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UN chief rides Hōkūleʻa in harbor at Apia, Samoa

    The voyaging canoe made a safe, if delayed, passage from American Samoa, crossing the International Date Line.

APIA, SAMOA >> It was close, but Hokule’a and Hikianalia made it to Apia just in time to meet and sail with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after battling through fierce winds and steep swells to finally leave Pago Pago.

By arriving in Apia Harbor early Monday, the canoe crews managed to secure a visit with the head of the U.N. but, perhaps more importantly, they had Ban sign the "Promise to Ka Pae’aina," a document that Hokule’a is carrying in its captain’s box to collect pledges from around the world to be better environmental stewards to the world’s resources.

It wasn’t an easy task though, and it almost didn’t happen. 

When Hokule’a and Hikianalia crews pushed off the dock in Pago Pago on Saturday, on the other side of the International Date Line, they weren’t sure the winds would allow them to safely clear the harbor there. 

If not, they would have to turn back. However, after waiting four days for the weather to change with no luck and having reached the last day they could leave and still make the visit with Ban and other dignitaries, Hokule’a Captain Nainoa Thompson said it was important they at least try.

Pago Pago Harbor Master Wally Thompson first towed Hokule’a and its crew out to where the harbor met the open sea shortly before noon, and they encountered gusts and swells about 12 feet high. Thompson then calculated that the two canoes could maneuver safely enough on their own sail power to clear the island of Tutuila, where Pago Pago is located, and make for Apia.

Crews crossed the date line while working hard through the night to keep the canoes on course, even as the weather improved a bit. Three apprentice navigators aboard Hokule’a kept their bearing using traditional wayfinding overnight.

Hokule’a crews then worked swiftly at sunrise to outfit the Polynesian voyaging canoe with its traditional crab-claw sails, for effect, while they simultaneously cleared customs with officials on a nearby ship.

They were then greeted by several hundred Samoans, including traditional dancers and singers, waiting for them at the harbor as an intense Apia sun rose higher overhead.

Ban and an entourage of about a dozen people then sailed around Apia Harbor for about 20 minutes before he signed Hokule’a’s pledge — a move that Thompson and Polynesian Voyaging Society officials see as a significant first step toward getting the U.N. to help better protect marine resources. They hope to revisit Ban’s commitment either next year or in 2016, when the canoes are slated to arrive in New York. 

Also on board Monday was renowned marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence Sylvia Earle.

Ban was curious about the canoe and its Malama Honua "Care for the Earth" global voyage — he asked crewmembers where the name Hokule’a originated. He was told it was named for the star, also known as Arcturus, that reaches its zenith directly above Hawaii.

He’s here to attend the U.N.’s once-in-a-decade Small Island Developing States conference — a forum taking place this week to discuss the unique issues and challenges facing sea-locked nations

It’s also the last high-level U.N. event before Ban convenes a summit on global climate change later this month to discuss realistic goals for the future to combat its effects — and issues discussed here at the SIDS conference, unique to small islands, could influence the discussions poised to take place several weeks from now in New York, officials say.

Several Hokule’a crew members, including Eric Co and Jenna Ishii, will serve as delegates at the SIDS conference this week after working nearly 24 hours straight to get the canoes safely to Apia. 

Hokule’a and Hikianalia are expected to leave Friday for the far-flung island atoll of Tokelau, north of Samoa.

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