A canoe adventure comes with a history lesson

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WAIKOLOA, Hawaii -- It is no exaggeration to say that there is no other sailing experience in Hawaii like an outing on the Hahalua Lele. It is unique for two reasons: the canoe and the captain.

The Hahalua Lele (Flying Manta Ray) is a traditional Hawaiian, double-hulled sailing canoe. The 35-foot craft, with its Polynesian crab-claw sail, is made mostly of native wood.

The canoes original mast was made of hau, which is testament to the passion and purpose of the boats builder-captain-owner, Kapena Casey Cho.

I spent a lot of days hiking through the forest looking for a piece of hau that was long enough and straight enough for the mast, he said.

In 1998, after a year-and-a-half of work, Cho launched his canoe. Building a traditional, double-hulled sailing canoe in your spare time may seem a mite unusual, but its downright odd when the builder doesnt know how to sail.

Thats right: Before Cho built his boat, he didnt know tiller from tack.

Raised on the island of Oahu, Cho went to California to see the world and ended up studying landscaping. He moved to the Big Island in 1990. Since then he has learned a lot about sailing and about the history and lore of this coast. An articulate and engaging guy, he shares what he knows and what no one knows.

Ask him about the intricate lashings holding the hulls to the booms, and he gives you the Hawaiian word for the booms, iako, and explains that the up-curved booms were a Hawaiian improvement on older Polynesian canoe designs.

A basic outing with Cho at the helm lasts about two-and-a-half hours and costs $95 per person.

Besides the coastal cruise, youll stop for snorkeling and, during the winter months, whale watching. Half-day and full-day cruises are available, too.

The Hahalua Lele sails with a minimum of four guests and a maximum of six (children of all ages welcomed) and is crewed by Cho and two others.

It departs from the beach on the grounds of the Fairmont Orchid Hotel.

For reservations, call (808) 885-2000. For more information, visit the Web site at www.hawaiiankineadventures.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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