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Voyaging canoes leave Samoa for Tonga and New Zealand

    The voyaging canoe Hokule'a arrived at Swain's Island Friday.

After waiting nearly a week for the right weather to sail, crews aboard the Hokule’a and Hikianalia left the Samoan Islands on Thursday and launched the fourth leg of the Hawaii-based canoes’ around-the-world journey.

The two canoes departed Pago Pago Harbor after a lengthy local outreach campaign during which crews visited some 1,700 students across American Samoa, according to Polynesian Voyaging Society officials.

The latest leg of the worldwide voyage, dubbed Malama Honua ("Care for the Earth"), aims to take the canoes on a monthlong, approximately 1,100-mile journey through the South Pacific to New Zealand, with stops in Tonga and the Kermadec Islands along the way.

The Hokule’a’s previous visit to New Zealand took place 29 years ago, during its 1985-1987 Voyage of Rediscovery to retrace the migratory routes used by ancient Polynesian voyagers.

For this return trip, two of the society’s emerging navigators, Ka’iulani Murphy and Kaleo Wong, will guide the two canoes from aboard the Hokule’a. They’ll use only the stars, the swells, seabirds and other natural cues — all while keeping track of the vessels’ speed and course — to get the crews safely to their destination.

Murphy and Wong won’t use compasses or other modern instruments, and Hokule’a crew members typically relinquish any watches, smartphones or similar devices they have to the captain’s box. Anyone using iPads or computers to write and record while on board the canoe sets device clocks to remote time zones. Crews rely on the sun, moon and stars to keep track of the time and rotate their shifts.

Polynesian Voyaging Society leaders are using these early legs of the three-year, approximately 50,000-mile sail as critical training runs for the group’s younger navigators and apprentices, in an effort to pass along those skills and to sustain an ancient tradition that was on the verge of extinction just several decades ago. On the previous Samoa leg, Jenna Ishii became the first of a batch of 12 or so PVS apprentice navigators during the voyage to single-handedly guide the canoes to a tiny ocean landmark: Swains Island.

Meanwhile, crews used their time in port over the past several months to visit schools, community groups and dignitaries across the South Pacific as they look next year to bring the Hokule’a outside of the Pacific for the first time in the renowned canoe’s nearly 40-year history.

For the Tonga-New Zealand leg that’s now underway, master navigator Bruce Blankenfeld is captaining the Hokule’a. Bob Perkins, director of Honolulu Community College’s Marine Education and Training Center, is captaining the Hikianalia, which serves as the Hokule’a’s escort and the voyage’s science vessel.

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