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Boy Scouts revive tin boat tradition

By Staff | Nov 6, 2014

Kenneth Sadang (center) and Sammy Kadotani (far right) stand with Boy Scout Troop 79 members and friends at the tin boat launching day held recently at the Sadang home in Kahana.

LAHAINA – Long about 80 years ago, a young Lahaina boy took great joy in playing in the calm waters of his home seashore in small vessels they called “tin boats.” Sammy Kadotani and his buddies would bang corrugated metal they procured from who knows where into five-foot flotillas that they raced and played bumper boats with.

From dawn to dusk, the fleet led by Admiral Sammy would command the inshore waters that today are still busy with boat activity. The vessels are much larger and more sophisticated now, but not more fun – not by a long shot.

Ah, these joys of childhood – these innermost limits of pure fun that manifest the unique cultural personality of the past. That innocent dependence upon the imagination and adventure to go where the wild things are.

Kadotani, now “Uncle Sammy” to the West Side, is a community leader. He is now a senior citizen but still carries himself with the zeal and integrity appreciated by all who call Maui home.

He paid forward his childhood experiences, including the tin boat days, as a Lahaina Boy Scout leader, inspiring hundreds of young boys to enjoy the rural experience of growing up in the unique Lahaina environment.

One of the boys Uncle Sammy influenced was Kenneth Sadang, who is now a Boy Scout leader in his own right with Troop 79 of the Mormon Church in Lahaina.

Sadang, along with David Ilaoa and Marlene Johnson, who mentor the 11-year-old group of the troop, in recent months launched an endeavor to bring back the tin boat tradition.

“We wanted to resurrect the past that people like Sammy have given us with the tin boats,” said Sadang, now a retired Kaanapali Resort employee with grandchildren of his own.

“So we decided to go for it with this project for the kids. It’s been good fun.”

Sadang noted that it took about three weeks to find the corrugated material, bang it into shape with sledgehammers, connect and seal the sheets, and paint the boats and paddles.

The scouts who took part in the project and did this work included Joshua Kulukulualani, Keven Murillo, Isaac Gunn, Nico Nickerbocker, Evan Koyama, Kupaa Castro, Sam Kahaialii, Pono Tanner, Foou Taukeaiaho, Eala Kukahiko and Mason Porkorney.

Most fittingly, the inaugural launching of the SS Troop 79 was held at the Sadang family fishing compound home in Kahana last week. The property is one of the last family homesteads along the shoreline in this area that still carries on the traditional fishing lifestyle of bygone eras.

On hand for the event were Kadotani, Sadang, Sue and John Kidnay, participants in the project and several friends.

“Gee, maybe someday we can get all of the Boy Scout troops on Maui to take part in a tin boat project. I hope we can someday have a race day with all the groups entering their boats in the competition. Our thanks goes out to all of the parents of the boys and my fellow scout leaders who helped with the project,” concluded Sadang.

Kadotani told his “legend of the tin boat” in a 2010 Lahaina News article.

In the 1930s, Kadotani explained, boys from Lahaina and Makila Camp decided to build a boat. They collected corrugated iron (used for roofing in plantation homes), laid the pieces on the ground and flattened them out with a two-by-four board or sledge hammer.

The metal sheet would be wrapped around boards and secured with nails to form the front and back of the tin boat. Some kids used flat pieces of wood for the stern. To cover the sharp top edges of the corrugated iron, the kids used split garden hoses.

All of the pounding created holes in the thin iron sheets. The industrious children dug up tar from Front Street to use for patches.

For paddles, they held small pieces of plywood in each hand.