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Hokule‘a makes landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands

  • COURTESY POLYNESIAN VOYAGING SOCIETY

    A rainbow curved over the Hokule‘a as the voyaging canoe and its crew sailed to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Hokule‘a arrived Sunday morning at St. John, the latest stop on its three-year worldwide tour.

The crew of the Hokule‘a arrived at St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sunday morning, marking the latest stop on the Hawaiian voyaging canoe’s three-year worldwide tour.

It was the canoe’s first landing at a U.S. territory since leaving Pago Pago, American Samoa, in October 2014. The 12-person crew left Natal, Brazil, on the east coast of South America, on Feb. 12 as part of the “Malama Honua,” or “taking care of the earth,” journey around the globe, led by the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Brad Wong, apprentice navigator on the Hokule‘a, said the crew had excellent sailing conditions during the 2,400-mile voyage northwest. Winds grew slight only after reaching the Caribbean Sea, Wong said in a video posted to the Hokule‘a’s website Sunday.

He said the crew was in good spirits, having experienced good teamwork and camaraderie during the journey.

The crew also had several “na ho‘ailona,” or favorable signs on the water.

“Most notably, a noio bird that followed us almost the whole way from Brazil to the Caribbean,” he said. “He would sleep on the canoe every night.”

He said the crew saw a “special” full night rainbow, or moonbow, Saturday night before reaching the Virgin Islands.

“We are now here and happy to finally see land,” he said. “We’re looking forward to connecting with a lot of the local people.”

During their stay in the Virgin Islands, the crew will visit the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park on St. John, where crew member Heidi Guth’s father worked as a ranger for years.

Guth, who grew up in the Virgin Islands and who is also the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s chief operating officer, said in a news release that returning to her childhood hometown with the Hokule‘a during the centennial of the National Park Service and the 60th anniversary of the Virgin Islands National Park is an “unbelievable dream.”

“I’m also excited about the opportunity to share and exchange ideas on caring for each of our coastal homes, our oceans, and our Island Earth,” she said.

Other plans for the crew include participating in outreach opportunities with the Virgin Islands National Park and the Coral Reef National Monument.

On Thursday, weather permitting, the crew will leave for Moskito Island in the British Virgin Islands. British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who owns Moskito Island, invited the canoe and its crew, said Polynesian Voyaging Society spokeswoman Sonja Swenson Rogers.

She said she didn’t know whether the crew would meet with Branson, but said Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson knows Branson as both are members of OceanElders, a group of leaders joined together to conserve and protect the ocean and its wildlife.

The canoe’s next crew will depart Honolulu on Tuesday and will sail the vessel on toward Florida. The Hokule‘a is expected to reach Florida by March 26 and arrive in New York by June 8 to participate in United Nations World Oceans Day.

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  • I lived in Boston for 20 years, 1972-1992. In mid-April there was a school vacation week. For at least half of those years my ex and I spent that week in a tent at the U.S. National Park campground in Cinnamon Bay on St. John (the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands). To get there we flew Boston to San Juan, then a very small plane to St. Thomas (largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands), maybe ten passengers, where we had to be weighed to assign seating for a balanced load — one time it was a sea plane with pontoons and a water landing at St. Thomas harbor. Then a jitney to Red Hook village at eastern end of St. Thomas, then a barge about a mile to St. John island, then a jitney or cab for a couple miles to the campground. So beautiful. At night we could hear the gentle waves lapping on the beach perhaps 50 yards from the tent, while the mongooses scurried around through the jungle. Or take a walk on the beach looking at a sky filled with a solid carpet of stars. The campground had a very small cafeteria, and a store that sold the essentials including Coca Cola and also Cruzan rum for $2.00 per fifth (think Cuba Libre). Our first year there was one of the first years of “Earthday” and the local folks sent cars to recruit people to take us to walk 2-mile segments of the road that went all the way around the very small island, to pick up trash. One year there was a huge downpour — 18 inches of rain in a single night — washed out some of the tents and part of the road. Splendid snorkeling at Trunk Bay, the next bay about a one mile walk along an extremely steep road. Very few people went there; often we were the only ones. Trunk Bay had zero services except a portapotty. A small elongated island in the middle of the bay had its outer end very near an underwater dropoff “wall” with an extremely steep slope where sharks, barracudas, groupers, etc. could be seen far below. The shallow waters in the bay were filled with more small tropical fish than Hanauma, great variety, parrot fish chomping on the coral with their teeth making scraping sounds easy to hear.

  • Have been following their journey periodically and marvel at the crew’s tenacity to travel the great lengths in an open vessel. Often wonder about each others privacy issues or space travelling in such closed quarters? When off-duty, if there is such a time, what do you do?

    • “Private” quarters are in-line, head-to-toe along each hull, covered by tarp. Just large enough to lay down and hold personal items. “Restroom” is ocean out back with curtain, bucket, and salt water soap. Shifts are like any other vessel, unless conditions warrant “all hands.” Off-duty is up to each individual.

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