Kau ka pe‘a, holo ka wa‘a, say the islands’ Polynesian voyagers: "Up go the sails, away goes the canoe."
Crew members are making final preparations — and locals are offering farewells and good wishes — as Hokule‘a readies to leave Oahu in less than a week for what aims to be its most ambitious voyage yet.
The public will have three more opportunities this week, on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, to visit the renowned Hawaiian voyaging canoe and its escort vessel, the Hikianalia, before they leave from Sand Island. The open house hours are 4 to 7 p.m. at the Marine Education and Training Center, 10 Sand Island Parkway.
Once Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia leave Saturday, their Polynesian Voyaging Society caretakers don’t plan for the double-hulled wa‘a (canoes) to return to Oahu for another three years.
By then, the vessels and the several hundred volunteers crewing them on different legs will have logged more than 50,000 miles sailing around the globe and visiting some 26 countries, in a voyage dubbed "Malama Honua" (Care for Our Earth).
"They’re ready to go. They’re packing the supplies for the first leg of the voyage and I think it’s going to be very, very smooth," said Sam Low, a past Hōkūle‘a crew member and author of "Hawaiki Rising: Hokule‘a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance," a new book that chronicles the canoe’s tumultuous early years.
On May 23, the night before the two canoes are set to leave Hilo (weather permitting) for the voyage’s first leg to Tahiti, Low will join Hawaii’s five "pwo" (a Satawalese word meaning "master") navigators — Nainoa Thompson, Bruce Blankenfeld, Kalepa Baybayan, Milton "Shorty" Bertelmann and Chadd Paishon — at the Palace Theater in Hilo to show "The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific." The event starts at 5:30 p.m.
The documentary, which first aired in 1983, was part of the early push to preserve and revive traditional wayfinding — using the sun and stars, currents and surroundings to navigate across the vast Pacific without a compass or other modern instruments.
Hokule‘a’s navigators aim to use the approach for as much of the voyage as possible, even in unfamiliar waters outside the Pacific.
On Saturday, Oahu-born folk rock musician Jack Johnson unveiled a new song based on Hokule‘a’s legacy, "Na Ho‘okele Opiopio," or "The Young Navigators." It’s a collaboration with veteran island musician Chucky-Boy Chock, sung in Hawaiian and English.
Renowned singer Paula Fuga joined them on stage to perform the song before a private audience of about 100 people at sunset near the dock of the Marine Education and Training Center as the two canoes floated in the background.
"It’s legend. It’s folk tales. You hear these stories of the Hokule‘a, and growing up in Hawaii it’s your idea of what courage is," Johnson said Saturday. "To me, the idea of Hokule‘a and doing these journeys, and being able to survive on your own with very limited tools … it’s also about sustainability."
The trio of musicians further aims to greet crew members with the song when they arrive in port for at least one voyage leg, and they’re looking at South Africa and New Zealand as possibilities, Johnson said.
At Kawaiaha‘o Church on Sunday, several pastors of Pacific heritage from different church denominations will offer canoe crew members prayers, well-wishes — and even rejuvenated muscles.
After a 3 p.m. prayer for the canoe crews’ safety and success, the pastors will wash the feet of 20 to 30 crew members expected to be at the church. It’s a show of service to those willing to sail on behalf of their community, said Kahu Curt Kekuna, senior pastor at Kawaiaha‘o, Hawaii’s second-oldest church in Hawaii.
Then, after the feet-washing, the canoe crew members can take advantage of 10 massage tables set up on the church grounds for lomilomi massages.
"Once they get out on the boat, my friend — the double hull, it’s going to be a long, long day," Kekuna said.
Finally, the crew and their families will be able to enjoy a small meal there. Kekuna described the activities as a "tangible way of serving the crew."
"The fact is, they are serving us by representing our culture throughout the world, so we gladly serve them," he said Thursday.
The event is open to the public to observe — but the feet-washing and massages are for the voyage’s crew members only, and the meals only for the crew and their families.
Voyaging Society officials hope the voyage will promote better care of Earth’s finite resources — similar to how pre-contact Hawaiians thrived in the islands with what was available. They further hope it will inspire those back on Hawaii to use the islands as a virtual laboratory and classroom, pursuing solutions to growing environmental threats.
"This is a challenge not just for Hawaiians, not just for people around the world, but for the planet," said Low, the former crew member. "I would say this is the biggest voyage they’ve ever faced."