Hōkūle‘a drops anchor at far-flung atoll

By Marcel Honoré on June 17, 2014

17-a1-hokulea-promo-PIXThe winds and squalls came at them relentlessly, but a new generation of navigators aboard Hoku­le‘a appears to have passed its first trials heading into the open sea.

Apprentice navigators and crew manning a revitalized Hoku­le‘a on the first leg of its global journey harnessed those powerful winds to make what they report to be record time to Ran­gi­roa, arriving at the distant atoll Monday after sailing some 17 days and 2,400 miles from Hilo.

Those on the Hoku­le‘a and the crew of its escort canoe, Hikianalia, first spotted land at about 4 p.m. Sunday at Ran­gi­roa’s neighboring atoll of Aru­tua in French Polynesia’s Tua­motu Archipelago, according to Hoku­le‘a apprentice navigator Jenna Ishii.

After finding Arutua the canoes banked west, arriving at Ran­gi­roa at about 6 a.m. Monday, Ishii said.

“It was a tough trip even though it was quick because it was upwind the whole way,” a tired but upbeat Ishii said Monday, speaking by satellite phone from Ran­gi­roa moments before Hoku­le‘a dropped anchor. “The wind truly brought us to where we are. … It’s amazing what the ocean can show you if you pay attention.”

An online Google-powered map tracking the first leg of Hoku­le‘a’s worldwide voyage shows that the canoe, guided by little more than the stars, winds and waves, has stayed remarkably close to its scheduled course — as if guided by an experienced navigator.

However, a rotating team of apprentice navigators, including Ishii, have thus far guided the two waa (canoes) on Hoku­le‘a’s most recent journey to Tahiti.

Polynesian Voyaging Society President and pwo (master) navigator Nai­noa Thompson, who famously guided Hoku­le‘a to Tahiti in 1980 using noninstrument navigation, is aboard Hoku­le‘a to serve as a mentor to the young navigators. So far, the apprentices have been able to handle the navigating by working two-day shifts in pairs, Ishii said.

The apprentice navigators passed on their estimated position to the ones that relieved them.
“That was the exciting part,” Ishii said. “Basically, you had to trust the pair before you.”

Several more apprentice navigators sailed aboard Hikianalia with captain and pwo navigator Bruce Blankenfeld as a guide.

It’s an approach similar to Thompson’s landmark 1980 trip, when his mentor, Pius “Mau” Piai­lug, was also aboard Hoku­le‘a as a crew member.

Ishii said Thompson aimed to use the Tahiti leg as a key training opportunity, as the group looks to bring a new generation of leaders and navigators up to speed for eventual succession.

“It’s a perfect learning ground. It’s safe. We know these waters,” she said, referring to the Pacific. Hoku­le‘a is expected to leave the familiar Pacific in 2015 for the first time in its 39-year history.

Ishii said the canoes’ crew members felt slightly “land-sick” stepping onto Ran­gi­roa. After more than two weeks at sea, they could still feel the rolling of the ocean. The atoll’s community welcomed them with a breakfast of eggs, toast, juice, fresh fruit and something crew members particularly missed at sea: cold water, Ishii said.

Everyone is looking forward to relaxing for a bit before sailing to Pape­ete, Tahiti, some 200 miles to the south, she added.

It’s “time to decompress without rushing from one thing to the next. We’re on a beautiful atoll,” Ishii said. “We’re just excited to relax and take it all in.”

They’ll embark for Pape­ete when the canoes’ leaders deem best, Ishii said. After Tahiti the canoes will switch crews and start the second leg of the three-year Malama Honua (“Care for Our Earth”) worldwide voyage. The next leg will take the waa through the Society and Cook islands, finally landing at Samoa.