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Telling Tales: On Hikianalia back to Pago Pago

  • Hōkūleʻa sails off Hikianalia's starboard beam, as crews troubleshoot issues with the radio. (Marcel Honore /
  • Linda Furuto and Hikianalia Captain Bob Perkins survey the ocean aboard the canoe. (Marcel Honore /
  • Me on Hikianalia. (Maui Tauotaha / Oiwi TV)
  • Captain Bob Perkins and I on board Hikianalia. (Maui Tauotaha / Oiwi TV)
Captain Bob Perkins and I on board Hikianalia. (Maui Tauotaha / Oiwi TV)
Captain Bob Perkins and I on board Hikianalia. (Maui Tauotaha / Oiwi TV)

So this is how the other half lives!

National Geographic explorer Daniel Lin and I swapped canoes for the journey back to Pago Pago, where our expedition should arrive sometime tomorrow.

Hikianalia is sailing along south-southeast late Monday morning at about five or six knots. An Emerson, Lake and Palmer tune wafts from the canoe’s communications hale, courtesy of Capt. Bob Perkins. The voyaging canoe that Hikianalia is supporting, Hōkūleʻa, is about a mile ahead.

But that distance is closing. Hikianalia is gaining on its sister canoe.

“Any two boats going in the same direction are racing,” Perkins quips later. While a part of him truly believes that, the vessel he commands will remain dutifully astern of Hōkūleʻa in its support capacity. Hikianalia’s job is to follow Hōkūleʻa’s course. And in this case, the canoes need to converge so that Perkins and Hōkūleʻa crew can try to solve some issues with the radio communication.

I ask crew member Nikki Kamalu if her older sister, apprentice navigator Lehua Kamalu, is navigating Hōkūleʻa to Pago Pago.

“I think so,” replies Nikki, also a student of navigation. “I kind of think it’s her because I have no idea where we’re going.” Those around crack up.

Hōkūleʻa sails off Hikianalia's starboard beam, as crews troubleshoot issues with the radio. (Marcel Honore /
Hōkūleʻa sails off Hikianalia’s starboard beam, as crews troubleshoot issues with the radio. (Marcel Honore /

It’s impossible to miss: These are two very different canoes, with two very different vibes — even as the crews and captains of Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia are equally knowledgeable, competent and hard-working.

The mood is generally more relaxed here on “Hiki” even as the crew stays busy.

Part of the difference can be traced to the canoes’ different designs. Hikianalia, completed in 2012, has a modern sensibility. There’s a small bathroom in the starboard hull, a freshwater pump dispenser, saltwater hoses — even small mattress in the hulls. It may not sound like much but out here even such basic creature comforts really change the experience.

Hōkūleʻa, the pioneering vessel built nearly 40 years ago, carries the name and the prestige … but none of those amenities. However, the flip-side is that on “Hoku” you feel slightly more connected to those voyagers who journeyed hundreds of years, thanks to the canoe’s more spartan lifestyle.

And that connection to the ancestors is kind of the whole point of this, right?

There’s also the watch schedule. For this leg, Hokule’a has been six hours on, six off. The canoe has a smaller crew of 10 or 11 people and needs sufficient hands on deck. Hikianalia’s crew works four hours on, eight off. It’s only two hours difference, but it helps the crews get a lot more rest.

There’s a bit more personal space on Hikianalia. Crews can retreat down pukas into the hulls or hide around the side of the hale on deck.

But look, this is no pleasure cruise: There is tons to get done on Hikianalia. The canoe doubles as the voyage’s science vessel, collecting samples out of the ocean water for analysis.

For the past two days, Hikianalia watch captains Brad Wong and Saki Uchida have trawled a special net behind the canoe to collect small marine debris samples, and send the results back to the voyage’s science liaison, Haunani Kane, back in Hawaii.

Then there’s ʻŌiwi TV senior editor Maui Tauotaha. He worries me. I’m scared he might be an alien because with the hours this guy works he is not human. Tauotaha is omnipresent with the camera, shooting video and stills that he feeds back to ʻŌiwi headquarters . I think I even saw him sleep once…

This crew has some interesting connections as well. Tauotaha’s Punahou classmate, Linda Furuto, is also aboard. Furuto is an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Hawaii, Mānoa. Both of them returned to Hawaii after years abroad, in part to reconnect with family.

Even though Hikianalia must follow Hōkūleʻa’s course, a group of four apprentices on Hikianalia practiced navigating to Swains, discussing exactly where they thought the two canoes were and where they needed to go and radioing in their findings to pwo (master) navigator Nainoa Thompson aboard Hōkūleʻa. Hikianalia apprentice navigator Kula Barbieto says the group came within hours of predicting the actual sighting of Swains.

Watch captain Ryan Hanohano is a magnetic presence aboard the wa’a, and he earned much of his sailing chops during a nine-month journey with Pacific Voyagers. By coincidence, Hikianalia’s Samoan crew member, Senio Masalo Falevaai, sailed with Hanohano on that same voyage. He quietly tells me he logged three straight years sailing on canoes designed like Hikianalia and it shows — he really seems at home on the sea.

These canoes may be different, but they’re connected in purpose and in quality of crew.

This entry can’t end without mentioning the coconut crab alfredo pasta that Hikianalia chef Keli Takenaga cobbled together last night with our leftovers from Swains Island. I may look like a hobo right now but I ate that meal and you didn’t.

The Hikianalia is a lot more equipped than the Hokulea. (Maui Tauotaha / Oiwi TV)
Me on Hikianalia. (Maui Tauotaha / Oiwi TV)
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