THE LOYAL COMPADRE
By Chris D’Angelo - The Garden Island | Monday, May 19, 2014, 1:45 a.m.
HANALEI — Each year, North Shore resident Dylan Thomas spends a month or so sailing the Pacific and collecting authentic, handcrafted Oceanic and tribal art — masks, tikis, paddles, bowls, weapons, jewelry, you name it. Anything unique that catches his eye.
Each piece he brings home comes with a magnificent story, and they’re all for sale.
“What we do is try to bring that culture to you,” said Thomas, a native of South Africa.
In fact, he and his business partners, Jim and Vicki Punter, have a fitting slogan for Havaiki, their art shop and gallery in Hanalei — “Bringing culture to your world.”
Over the last 12 years, “Firebird” and “Compadre” have combined for more than 60,000 miles throughout the Pacific.
In 2002, Thomas and the Punters began a five-and-a-half-year sail throughout the Pacific on their original vessel, the 84-foot “Firebird.” Unlike that voyage and others since, this year’s trip brought fullness to the story. Last month, for the very first time, Thomas finished a sail in Hanalei Bay.
“It’s the first time we’ve brought the vessel back to Hawaii,” he said. “And to be honest with you, considering how difficult the passage was, I don’t know that we’re doing it again.”
During the 4,000-mile, 23-day trip from Fiji to Hawaii, the 55-foot “Compadre” — the group’s second vessel — encountered high winds, bouncing seas and faulty equipment. A rolling boat made everything — sleeping, cooking, using the bathroom — a challenge.
“It was a pounding passage, but we made it,” Thomas said of his crew, which did not include the Punters. “We made it safely.”
“Ask me again in six months,” North Shore resident Jerry Hayward, who accompanied Thomas on the trip, said when asked if he would do it again. “Right now I’m going, ‘No!’”
Above all, Thomas said the pieces he brings back offer people a chance to connect with the stories behind them, with the far-away places they come from.
“People don’t want to buy this because, ‘Oh my god, this fish basket is exactly what I’ve been looking for,” he laughed. “It’s not that at all. It’s the concept that they’re buying something that is culturally strong. It is a direct connection for those people — a way of life and a culture that they wouldn’t normally see, that a lot of people dream about.”
It’s the memories tied to the objects that leave lasting impressions, especially for Thomas. He admits it is sometimes difficult for him to watch a piece, and the memories of it, leave the shop. For that reason, he keeps a small private collection.
From this trip, Thomas and his crew of four returned with clubs, bowls, a drum and other one-of-a-kind items from Fiji, American and Western Samoa and Christmas Island. There are only about 20 items left in Havaiki from the original “Firebird” collection years. Thanks to the continuous voyages, however, the shop remained stocked, with items ranging from $6 turtle magnets to a one-of-a-kind Niihau lei, made with 6,500 shells, listed at $55,000.
“Talk about a museum piece, right?” said Thomas, pointing to the mesmerizing, colorful lei.
While around 30 percent of the store’s inventory comes from Hawaii-based artists, including several from Kauai, other pieces originate from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tahiti, New Zealand and even Africa.
By no mistake, Havaiki is part museum, part retail.
“Ninety percent of what we have, maybe even more, these are all traditional materials,” Thomas said. “They’ve been made in traditional techniques. It’s not epoxy resins or plastics. They’re still using the materials that they definitely sometimes battle to access.”
After the long journey, the “Compadre” will remain anchored in Hanalei Bay through the summer — a place for Thomas and the Punters to bring clients who are interested in the ongoing story. Come fall, however, it will be time to plan another trip.
“Compadre is alive and well,” Thomas said. “And we do continue to collect with Compadre.”
When asked if the new pieces of art come with an extra bang for their buck, considering they were brought by boat through rolling seas right to Hanalei Bay, Thomas said he felt they did. And while he did save a bit of money by not having to ship the pieces home, he joked that customers won’t be getting a discount.
“We’ve got to pay for the damage to our backbone, our spines,” he laughed. “For the physical therapy.”