Wa'akaulua is the Hawaiian word for double canoe. It is pronounced wah-ah-kow-loo-uh.
Captain Kiko's wa'akaulua
Captain Kiko's wa'akaulua

Trip to Hawaii

Story by Kevin O'Neill

I went on a trip to Hawai'i earlier this month, and went for a nice sail with Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa on his traditional Hawaiian double canoe. We had seven people on the boat for our trip.

Kiko launched the boat off a ramp near the beach, I paddled the boat to the beach where he raised the sail and got everyone on the boat, and we paddled out through the light surf. We then dinked around in light to medium air for a few hours; we headed in to a small beach to swim and fool around a bit, but when we got there the wave action seemed rough to Kiko and we spun the boat around, sheeted the sail in and zipped out of the cove very impressively. By the end of the sail we were moving very nicely in close to twenty knots of wind, it was clear that these were the boat's conditions.

The boat is thirty-odd feet, eight-foot beam, 1600 lbs and about 125 ft of sail that I would call a tacking crab claw, but which Kiko called a sprit with the bottom half missing. Either way, it moved the boat along very nicely once we got some wind, I would say we did six or seven knots in twelve or fifteen knots of wind on a reach.

The hulls are identical solid glass from the 50s, taken off a big paddling canoe hull, with a solid deck added and kayak-like openings left for paddlers, very similar to what one sees in pictures of old Hawaiian boats. The boat is steered with a large paddle in the rear from the starboard hull; when on the port tack, you hold the paddle against the outboard side of the hull. When on the starboard tack you can put the paddle on the inboard side of the hull, where the shaft sits nicely against the platform and makes steering very easy. The paddle is not turned, at least I didn't have to when steering the boat while beating and reaching, but rather you dip the paddle deeper to bear off and raise it up to head up. I found it a little difficult to make fine adjustments compared to a rudder, but I only steered for a half hour or so, I'm sure as one gets more used to the technique one would get better.

Kiko said he had rudders on the boat for a while, but took them off to enable him to turn the boat in a smaller circle. That's certainly a clear effect, I paddled the boat to the beach from the ramp, and was able to turn the boat myself with one regular canoe paddle very easily, in fact I spun it 180 degrees and had to back up a bit, it was quite surprising how fast such a big boat turned.

We were on a real beat for about ten minutes or so, when pointing Kiko had me take the spare steering paddle and insert it between the hull and platform about 1/3 of the way back from the bow to act as a sort of leeboard. The boat seemed to point quite well. We were tacking through about 100 degrees, I would say, though it's hard to say how much leeway we were making. Our crew was not inclined to do so, but if one were with a strong and experienced crew one could certainly paddlesail to windward to very good effect.

A very fine time was had by all. Kiko is a great guy and a real expert with his boat. We had a nice example of how handy the boat is when a paddle went overboard and Kiko did a quick tack and jibe to get back to it.