The crew of the Hokule‘a spotted the island of Rapa Nui on Sunday after sailing across more than 2,000 miles of ocean and not seeing land since departing the Galapagos Islands almost three weeks ago.
Capt. Archie Kalepa compared the sighting to finding a needle in a haystack and noted that reaching Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, signified the canoe’s return to familiar Polynesian waters that will guide the canoe back home to the Hawaiian Islands.
The Hokele‘a has been sailing around the globe since leaving Hawaii waters in May 2014 as part of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s “care for island Earth” tour, or Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage.
Kalepa, a big-wave surfer and renowned waterman, captained the vessel for the first time on the leg to Rapa Nui. He credited PVS elders with sharing strength, wisdom and knowledge with others so they can sail globally using the stars and traditional navigational methods.
“When you’re out here and it’s just you and the canoe and the ocean going 1,700 miles, it’s really humbling,” he said Sunday by satellite phone. “But it also opens your eyes, your senses to things that we take for granted every day that exist and at one time were tools for our people to travel.”
The 13-member crew departed the Galapagos Islands on Feb. 11 and spotted Rapa Nui from about 50 miles out at about 1 p.m. Hawaii time Sunday.
A team of four apprentice navigators aboard the vessel accomplished a “major navigational challenge” by sighting the island, one of the most difficult to find with traditional wayfinding methods because of its location and tiny size, the voyaging society said.
This is the first time in 18 years that the Hokule‘a has visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kalepa said his crew had ideal sailing weather during part of the journey and was able to keep the canoe on course without steering for 10 continuous days by trimming the sail.
The crew labored around the clock, shifting weight on the vessel by moving water jugs and adjusting ropes for the best sail angle, to keep the sail trimmed and the canoe heading in the right direction.
At one point the crew ran into a large southwesterly swell from a cyclone near Tahiti that gave the navigators additional information for their headings along with a southeasterly tradewind swell, Kalepa said.
The crew was expected to touch land today and continue preparations for the next crew to depart for the Marquesas Islands early next month. The Hokule‘a will return to Magic Island in June.