Milton “Shorty” Bertelmann

Shorty, 2007

Before Hokule'a left on its fourth voyage to Tahiti, 44-year old Shorty Bertelmann, like his co-navigator Chad Baybayan, wondered if he was fully prepared for the challenges of wayfinding on a long ocean voyage. Preparation involved not just memorizing nautical charts and star patterns, but watching the weather daily and thinking about the kinds of sailing decisions his teacher Mau and Nainoa would make at sea in response to the weather.

Shorty, 1992

Bertelmann, the older brother of kapena Clay Bertelmann, first saw Hokule'a in 1975 when it sailed into Kawaihae Harbor while he was helping to rebuild the walls of Pu'u Kohola heiau. Soon after that he met Mau and Nainoa. Bertelmann sailed from Hawai'i to Tahiti in 1976, when he began to learn navigation from being with Mau.

In 1980 and 1985, from Hawai'i to Tahiti, he served as captain. He continued on the Voyage of Rediscovery from the Cook Islands to Aotearoa in 1985, from Samoa to the Cook Islands in 1986, and from Rangiroa to Hawai'i in 1987, serving as captain on each of these legs.

Bertelmann says the greatest challenge of the 1992 voyage was remaining continuously awake to keep track of the course of the canoe and watch the every-changing weather. By the time the canoe reached Tahiti, he had gotten the knack of catnapping in 3-4 minutes snatches, so he could regain his concentration, a technique he learned by observing Nainoa.

The highlight of the trip for Bertelmann was sighting a school of dolphins. On the voyage to Tahiti in 1985 Mau had sailed with Bertelmann, and they sighted a school of dolphins at about 10 degrees north latitude. Before the 1992 voyage, Mau, who was not going, told Bertelmann to look for the dolphins because they lived in that area of the ocean and would visit the canoe again. At about 10 degrees north, Bertelmann spotted the dolphins. It confirmed his faith and trust in Mau and the ancient tradition of navigation Mau represented. When he saw Mau again in Hawai'i, Mau asked him "Did the dolphins come visit you?" and Bertelmann answered, "Yeah."

After thd 1992, he worked with his brother Clay to establish Na Kalai Wa‘a Moku o Hawai‘i, a non-profit voyaging and education organization on the west Side of Hawai‘i island, to preserve, protect, and perpetuate Hawaiian culture and contribute to a safe and health future for Hawai‘i. From 1994-1995, Short and Clay led the effort to build the 54-foot voyaging canoe Makali‘i to serve the Big Island. The canoe was launched in 1995 at Kawaihae, under a double rainbow, a sign of a blessing from the gods:

Shorty then navigated Makali‘i to Tahiti to join Hokule‘a and Hawai‘iloa on a voyage to Nukuhiva and back to Hawai‘i.

From February to May, 1999, Shorty navigated Makali‘i to Satawal. Called “E Mau / Sailing the Master Home,” this voyage was to pay homage to master navigator Mau Piailug and to thank Mau, who sailed home on the Makali‘i, for his teachings.

In 2001, Na Kalai Wa‘a Moku o Hawai‘i began the construction of a new 54-foot double-hulled voyaging canoe as a gift for Mau. When Clay fell ill and passed away in 2004, Shorty and Chad Paishon oversaw the completion Alingano Maisu, as the new canoe for Mau was called.


After sea trials and provisioning, Maisu left with Hokule'a for Satawal, on Jan. 23, 2007.

Chad, Bruce, Nainoa, and Shorty sharing laughter before departing for Satawal

The canoes arrived at Satawal on March 15, via Majuro in the Marshall Islands, Pohnpei, and Chuuk.

Shorty Bertelmann and Pua Lincoln talk about cloud formations while departing Pohnpei. Photo by Na'alehu Anthony

The voyage was named “Ku Holo Mau / Sail On, Sail Always, Sail Forever” by Pua Kanaka‘ole. On this voyage, Shorty Bertelman as captain of Maisu.

Maisu at sea

At Satawal, Maisu was gifted to Mau.

Maisu at Satawal

Chad was one of the five Hawaiian navigators inducted into pwo by Mau.

Mau with Shorty. Photo by Sam Low

Mau indPhoto by Gary Kubota