In a major course shift to the Hokule‘a’s journey around the world, the canoe’s escort vessel, the Hikianalia, will sail home early to Hawaii next year and be replaced by a boat capable of towing craft across vast ocean stretches, Polynesian Voyaging Society officials say.
The decision, which PVS leadership has weighed for the past several months, comes as crews prepare to sail the Hokule‘a outside of the Pacific for the first time in its nearly 40-year history. Next year it’ll head into the unfamiliar, volatile waters of the Indian Ocean.
In the Hikianalia’s place will be the Gershon, a 50-foot sailboat specially equipped with the power to tow at longer distances and faster speeds in an emergency, will sail with the Hokule‘a through the Indian and points beyond, PVS officials say.
Under the new plan, the Hokule‘a and Hikianalia would eventually reunite in the voyage’s final year, sailing together again when the Hokule‘a returns to the Pacific in 2017 via the Panama Canal.
“The bottom line for PVS is that the number one priority is safety. Our job is to take care of everyone and bring them home,” PVS President and Hokule‘a Capt. Nainoa Thompson said in an email. Bringing the Hikianalia back “doesnʻt mean that the voyage in terms of its mission will be diminished. In fact, we believe that it will be strengthened.”
The change comes as PVS leaders search for better ways to share the experience of the “Malama Honua” (“Care for Our Earth”) worldwide voyage with the community in Hawaii.
Right now the group mainly relies on its website, along with live Internet video chats and other virtual outreach efforts. But Thompson said that approach takes them only so far in bringing the voyage to life for students and residents in Hawaii.
Once the Hikianalia arrives back on Oahu in the spring, the PVS plans to keep the double-hulled voyaging canoe in the Hawaiian Islands for the year. During that time the canoe will sail solo as far north as the French Frigate Shoals and as far south as Loihi, a seamount off Hawaii island, officials say. It will also dock on Oahu during the school year so students can check it out, they added.
PVS officials now plan to use the Hikianalia to involve more of the community in the global voyage and to help train a new generation of long-distance voyagers and navigators. They say they see no “significant difference” in cost for the change.
The Hikianalia has performed “magnificently” on the voyage’s first 7,000 or so miles as a safety, science, medical and communications escort, Thompson said.
PVS officials say they knew that the Hikianalia could serve as the Hokule‘a’s escort vessel in the familiar waters of the Pacific, but they weren’t sure whether it could do the job in the Indian and South Atlantic, where crews are bracing for far more risk.
With its two solar-powered electric motors, the 72-foot-long Hikianalia is capable of towing the 60-foot-long Hokule‘a through the water for approximately 30 minutes in an emergency. The Gershon by comparison will be able to tow Hokule‘a for hundreds of miles if needed, Thompson said.
The canoe crews from Hawaii are preparing to deal with the Indian Ocean’s two hurricane seasons and five monsoon seasons, plus the ocean’s high incidents of rogue waves, high-seas piracy and potential encounters with ships that could require them to close the sails and tow the Hokule‘a in a hurry.
“You have these places of high risk, where you’ve got to get out of the way,” Thompson said.
The move nonetheless separates the Hokule‘a from a similar voyaging canoe that reflects the point of the Malama Honua voyage. The Hikianalia, with its mix of traditional and modern technology, was built in 2012 by underwater filmmaker and philanthropist Dieter Paulmann’s Okeanos Foundation to promote cleaner, more environmentally friendly ways to travel across the sea.
On any given leg of the worldwide voyage so far, which has stretched from Hawaii to New Zealand, the Hikianalia’s approximately 15-member crew has kept extremely busy escorting the Hokule‘a, collecting scientific data from the ocean and transmitting images and media of their journey from the canoe’s communications hale.
However, PVS officials say that splitting up the canoes will allow them to cover an additional 16,000 miles or so of ocean during the voyage — visiting places they wouldn’t have before, such as the Austral Islands on the way back from New Zealand. The decision also gives more people with less sailing experience a chance to serve as crew, they add, because Hikianalia won’t be venturing into the Indian Ocean.
“While separated, they have the ability to double the stories,” Thompson said. “The real trick for us is to mix the two.”
State Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said she’s excited at having the Hikianalia return. Internet outreach from the voyage has worked OK so far, “but there’s nothing like having the actual vessel in front of you and being able to see it,” she said. Exactly how students would engage with the Hikianalia is still in the works, she added.
The canoes were always envisioned to split up in 2016 and have one of the canoes journey east to Europe. The Hokule‘a is still slated to make that European visit, PVS officials say.
They’re also looking at ways to outfit the Hokule‘a with some of the communications equipment that’s currently used aboard Hikianalia, such as the satellite dish installed at that canoe’s stern to transmit images, video and other media from the voyage back to Hawaii, Thompson said.
When the Hikianalia has finished its year in Hawaii, crews plan to sail it north to the North Pacific Gyre to research the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, then head east for the U.S. West Coast, where it will begin to make its way south to meet the Hokule‘a in Panama.
“She has done everything we have asked her to do in the Pacific and we are very, very proud of her,” Thompson said of the Hikianalia.