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Hokule'a departs for worldwide voyage

Hokule‘a and Hikianalia head for Hilo after an emotional goodbye ceremony heavy with reflection and anticipation

By Marcel Honoré

LAST UPDATED: 12:01 p.m. HST, May 18, 2014

A hui hou.

After six years of preparation, Hokule‘a has finally pushed off its dock at Sand Island — bound for Hilo, then Tahiti, then new oceans, new ports, new risks and new adventures for the historic Hawaiian voyaging canoe.

As the sun descended near the Waianae mountains Saturday, several hundred visitors sang, danced, waved Hawaiian flags and joined impassioned, defiant chants during an emotionally charged goodbye as Hokule‘a and its companion vessel, Hikianalia, embarked on the first international leg of their worldwide voyage, dubbed Malama Honua ("Care for the Earth").

Once the canoes leave Hilo, likely in about a week, Hokule‘a aims to carry Hawaiian aloha around the world in a way that's never been done before, visiting 85 ports and at least 26 countries during the next three years.

The voyage looks to be an ambitious cultural exchange that stresses raising awareness about the growing environmental threats facing the planet. Crews further hope to inspire their fellow Hawaiians back home to pursue solutions to those problems.

"There's a lot of beauty out there on that dock. People from all walks of life and different ages, different nationalities," Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson said Saturday, reflecting on the scene.

"They bring an amazing sense of goodness to the canoe, to the crew. Fundamentally, what you see on that dock is the essence of the voyage," he added.

In the hours leading up to departure, well-wishers posed for pictures with crew, students performed songs and pule (chants) that they created for the voyage, slack-key guitarist Makana performed and halau danced hula underscoring hopes tied to safety and success for the journey.

Some onlookers, swept up in the emotion of the moment, also occasionally erupted into spontaneous, powerful chants without the help of microphones or speakers — commanding the crowd's attention and bringing the dock to a hush.

Meanwhile, many of Hokule‘a and Hikianalia's crew members spent the hours preceding the sunset launch consumed by last-minute preparations — loading the two boats with supplies, fastening lashings and completing other tasks.

"It's the most people I've ever seen at the dock," Hikianalia crew member Kaleo Wong said Saturday. "I'm excited to go, excited for the wa‘a (canoes) to go. What a send-off."

Earlier in the day, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, esteemed oceanographer Sylvia Earle and ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau wished Thompson and his fellow Malama Honua crew members safe travels.

All four are members of OceanElders, a group of scientists, artists and activists formed in 2010 to advocate for ocean conservation. Other members include business mogul Richard Branson, filmmaker James Cameron and media mogul Ted Turner.

"We all have a role to play in the most crucial battle of survival, because the world can't take it very much longer," Browne said at a press conference Saturday, alluding to environmental threats such as climate change and ocean acidification. "If the oceans don't make it, neither will we."

Cousteau, son of renowned ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, agreed. "We have the tools to not be the next species to disappear, but we have a big job ahead of us."

At the media event, Thompson asked several of the voyage's captains to join him at the podium, presenting them as those "who bring the crew home safe." They included Thompson's fellow master navigators — Kalepa Baybayan, who will serve as Thompson's second-in-command on Hokule‘a to Tahiti, and Bruce Blankenfeld, who will captain Hikianalia on that leg.

Thompson and Blankenfeld did not leave on the canoes Saturday — they fly to Hilo Wednesday, where they will make final preparations prior to leaving for Tahiti. Hokule‘a and Hikianalia are expected to leave Hawaii's waters on Saturday, but when they actually depart depends on the weather and when all the canoe prep is completed.

On Saturday, before festivities were underway, Thompson spoke solemnly about the awe-inspiring voyage — an idea first envisioned by his father, Myron "Pinky" Thompson, and Hawaii astronaut Lacy Veach in 1992.

"I need to focus, so there's a time both physically and spiritually and emotionally to step off the land and into the ocean. I'm there," Thompson said. "We're going. We're going. It's time to go."

For more information about the canoes and its voyage visit

Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

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