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Hokule'a drops anchor at far-flung atoll

The voyaging vessel and its escort canoe got to French Polynesia on Sunday afternoon

By Marcel Honoré

LAST UPDATED: 09:26 a.m. HST, Jun 17, 2014

The 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.

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clum56 wrote:
Imua Hokule'a e Hikianalia
on June 17,2014 | 02:21AM
PCWarrior wrote:
Yes but wasn't the initial Tahiti trip completed in 1976? Says 1980 here.
on June 17,2014 | 10:34AM
Hotel wrote:
Note photo: The "crab claw" front sail has been replaced by a modern Marconi sail. Triangle shape. Note the modern front sail on the canoe, a "jib", has been added from the original canoe and is stowed on its wooden "club foot" spar. The "record time" of the voyage was due to modern modifications to the original canoe sail plan. Modern efficiency used to replicate the ancient past seems to me to be bad science.
on June 17,2014 | 07:08AM
hanalei395 wrote:
The main thing, for the new navigators, ancient wayfinding techniques was used, never to be lost again.
on June 17,2014 | 07:53AM
DiverDave wrote:
Never used their G.P.S. either I'll bet. LOL
on June 17,2014 | 09:01AM
false wrote:
Our kupuna sought to improve their environment by innovating with western technology. Should we be any less intelligent? Navigating by stars across a great ocean remains a science not developed in the west until space exploration. Imagine the intellectual brilliance credited to Polynesians. Can only be celebrated as absolute source of genius. Let us have that.
on June 17,2014 | 09:46AM
DiverDave wrote:
Yes Hotel, and I'll bet they never used their GPS even once. RIIIGHT!
on June 17,2014 | 08:48AM
bluepenguin wrote:
Not to navigate anyway. Some of the scientific experiments require it, dead reckoning and careful observation will get you where you need to go. This has been proved repeatedly since the 1960's well before the Hokule'a left on its first voyage. Man sailed and settled nearly every habitable island well before GPS was even dreamed up, trust me its not that hard.
on June 17,2014 | 01:42PM
Hotel wrote:
The Advertiser reported the first voyage had a AM radio on the canoe. So one of da bruddahs "could listen fo' UH scores". The crew was "sanitized" before departure. Just like the military does for some of us flight crew. You could look it up.
on June 17,2014 | 06:12PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Very fast watercraft, the double hulled "Superferry", the catamarans, double hulled sailing craft racing in "America's Cup", modern versions of the thousands plus years of the ancient double hulled canoe. Good science, not "bad science.
on June 17,2014 | 10:38AM
bluepenguin wrote:
Technologies have changed throughout time in the Pacific as the archeological record attests and is an absurd basis from which to critique the use of ancient navigation techniques. The worldwide voyage is not about re-proving once again that traditional construction and navigation techniques can sail across the island seas. The voyage is about education, training, and demonstrating the wayfinding techniques. Think of it as a celebration, not an experiment.
on June 17,2014 | 01:38PM
leino wrote:
Time on the deep ocean really helps you appreciate the 'aina.
on June 17,2014 | 07:48AM
DiverDave wrote:
on June 17,2014 | 09:02AM