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Hokule'a: Revitalized and ready to take on the world

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  • (Illustration: Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser)
  • The voyaging canoe Hokulea took off from the Sand Island under clear skies and moderate winds from the Martime Education Center for a voyage to Palmyra Island. (Photo: Star-Advertiser / 2009)
(Illustration: Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser)
(Illustration: Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser)

Hokule‘a is still designed to sail and perform as its ancestral wa‘a (canoes) did, when centuries ago they pulled much of Polynesia out of the sea.

But in many ways this is Hoku­le‘a 2.0.

When Polynesian Voyaging Society members hauled Hoku­le‘a out of the water in September 2010 for major dry-dock work, “she was tired, she was damaged” after having logged some 150,000 miles on the Pacific Ocean during a 35-year period, PVS President Nai­noa Thompson said recently.

During the following 18 months, Hawaii’s famous voyaging canoe was basically rebuilt.

Then, after having sailed around the Hawaiian Islands last year for what PVS considered the first leg of its worldwide voyage, Hoku­le‘a spent another 2 1⁄2 months in dry dock preparing for the international journey. During that stretch, more than 100 volunteers logged over 1,000 hours, often staying overnight at the Marine Education and Training Center to help sand, lash and varnish the canoe.

“She’s faster, she’s lighter, she’s stronger, she’s more watertight,” Thompson said in March, moments after volunteers slipped Hoku­le‘a back into the waters off Sand Island. To handle a 36-month voyage around the world, “she’d have to be the best she’s ever been,” he said.

Hokule‘a wood hulls, sheathed in fiberglass, remain original. But just about every other component of the vessel has been replaced.

“She’s stabler, she’s probably a little more efficient hydrodynamically than she was before,” METC Director Bob Perkins said. That’s a fancy way to say the Hoku­le‘a sails better than it did prior to the dry-dock work.

The canoe is now about 2 feet wider than before, and that gives the waves created between the two hulls more space to pass through, with less turbulence, Perkins explained. “She is a faster boat” by about 1 to 2 knots and performs best at speeds ranging between 7 to 9 knots, he said.

Hokule‘a’s matching canoe hulls descend into a narrow V-shape at their tips, giving the wa‘a better “form resistance” than its companion canoe, the Hiki­ana­lia. Those V’s allow Hokule‘a to cut a straighter path through the water. (The Hiki­ana­lia has wider, more rounded hulls — but centerboards below those hulls help the canoe to keep a straight course.)

The different hull designs have other impacts, too. Hoku­le‘a crew members will sleep atop that vessel’s narrower hulls, with little more than canvas to protect them from the surrounding elements. Hiki­ana­lia’s wider hulls allow the crew to sleep in seven snug compartments inside each hull.

But the Hokule‘a is more than a sailing vessel, of course. Across its deck, railings, sweep and other pieces are etched the names of its creators, caretakers and those who have helped shape the wa‘a’s nearly 40-year legacy.

Hokule‘a left dry dock in shape to sail another 30 years, according to PVS Vice President Bruce Blankenfeld. “This wa‘a is a living treasure. It’s a cultural treasure,” he said.

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