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Hikianalia: Companion vessel shines with state-of-the-art technology

  • (Illustration: Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser)
(Illustration: Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser)
(Illustration: Martha Hernandez / Star-Advertiser)

Hikianalia doesn’t have the same “star power” as its sister canoe, the Hokule‘a, which is a household name in Hawaii thanks to its historic voyages of rediscovery across the Pacific.

The wider, longer and bulkier Hikianalia isn’t even 2 years old yet. But the double-hulled escort canoe, named for a companion star that rises in the Hawaii sky with the Hokule‘a star, will play a pivotal role in the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s upcoming worldwide journey. Hikianalia will be the “safety platform, medical platform (and) science platform,” PVS President Nainoa Thompson said recently.

The voyage marks Hikianalia’s second major trip since being built in New Zealand in 2012.

The 72-foot-long Hikianalia is a mix of tradition and technology. The wa‘a (canoe) is a sister vessel to Hokule‘a, which was modeled after ancient voyaging canoes believed to have been sailed by early Polynesians to Hawaii. However, modern equipment aboard Hikianalia will help PVS fulfill its goal of bringing the vibrance of the global voyage to classrooms across Hawaii on a daily basis.

Its solar panels produce up to around 90 volts of electricity, which charge 48 volts of lithium ion battery power for the vessel’s lights, VHF radio and other electrical components. The batteries can also power Hikianalia’s two electric motors, one on each hull.

The motors are, above all, a “safety feature,” said Bob Perkins, director of Honolulu Community College’s Marine Education and Training Center, where PVS is based. In case someone falls overboard from either canoe — which officials say is statistically likely to occur at some point during the 36-month voyage — the Hikianalia’s motors allow the boat to more swiftly aid in a rescue effort. The canoe will have a crew of 15 or so sailors on each leg.

The motors could also be used to tow Hokule‘a in dead-calm condition, but not to cross any significant distance — only about 30 minutes’ worth of tug, Perkins said.

Also in contrast to Hokule‘a, Hikianalia features a small hale on its deck. The space primarily serves as a communications hub for crew from the Hawaiian broadcast company ‘Oiwi TV, which is partnering with PVS to provide photos, blogs, videos, live chats and other media to schoolchildren and other residents back home.

The on-board communications setup, valued at about $50,000, is unprecedented — pieced together from existing technologies assembled in an innovative way, ‘Oiwi co-founder Keoni Lee said. “We totally made this up,” Lee said, though he added that the setup was inspired by coverage of last year’s America’s Cup sailing race.

The two wa‘a will typically sail about a mile apart, which is close enough for Hokule‘a to send videos and other media to Hikianalia by way of high-capacity Wi-Fi antennas attached to both vessels. An ‘Oiwi staff, doubling as a trained Hikianalia crew members, will then send daily feeds from the voyage back to Hawaii using the canoe’s satellite dish, a domelike piece of equipment nicknamed “R2D2” for its resemblance to the “Star Wars” droid.

Pelican-brand waterproof cases are stored inside the hale to protect laptops, cameras and other pieces of expensive equipment from waves, sea spray and other elements. Hikianalia’s two hulls are wider and rounder than Hokule‘a’s where they sit in the water, offering space for water-tight compartments inside.

Another notable difference between the sister canoes: Hikianalia has a working toilet in its hull. Hokule‘a crew members, meanwhile, have to “go” over the side, with the help of a harness and some privacy from a curtain.

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