Fresh off the longest leg of sailing in its history — an approximately 3,500-mile trek across the Atlantic Ocean — the Hokule‘a has returned to the open sea on a course for the Caribbean.
The Hawaiian voyaging canoe left Natal, Brazil, on Friday for what’s expected to be an 18-day, 2,400-mile trip to the island of St. John, which is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It’s the latest leg in Hokule‘a’s approximately three-year Malama Honua (“Care for the Earth”) journey around the globe. The voyage, led by the Oahu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, aims to promote environmental stewardship and cultural harmony.
Heidi Guth, who was born on Maui but grew up on St. John when her father was transferred there as a U.S. National Park Service ranger, is a member of the latest crew. She called this sailing leg a “gift to be able to bring my two families together.”
“St. John really raised me, that community, and Hokule‘a and the ohana waa (canoe family) helped make me the adult I am,” Guth said in a phone interview from aboard the canoe’s deck Friday after finishing her watch. “To have these two ohana come together, I’m more humbled than excited.” Several of her friends on St. John are working to help resupply the Hokule‘a once it arrives there, she said.
Guth serves as the society’s chief operating officer, and she typically deals with logistics, travel arrangements and other behind-the-scenes details that help make the voyage happen. “It’s so nice” to be sailing instead of being behind a desk, she said Friday. “As soon as I got here and had no access to my email, I felt 180 pounds lighter.”
The leg is part of a larger stretch of the Malama Honua voyage in which the Hokule‘a along with its escort vessel, the Gershon II, will venture up the U.S. East Coast for the first time in the Polynesian vessel’s 40-year history. The stretch includes stops later this year in Newport News, Va., Washington and New York.
Meanwhile “there’s a lot to be learned from the Caribbean,” Guth said Friday. “It’s smaller, obviously, than the Pacific island community … but the Caribbean island community is very tight-knit” and it’s working to protect natural resources, she said. The region has started to rediscover more of its indigenous identity in the past 30 years, she added.
“These islands have to survive more sustainably. … They’re going to identify a lot with Hokule‘a and our message,” Guth said.
The latest crew also includes “pwo” (master) navigator Kalepa Baybayan as captain and apprentice navigators Brad Wong and Kalani Kahalioumi.
In addition, it includes veteran canoe crew member Snake Ah Hee and emerging crew member Poita Purotu, who last fall helped sail Maui’s voyaging canoe, the Mo‘okiha o Pi‘ilani, out of threat of damage from hurricanes Guil lermo and Hilda.