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Hikianalia is headed home

After sailing nearly a year on the Malama Honua voyage, Hikianalia, above, is suspending its role as Hokule‘a’s escort vessel. A sailboat will take over Hikianalia’s job as Hokule‘a sails the Indian Ocean. Hikianalia will rejoin its sister vessel in the Pacific for the last stretch of the worldwide voyage.

Hikianalia, the support canoe that accompanied Hoku­le‘a during its first 11 months of the Malama Honua (“Care for the Earth”) voyage, is on its way home to Hawaii, where voyage leaders hope to involve more of the community in the worldwide sail.

The support vessel left Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday for Tahiti with a 15-member crew. Hokule‘a will leave for Australia at the end of the month — and leave the Pacific Ocean for the first time in its 40-year history.

The canoes landed in New Zealand together in November. Their crews have spent the past six months or so sailing around the nation’s coast and making dry-dock repairs ahead of Hokule‘a’s sailing into the unfamiliar, unpredictable Indian Ocean.

Polynesian Voyaging Society officials announced in December that Hikianalia would sail home early instead of venturing into the Indian Ocean. Hikianalia, a double-hulled vessel like its elder companion Hokule‘a, served admi­ra­bly as a science, safety, medical and communications hub, PVS officials

say. It was built in 2012 with a mix of traditional and modern technology, able to be powered by wind or sun.

However, Hokule‘a will require an escort capable of towing vast distances — and in a hurry — as a precaution against the volatility of the Indian Ocean, they add. That ocean is notorious for fast-moving unpredictable storms, plus high incidents of rogue waves, high-seas piracy and runaway ships, according to PVS President and Hoku­le‘a captain Nai­noa Thompson.

“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,” Thompson said in an email in December.

In Hikianalia’s place, the Gershon II, a sailboat specially equipped with power to tow at longer distances and faster speeds in an emergency, will escort Hokule‘a through the Indian Ocean. Under a revised sail plan, Hikianalia will eventually reunite with Hokule‘a in the Pacific during the last stretch of the Malama Honua voyage.

For now, PVS sees Hiki­analia’s return to Hawaii as an opportunity to open up the Malama Honua voyage on a new front, covering an additional 16,000 miles or so of sailing. They plan to bring community members aboard to serve as crew while the canoe spends the next year or so journeying around the islands.

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.

PVS further sees Hikinanalia’s sail home as an opportunity for several of the group’s apprentice wayfinding navigators to further hone their skills keeping a canoe on course over vast ocean distances.

Kalepa Baybayan, a “pwo” (master) navigator who’s served as a captain or first mate for almost the entire voyage so far, will captain Hikianalia to Tahiti. Bob Perkins, director of Honolulu Community College’s Marine Education and Training Center, will serve as captain for the final leg to Hawaii.

“I challenge the crew of 15 on Hikianalia, including myself, to dream big, to discover teamwork, and to learn to be better friends at the end of the trip than we were at the beginning,” Baybayan wrote in a message posted Tuesday on the PVS website. “I think we are up to that challenge.”

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