‘To be here is massive’: 1976 Hokulea crewmembers hold emotional reunion in Alaska

They're in Juneau to see Hokulea depart on a four-year voyage around the Pacific later this week.
Published: Jun. 13, 2023 at 5:51 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 14, 2023 at 11:53 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three crewmembers from Hokulea’s inaugural voyage in 1976 held an emotional reunion on the canoe in Juneau, Alaska.

The crewmembers — affectionately known as the “76ers” — flew up to see Hokulea depart this week on a four-year voyage around the Pacific.

Billy Richards, 75, Shorty Bertelmann, 75, and John Kruse, 79, stood on the deck of Hokulea at the exact spot where a National Geographic photo was taken of them during a historic voyage in 1976 from Hawaii to Tahiti.

They were in their 20s during that trailblazing voyage. The members are now in their mid-to-late 70s.

“To be here is massive and an honor,” said Kruse.

SPECIAL SECTION: Hokulea Pacific Voyage
Billy Richards, 75, Shorty Bertelmann, 75, and John Kruse, 79, had an emotional reunion in Juneau, Alaska.

“We would have never thought we would be standing here in Alaska and about to embark on this,” he added.

Bertelmann says a highlight for him was sailing with a master Mau Piailug who taught them how to navigate by stars and the ocean. Piailug was instrumental in stopping the extinction of Polynesian navigation.

“What a blessing it was for me to get on the canoe, Hokulea,” said Bertelmann. “First one of its kind in hundreds of years, and to be chosen to be on board was epic for me.”

There were 15 crewmembers on the Hawaii to Tahiti voyage. Today, only four are still alive.

Crewmember Buffalo Keaulana was unable to make it to the launch, so the ‘76ers’ had him in their thoughts while they were in Alaska.

“I wish Buff was here too. To be honest, those that have passed, we are still connected to them too,” said Richards. “Hokulea is like a portal for me. I was able to be connected to my ancestors just by being on this canoe.”

Hokulea crew members take the plunge with ancient practice of cold water bathing

“We are still connected for one thing. We became a family on this canoe. It’s a strong bonding between all of us,” Richards added.

Kruse tried to hold back emotions as he spoke of those who have passed.

“Little did we know all those years ago that Mau was thinking so far ahead,” said Kruse. “We were so young. We were just crawling. Mau comes from a long line of generations.”

“Hokulea is just a baby, and we got to be part of it.”