Captain Dave “Kawika” Lyman


David Belden Kua‘ana Lyman III (or “Kawika” to his many friends and associates) was born on October 8, 1943. He was raised in the neighborhood of Mānoa on the island of O‘ahu. Lyman graduated from Punahou High School in 1961. He entered the California Maritime Academy after high school and graduated as a Third Mate in 1965. After years of sailing all over the Pacific, Lyman became a harbor pilot working as a civil service employee of the State of Hawai‘i. Eventually, the State Pilots became a private organization like most other groups around the country. The HAWAII PILOTS ASSOCIATION was founded on January 1, 1979, with Lyman as a founding member, Pilot #5.

Lyman was a crew member on the first voyage of the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa, which sailed to Tahiti on her first trip in May 1976. Lyman was relief Captain opposite Kawika Kapahulehua. This voyage gained international recognition as the first documented trip by a Polynesian voyaging canoe that was navigated entirely (and successfully) by the ancient way-finding techniques, across thousands of miles of open ocean. No charts, navigational instruments, or timepieces were used. No electronics were on board. Master navigator Mau Piailug guided the canoe accurately from departing Hawai‘i (May 1) to a Tahiti arrival (June 4).

Later in March of 1978, the Hōkūleʻa would attempt a second voyage to Tahiti. This time, Lyman was sailing aboard as Captain. The day of departure was one filled with much anxiety as the weather conditions (and forecast) were terrible, with high wind warnings and rough sea conditions. While any seasoned mariner would opt to wait for the the bad weather to pass, Lyman was pressured to depart against his protests, by leadership of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Leaving Honolulu in the late afternoon on the 16th of March, the canoe would experience the ravages of extremely rough ocean conditions. Five hours after their departure the Hōkūleʻa capsized a few miles southwest of La‘au Point on Moloka‘i. The entire crew clung to the swamped double-hulled canoe throughout the night, awaiting rescue. Finally, the now legendary waterman, Eddie Aikau decided to leave the boat and crew behind in a desperate attempt to seek help, as he volunteered to paddle his surfboard to the island of Lāna‘i that lay over 12 miles away. Again Lyman protested and begged Aikau to not leave and to stay with the crew. But “Eddie would go” and Lyman would spend the rest of his life contemplating this event, as Eddie Aikau was never seen again.

As a harbor pilot in Hawai‘i, Lyman was well known as “the voice of the Honolulu waterfront.” With his handle bar mustache and easy going demeanor, Lyman was recognized wherever he traveled. Often quoted in local media, he was considered the local “expert” in all maritime affairs. Frequently heard on local talk show radio or seen on TV, Lyman was a celebrity of sorts, especially for Hawai‘i’s working class citizens. 

Lyman’s tragic, early death as he disembarked a ship off Nawiliwili, Kaua‘i during a routine ship departure, was met with stunned surprise by everyone who knew him. From Europe to Japan, the Hawaii Pilots Association office was swamped with phone calls, letters, emails, and faxes from all over. His service at Honolulu’s Central Union Church was open to the public. An estimated 1,200 people attended as crowds spilled out of the church, standing on the lawn outside. Two weeks after his death, his ashes were scattered at sea at the Honolulu Pilot Station from the pilot boat Honolulu. This was an event to be remembered by everyone in Hawai‘i. Never before had anyone seen the size of the fleet that assembled in Honolulu Harbor in remembrance of one man. The vessels paraded out, all sounding their horns simultaneously as his ashes were spread across the water. After all the boats encircled “Kawika” three times, they paraded back into the harbor. Later on that day, hundreds gathered at Murphy’s, O’Tooles, and the Waikiki Yacht Club, three of Lyman’s favorite watering holes. Hundreds of his friends and ‘ohana drowned their sorrows together in one last salute to Dave “Kawika” Lyman. This event was covered the next day on the Sunday morning edition of the Honolulu Advertiser with a full page of colored photos and stories.

Lyman was generous to a fault, doing anything he could to help those around him. It was often said that not only would he give his shirt off his back to somebody in need, he would offer a needy person “your” shirt off your back, too! Often found passing out cigarettes to homeless people sitting on the sidewalk as he walked to and from his home and the waterfront, he never hesitated to offer his time and anything else, to those who asked for help. 

Lyman was always encouraging young men and women to enter Hawai‘i’s maritime industry. He was a champion in the effort to provide kokua (help) to those who demonstrated an interest in Honolulu’s waterfront. Whether paddling, sailing, surfing, fishing, or any other water related activity, Dave Lyman truly believed that Hawai‘i’s youth were best suited to be in an industry that offered so many opportunities for advancement and success. 

It is this fact that was the catalyst for starting the Dave Lyman Memorial Scholarship Fund.