover new things. As I wandered about Lahaina, I was surprised to encounter the Mo`olele, a traditional ocean-going canoe. These are incredible vessels that were used by the first Hawai`ians to transit the ocean between the Marquesas and Hawai`i. This was no easy feat. The Marquesas lie some 2,200 miles south of Hawai`i. Check a globe — open ocean the whole way.

Hawai`ian oral history makes it clear that these canoes were used for round-trip travel both to the Marquesas and a later set of trips from and back to Tahiti. In recent years, with the resurgence of the Hawai`ian culture, modern Hawai`ians (and others like myself who honor the culture) have constructed facsimiles of the originals. These canoes were not made just for show — they have sailed across the open Pacific using traditional navigation techniques.

How did they do this? From Wikipedia, "Navigators traveled to small inhabited islands using only their own senses and knowledge passed by oral tradition from navigator to apprentice, often in the form of song. In order to locate directions at various times of day and year, navigators in Eastern Polynesia memorized important facts: the motion of specific stars, and where they would rise and set on the horizon of the ocean; weather; times of travel; wildlife species (which congregate at particular positions); directions of swells on the ocean, and how the crew would feel their motion; colors of the sea and sky, especially how clouds would cluster at the locations of some islands; and angles for approaching harbors."

It should be obvious that it would be impossible to sail such a long distance with oars — so these canoes use sails — triangular in shape with one point of the triangle at the base of the mast and the other two on spars — with rope rigging to keep everything organized. Herb Kane (pronounced KAH-ney) is a famous Hawai`ian artist, who has painted a scene of ancient Hawai`ians encountering the islands which shows the deployed sails — click here to see his painting.

One of the ingenious aspects of the design of the Hawai`ian canoe is the mast which, unlike western sailing vessels, is attached to a pivot point so that the sails can be moved into various configurations to maximize the push of the sails but yet can be allowed to bleed out an overly strong wind.

As further evidence that this canoe has really sailed the open ocean, look closely at the wear on the spar just to the left of the ropes at the center of this photo. Also note that everything you see is natural — using material that is the same or similar to what was available in ancient times.

And for the woodworkers out there (and those who just love the look of fine hardwoods) note the beautiful koa wood that was used extensively in the construction of this canoe.

Finally, check out this link to a photo of the Mo`olele in action with its sisters, Hawai`iloa and Hokule`a.

In more recent times, Europeans introduced trains — primarily for hauling sugar cane to the mills. Of course as roads were eventually built and trucks replaced oxen-drawn wagons and steam trains, the locomotives were shipped back to the mainland, dismantled or allowed to rust.

However, one locomotive was preserved and is now put to use hauling tourists along the former cane fields just mauka (toward the mountains) of Honoapi`ilani Road. The cars are replicas of the Kalakaua coaches that were once used on the Hawai`ian Railroad during the late 19th century.

The photo to the right shows the train coming into the station in Lahaina. At each end of the line is a railroad turntable — where the locomotive is disconnected from the coaches, spun around then run on a parallel track to the other end of the train and reconnected to what was the last coach — now ready for the run to the other end of the line.

Midway along the railroad, there is a trestle just above the Ka`anapali Kai Golf Course (formerly called the North Course). I thought this would be a great spot for a photo of the Sugar Cane Train. So I parked at the employee and overflow parking area and walked to the top of the course just above the number four green.

The train came from Lahaina but I was not happy with the light so I decided to wait some 20-30 minutes to capture it on the return. As I waited, I saw this guy walking a bicycle across the trestle. I figured he was crazy because if the train came he had no way to go but down. As you can see, he was heavily laden with camera gear and other stuff — but somehow he found a safe exit.

I went over to chat which him — and, although I did not know it at the time, this was the beginning of a new, most excellent friendship. His name is Humberto and he has a very colorful past, including photography for National Geographic. He was also there to photograph the train on the trestle.

While we waited and talked, a single golfer hit a beautiful shot onto the number four green — the ball bounced twice and into the hole — an eagle! He was playing by himself and did not see the shot clearly — so when he drove up, I congratulated him, telling him the ball was in the hole. He did not really believe my words but he confirmed that the ball was resting in the hole. He drove off with a big grin on his face — as well he should.


Back to the purpose of my hike to this spot, the train finally returned and I captured this image — exactly what I was hoping to catch.

Humberto had a different image in mind and this is his effort. He said it needed more Photoshop work but I thought it is very nice just as is.

We walked together down the hill and chatted the whole way. We exchanged contact information and soon began an email correspondence which is now hundreds of messages long. It just goes to show that you never know what can develop from a chance meeting of a crazy guy walking a bike over a train trestle — who apparently will do anything for the photo he wants to capture.

To complete my little history of transportation in Hawai`i, I must include this 1923 Ford Model T that sits just outside the old Prison (which is now a museum). The vehicle was purchased by Mr. Sennosuke Fujiwara who had come to Lahaina as a cane worker in the late 1800s but who left the cane fields to pursue a new career in wholesale merchandising.

He converted the car to a pickup-style in order to transport small goods received in Kahului then distributed to sugar camps and communities in west Maui. For those of you who have been to Maui and driven the Pali, you may have noticed the old single-lane road that hugs the hillside — alternately above, below or along side the current road. That was his route — one that required honking his horn at every turn in case there was an oncoming vehicle.

The now pickup truck continued in service in his family and a subsequent one for many years until it was eventually retired and donated to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com