Chad Baybayan stands about five feet, eight inches tall. He has a swimmer’s body, suggesting a capability of delivering powerful strokes and a strong finishing kick. He is dark, both by genetic makeup (he is part Hawaiian, part Filipino) and because he spends a lot of time in the sun attending to his duties as one of Hokule’a’s navigators. Chad will readily tell you that voyaging aboard the canoe has been the seminal experience of his life.

“When I first saw Hokule’a in 1975, it just grabbed my heart,” he said. “I knew that if there was anything in my life that I wanted to do it was sail on her.”

In 1980 he made his first ocean passage to Tahiti as the youngest member of the crew and began to study navigation by asking Nainoa Thompson, the canoe’s master navigator, a lot of questions. Many years and thousands of sea miles later, he has worked his way up the seafaring hierarchy to master navigator.

Confronting the sea on long voyages, Chad has had much time to integrate all that he has learned, and he has done so by bundling an astonishing number of lessons into a general philosophy that he and the other sailors and navigators call “wayfinding.”

Chad distinguishes wayfinding from the more technical art of navigating without the use of instruments or charts. He will tell you that wayfinding is “a way of organizing the world, and a model for living my life.”

Chad’s vision of wayfinding stems from the teachings of Nainoa Thompson’s father, Myron Thompson, one of Hokule’a’s great kupuna (Hawaiian for “wise elder”) and it contains principals that appear astonishingly universal and timeless, while at the same time being rooted in values that Hawaiians have come to recognize as inherent in their own unique history. Values like vision, for example.

“Our ancestors began all of their voyages with a vision,” Myron Thompson explained. “They could see another island over the horizon and they set out to find these islands for a thousand years, eventually moving from one island stepping stone to another across a space that is larger than all of the continents of Europe combined. They made a plan for achieving that vision. They prepared themselves physically and mentally and were willing to experiment, to try new things. They took risks. And on the voyage they bound each other with aloha so they could together overcome the risks and achieve their vision.”

“The key to wayfinding is to employ all these values,” Chad said. “I’m talking about running a ship, getting everybody on board to support the intent of the voyage and getting everybody to work together. So it’s all there — vision, planning, training, discipline and aloha for others. After awhile, if you apply all those values, it becomes a way of life.”

In the last decade or so, the philosophy of wayfinding has “moved ashore” so to speak. New words have entered the wayfinding vocabulary, “stewardship” for example, or “sustainable environments.” The ancient philosophy of wayfinding has merged with modern environmentalism. As Chad explains: “To be a wayfinder, you need certain skills — a strong background in oceanography, meteorology, environmental sciences — so that you have a strong grounding in how the environment works. When you voyage, you become much more attuned to nature. You begin to see the canoe as nothing more than a tiny island surrounded by the sea. We have everything aboard the canoe that we need to survive as long as we marshal those resources well. We have learned to do that. Now we have to look at our islands, and eventually the planet, in the same way. We need to learn to be good stewards.”

This new vision is at the core of the Voyaging Society’s “Malama Honua” (care for the planet) voyage around the world.

“Since 1975, the canoe has sailed more than 140,000 miles, taking us to each of the points of the Polynesian Triangle,” said Nainoa Thompson. “We’ve learned a lot during these voyages — the power of shared vision, the energy generated through collaboration, the continuing thrill of exploration and discovery, and the joy of kinship.”

“But by far, the most compelling lesson we’ve learned in all of our travels has to do with home,” Nainoa continued. “We’ve come to appreciate anew the uniqueness of Hawaii and her people, and our responsibility to work together to care for and sustain our island’s natural resources. Learning to live well on islands is a microcosm of learning to live well everywhere. In Hawaii we are surrounded by the world’s largest ocean, but Earth itself is also a kind of island, surrounded by an ocean of space. In the end, every single one of us, no matter what our ethnic background or nationality, is native to this planet. As the native community of Earth we should all ensure that the next century is the century of pono, of balance, between all people, all living things and the resources of our planet.”

Recently, Hokule’a moored in Cruz Bay, U.S. Virgin Islands, after voyaging 2,200 miles from her last port of call, Natal, Brazil under the command of Chad Baybayan. She is expected to enter the port of Vineyard Haven on June 27.

Part four of a series. To learn more about Hokule’a and her voyage around the world, visit To volunteer to help welcome Hokule’a to Martha’s Vineyard you may contact Sam Low at