Chad Kalepa Baybayan, Seafarer Who Sailed Using the Stars, Dies at 64

Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a revered Hawaiian seafarer who was a torchbearer for the art of “wayfinding,” which ancestral Polynesian sailors used to navigate the Pacific Ocean by studying the stars, trade winds and flight patterns of birds, died on April 8 at a friend’s home in Seattle. He was 64.

His daughter Kala Tanaka said the cause was a heart attack. He suffered from diabetes and had had a quadruple bypass over a year ago.

Many centuries ago, oceanic tribes sailed the waters between the islands and atolls of Polynesia in double-hulled canoes. They plotted their course by consulting the directions concealed within sunrises and sunsets, ocean swells, the behaviors of fish and the reflections of land in clouds. As Polynesia was colonized and modernized, the secrets of celestial navigation were nearly forgotten.

Mr. Baybayan became a face of a cultural movement to preserve these old ways, and a tireless educator who taught the science of wayfinding in classrooms and auditoriums across the country.

“Traditional navigation schools,” Mr. Thompson continued, “have always been highly protective of the knowledge. There are 4,000-year-old navigation schools in Micronesia that still won’t teach their methods to outsiders. History will say that Kalepa was the one who stopped the extinction of the great navigators because he shared our knowledge with the world.”

Mr. Baybayan’s progressive approach to preserving tradition sometimes made him a polarizing figure in his Native Hawaiian community.

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