After 3 Years at Sea, Globe-Trotting Polynesian Canoe Nears Home

The day breaks over Hokulea with Kualoa behind her. (Photo: Na’Alehu Anthony/Polynesian Voyaging Society)

(CN) – The Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea will complete its three-year trip around the world and return to Hawaii June 17, where thousands are expected to greet the traditional double-hulled craft, flanked by seven other voyaging canoes from Hawaii, Tahiti and New Zealand, at Magic Island, Oahu, in an arrival ceremony and celebration. A three-day fair and summit will follow at the Hawaii Convention Center where crew will discuss “stories of hope inspired by the worldwide voyage.”

Themed “Malama Honua” after a desire to share indigenous conservation practices with others around the world, the voyage has taken Hokulea south to Tahiti and west across the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, around Cape of Good Hope South Africa, then northwest across the Atlantic to Brazil, the Caribbean and up the Eastern seaboard to Washington and New York.

After plying the Saint Lawrence waterway to Montreal, Hokulea traveled back down the Eastern seaboard, through the Panama Canal to Rapa Nui and Pitcairn Island, and at long last to Tahiti, where Hokulea’s sister vessel, Hikianalia, met up with Hokulea and is currently shadowing her home.

In all, Hokulea has travelled approximately 27,000 nautical miles and made stops in 14 countries and 65 ports, “weaving a lei of hope.” Along the way, some 250 volunteer crew members have helped to sail Hokulea.

The trip, unthinkable just years ago, is one chapter in a long story. Part of a Hawaiian renaissance begun in the 1960s, the building of a traditional voyaging canoe not seen for 600 years was the brain child of artist Herb Kane. After launching the canoe in 1975, the Voyaging Society set out to find a navigator.

Traditional navigation methods that once lit the way to Hawaii had been lost to native Hawaiians, and were only rediscovered on a small island called Satawal in Micronesia, in the person of Mau Piailug. Piailug accompanied Hokulea on its first successful trip to Tahiti in 1976.

A subsequent trip in 1978 ended in tragedy when Hokulea capsized in heavy seas off of Molokai and surf champion Eddie Aikau, after a night in cold water with crewmates, paddled away on his surfboard to find help – never to be seen again.

Piailug returned to Hawaii to train Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson, who replicated the trip to Tahiti and back in 1980.

According to PVS Learning Center director Miki Comita, Hokulea has used a combination of traditional navigation methods that read the stars, wind and waves in deep and open ocean, and GPS for coastal navigation.

A crew blog post leading up to the 32nd and final leg of the trip reads: “We calculated latitude two ways. 1) measured Kumau or the North star at 3 degrees last night, 2) based upon dead reckoning we believe at sunrise we are a little above 3 degrees.

“We believe based upon these measurements that we are just north of 3 N at sunrise. We’ve started the second portion of our reference course. The shifty winds yesterday may be a sign that we are close to the doldrums. However, after sunset and into this morning we’ve had consistent [east-southeast] tradewinds!”

Hokulea has since drifted through the doldrums and sailed to a latitude in line with the Hawaiian Islands. The voyage can be followed on a tracking map.

Four days of events include the homecoming ceremony and celebration, Malama Honua Fair and Summit and a Polynesian Voyaging Society benefit dinner.

The Malama Honua Fair and Summit’s inspirational speaker series will feature local and global speakers who have engaged with the voyage including: Megan Smith, third chief technology officer of the United States; Dieter Paulmann, founder of Okeanos Foundation for the Sea; and Ocean Elders’ Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Don Walsh.

In the fall of 2017, Hokulea and Hikianalia will sail around the Hawaiian Islands to reconnect with local communities and schools and share stories and lessons learned on the Malama Honua worldwide voyage.

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