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Sad passing: Clayton Bertelmann

Clayton Bertelmann: His voyage on the Hokule'a led him to build a canoe for the Big Isle


Rancher’s strength led to birth of Makali‘i

WAIMEA, Hawaii >> Hawaiian Homes rancher Clayton Bertelmann, a crewman on the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule'a, who went on to guide the construction of the Big Island's own voyaging canoe Makali'i, died yesterday at North Hawaii Community Hospital. He was 57.


"With virtually no resources, he built the Makali'i," said Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson. "His legacy is in that canoe."

Thousands of youths have trained and sailed on the Makali'i. "He used it as a floating classroom," said Danny "Kaniala" Akaka, cultural affairs director at the Mauna Lani Resort.

"He was driven to bring back our culture, to get kids off drugs, that was his big thing," Akaka said.

"With his gruff exterior, he tried to hide his soft heart. None of the kids were fooled," said Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a member of the ohana, or family, that aided the Makali'i.

Waimea veterinarian Billy Bergin remembered Bertelmann, growing up across the street in the 1950s on a small Hawaiian Homes ranch. Bertelmann joined the Air Force and worked on aircraft, Bergin said.

"Clay is a complex man, very technically smart, but he loves the outdoors and cattle," Bergin said.

Although Bertelmann worked for Parker Ranch as a cowboy, he was also involved with the sea from an early age as a fisherman and diver, Thompson said. "On the ocean side (of his experiences) he came to terms with a deeper calling," he said.

Following the example of his brother Shorty, who sailed on the original voyage of Hokule'a to Tahiti in 1976, Bertelmann joined the 1985 voyage of Hokule'a and sailed to Tahiti and other islands in Polynesia. By the 1992 voyage to Rarotonga, he had become captain of the ship.

In 1994, he began efforts to build the Makali'i so the Big Island would have its own canoe.

"They had virtually nothing in terms of resources. Voyaging is not something cheap to do," said Thompson.

They got money with grassroots methods, like the "dollar, dollar campaign," in which schoolchildren contributed their dollars for the project, said Wong-Wilson.

With spruce logs from Alaska because there were no koa trees big enough for the giant canoe hulls, they completed the project in 1995.

And they did it with respect for proper cultural practices. Bertelmann asked Keli'i Tau'a, a kahuna pule, or priest in charge of the prayers, to say chants at every stage of construction of Makali'i.

When the canoe was launched, an unusual rainbow was seen shooting straight up into the sky, a sign associated with Kamehameha, Tau'a said.

Bertelmann died at noon, Akaka said, a significant time when a person's mana, or power, is strong in his body.

Bertelmann is survived by his wife Deedee, five children, and six grandchildren.

Friends may call at Bertelmann's house 5-8 p.m. Jan. 15. Services will be 8-11 a.m. Jan. 16 at the Waimea Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Burial will follow.

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