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Hokule’a – In the Wake of Their Ancestors

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The traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokule’a, has departed St. Helena in the South Atlantic, bound for the Americas and Europe.

The crew of eleven departed Hilo, Hawai’i May 2014 bound on a three-year, 60,000-mile world voyage with a mission to promote native culture, raise awareness of global climate change, and to educate the public on what they call ‘malama honua’, caring for island earth.

On their journey they have inspired a revival of traditional Polynesian voyaging. They also seek to demonstrate that Polynesian mariners of the first millennium were capable of traveling upwind to Pacific islands from Asia in these canoes as opposed to the popular concept that they were peopled from South America via rafts that drifted with prevailing trade winds. It is a bold assertion as Hokule’a, basically a catamaran, struggles to maintain a course upwind.

© 2015 Polynesian Voyaging society; Photo: ‘oiwi tv • Photographer: Jason Patterson
© 2015 Polynesian Voyaging society; Photo: ‘oiwi tv • Photographer: Jason Patterson

The 62ft, engineless replica was launched in 1975 by the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) and has sailed thousands of ocean miles, but has never been out of the Pacific until now. Using modern building materials, her creators intended to approximate the look and feel of a traditional, performance-accurate voyaging canoe, and she handles as such: instead of a rudder and dagger boards, the crew, in groups of three when it’s rough, use giant steering paddles and carefully ‘pump’ them to stay on course.

In the Wake of Their Ancestors

Hokule’a is not much on amenities, when underway it resembles a marine version of Survivor reality TV: there is no autopilot, no cabins, refrigeration, shower, or head, and they bunk down on a tarp covered hull.

This is the toughest sort of sailing, it’s cold, it’s wet, yet their video updates are replete with the smiles of everyone aboard. How could they be enjoying this?

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“A quiet confidence builds as we sail,” reflects media specialist Na’alehu Anthony. “The crew is a cheerful one and everyone subscribes to the collective goal—finding land.”

Although they carry a full complement of modern electronic navigation instruments, they employ ‘wayfinding’, the ancient art of navigating using constant observation of stars, waves, sun, birds, and clouds. Nainoa Thompson, PVS president and Pwo* navigator has guided the voyage accumulating 27,000-miles since leaving Hawai’i.

“You only know where you are in this kind of navigation by memorizing where you sailed from,” he states. “That means constant observation. You have to constantly remember your speed, your direction and time.”

And Thompson really means ‘constant observation’. The navigator can be on duty up to 22-hours per day. The PVS is using this voyage to train young navigators in the wayfinding, which is done orally with no written notes, so that it does not die with Thompson and the few other living Pwo navigators.

By 1997 Hokule’a was showing her age and was hauled for a refit. After a thorough inspection a surveyor discovered dry rot in the hulls and smugly recommended that they donate her to a museum. But the PVS would not be deterred; an army of volunteers was mobilized and six-years later the canoe was back in the water, better than ever, ready for her world voyage.

Before departing in 2014 Thompson was asked why they were undertaking such a difficult voyage and his answer spoke volumes of what this is all about: “We must sail in the wake of our ancestors,” he said, “to find ourselves.”

Hokule’a’s name is Hawaiian for ‘Star of Gladness’. South Africa represented the halfway point of her voyage. After a scheduled layover and crew swap in Cape Town, they headed for Brazil via St. Helena and Fernando de Noronha. From there, they will sail to the Caribbean sometime this year, and home to Hawai’i in 2017.

*Pwo is a sacred initiation ritual, in which students of traditional Navigation in the Carolina Islands in Micronesia become master navigators and are initiated in the associated secrets. Many islanders in the area indicate that this ceremony originated on the island of Pollap, or nearby islands. (Source – Wikipedia.)

Follow the voyage of Hokule’a and learn more about their mission, visit: www.hokulea.com

 Robert Beringer’s first eBook, Water Power! a collection of marine short stories, is available at BarnesandNoble.com. For a free sample, go to: www.smashwords.com/books/view/542578 

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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