Hokule’a came to life yesterday as crew members lashed ropes, stowed food away and raised the sail before setting off on a voyage around the state in honor of the late master navigator Mau Piailug.
Under a noon sun, the crew of 18 departed from Sand Island, launching the first interisland voyage by Hokule’a since Piailug died July 12. It is a training run for an eight-year, worldwide voyage beginning next year.
Crew members said the training voyage is a way to honor Piailug, who taught Micronesian seafaring to outsiders in the hopes of perpetuating the knowledge. Piailug in 1976 navigated Hokule’a on its maiden voyage 3,000 miles to Tahiti without modern navigation instruments.
For Dennis Chun, the Kauai navigator who will serve as captain on the Hokule’a’s first leg to Nawiliwili Harbor, the trip is a reminder of the effect Piailug has had on generations of Hawaiian sailors.
"We’re trying to perpetuate what Mau has taught us over the years," Chun said. "I look at these (younger) guys and I realize that’s how I was when I started sailing."
Chun teaches Hawaiian studies and voyaging at Kauai Community College, and said half of the young sailors on his current crew are his former students. In addition to helping native Hawaiian students reconnect with their culture, he said sailing on the Hokule’a also provides students hands-on lessons in math, science and geography.
To honor Piailug’s legacy of sharing navigation skills internationally, Chun said his crew includes four sailors from Japan, which the Hokule’a visited in 2007.
Also on the crew is John Kruse, who helped build Hokule’a and sailed with Piailug to Tahiti on the first voyage.
He said only five people from Hawaii have been honored as master navigators on Piailug’s home island of Satawal, in the western Pacific, in about 35 years.
The vessel is expected to reach Kauai about 9 a.m. today and do day trips off Kauai for the next week before sailing to Molokai, the Big Island and Maui.
Excited by his first voyage in about a year, Warren Kawai was also absorbing the lessons of Piailug, now as an apprentice navigator.
"Papa Mau believed we’re one people and the oceans connect all the people together," Kawai said. "What Papa Mau taught us, the canoe is like our mother, and it connects all the people of the world."
The crew members on this leg are part of the canoe-building organization Na Kalai Wa’a O Kauai, which has been building a larger voyaging canoe, Namahoe, for 10 years.
Kruse, who helped build the Hokule’a, said the group hopes to finish Namahoe next year in memory of Piailug.
"I was honored to sail with Mau because he gave me a glimpse into what my ancestors did," Kruse said. "He was magic, Mau."