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‘Old friends’ lead Hokule‘a to Mauritius

  • The 11-member crew of the Hokule‘a enjoyed a rela- tively smooth sail from Bali, Indonesia, to Port Louis in Mauritius. The next leg of the voyage will carry the canoe to Madagascar, and then the east coast of Africa.
The 11-member crew of the Hokule‘a enjoyed a rela- tively smooth sail from Bali, Indonesia, to Port Louis in Mauritius. The next leg of the voyage will carry the canoe to Madagascar, and then the east coast of Africa.
The 11-member crew of the Hokule‘a enjoyed a rela- tively smooth sail from Bali, Indonesia, to Port Louis in Mauritius. The next leg of the voyage will carry the canoe to Madagascar, and then the east coast of Africa.

After sailing more than 4,000 miles and 30 days across unfamiliar sea, Hokule‘a and an 11-member crew have wrapped the first of two momentous legs through the Indian Ocean — which voyage organizers consider the riskiest stretch of the Hawaiian canoe’s multiyear journey around the world.

Other than the global sail’s first reported man-overboard (and safe recovery), Hokule‘a captain and lead navigator Bruce Blankenfeld said the crew was in good health and had a relatively smooth sail from Bali, Indonesia, to Port Louis in the tiny island nation of Mauritius, where the canoe docked along with its escort vessel, Gershon II.

“We had our share of squalls and stuff but nothing too crazy,” Blankenfeld said by satellite phone Tuesday at Port Louis, as the crew worked on the canoe. Despite the region’s myriad hurricane and monsoon seasons, “it turned out to be a blessing on the weather and everything,” he said.

“We had some bad weather, we had some serious weather — nothing Hokule‘a hasn’t faced” before, Blankenfeld added.

Inconsistent, erratic swell patterns in the Indian Ocean did make the traditional noninstrument navigation used to guide the canoe tricky, Blankenfeld said. At the same time, Hokule‘a held a mostly straight course across, with only gradual changes in latitude. Thus, there weren’t many changes to the night sky’s starry pattern that Blankenfeld and an apprentice used to help navigate, he added.

“They’re all old friends and old stars,” Blankenfeld said of the patterns he used to navigate. Hokule‘a has now traveled nearly 18,000 miles since it left Hilo in May 2014 for its sail around the world.

Replacing Hokule‘a’s former escort, the canoe Hikianalia, with the Gershon II, also proved to be a good move during the predawn man-overboard early in the leg, Blankenfeld said.

The Gershon II is a sailboat that can motor when needed. Its motor, which is stronger than Hikianalia’s, allowed Gershon to move more powerfully and purposefully to where the person had fallen in the ocean, Blankenfeld said. Organizers of Hokule‘a’s Malama Honua, or Care for the Earth, voyage have anticipated that statistically they’ll experience at least two or three man-overboards, given the sailing distance. Blankenfeld said the crew’s training resulted in a textbook retrieval of the man who fell over.

“Of course, it always catches you by surprise,” he said.

The canoe and its escort now head into another risky leg, starting later this month or early October, depending on the weather. It will depart Mauritius for Madagascar and then a potentially perilous crossing to the eastern coast of Africa, where a strong current and bad weather can make it “really dangerous” and “really rough, really quickly — super tough,” Blankenfeld said. “You’ve got to pick your weather really well.”

Nainoa Thompson, a fellow master navigator and the first Hawaiian of the modern age to navigate without instruments to Tahiti from the Hawaiian Islands, will skipper Hokule‘a on the upcoming leg.

As the worldwide voyage settles into its second year, “what’s really happening is that some of these navigators are getting so many reps in, that they’re really internalizing the navigation steps to their own thinking” — and honing their craft, said Na‘alehu Anthony, a crew member on the leg that just wrapped up.

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