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Journey’s end: Hokule‘a’s mission to protect and teach a new generation will continue


    The world awaits her.


    Nainoa Thompson:

    “I sense that people think we are home, but we’re not. The most mistakes are made in the last mile when you let down your guard.”


    “Our job when we get home is not to be the lead. It’s not … to find the elements of sustainability because people are already doing it. Our job is to connect them. It’s to build the relationships.”

    Nainoa Thompson

    Master navigator, pictured above Wednesday aboard the Hikianalia, which is docked at the Marine Education Training Center off Sand Island

After two and a half years sailing around the planet, the Hokule‘a is almost home — but its journey and mission are far from over, says Nainoa Thompson.

Some of the Hawaiian voyaging canoe’s hardest sailing still lies ahead en route to Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. Finding that remote speck of land in the vast Pacific remains one of the toughest challenges for any traditional navigator. There’s also still much work left to train Hokule‘a’s next generation of navigators and captains.

And Thompson, a pwo (master) navigator and president of the Oahu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, says the group won’t know if its Malama Honua (“care for the earth”) worldwide sail succeeded in spurring more action against climate change, runaway pollution and other environmental hurdles until the canoe and its crew return safely to Hawaii.

“I sense that people think we are home, but we’re not,” Thompson said Wednesday as he sat in the shade aboard the Hokule‘a’s occasional escort vessel, the similarly double-hulled Hikianalia, now at Sand Island. “The most mistakes are made in the last mile when you let down your guard.”

He added: “We’re driving up physical training. We’re making everybody get their medicals. No mistakes. We’re working really hard for the last segment, to make sure we do it right.”

The 3,000-mile sail into the wind from the Panama Canal to Easter Island and re-entry into the Polynesian Triangle this month will be Thompson’s last leg of the voyage, he said.

For the next six months and final seven legs of Malama Honua — a journey back into the open ocean through the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia — he and other veteran voyagers aim to step back and let a new generation of captains and navigators get the canoe home to Hawaii.

Longtime Hokule‘a captains such as Bruce Blankenfeld and Kalepa Baybayan will pass their duties to experienced crew members such as Keahi Omai, a longtime Honolulu police officer, and veteran Maui waterman Archie Kalepa. Ka‘iulani Murphy, a Honolulu Community College instructor, will serve as the lead navigator from Tahiti to Hawaii, Thompson said.

Meanwhile, apprentices such as Haunani Kane, a University of Hawaii geology and geophysics graduate student; Jason Patterson; and Lehua Kamalu will use the remaining legs to hone their skills using the stars, waves and other natural cues to navigate across hundreds of miles of ocean wilderness.

The navigation apprentices also must be willing to be community leaders back on land, Thompson said.

“This younger generation has got to step up to be the voice,” he said. “It’s going to matter to young people to see other young people are so successful and world-class.”

When the Hokule‘a returns to Oahu, in addition to a large celebration planned at Magic Island, a “graduation” ceremony for the apprentices featuring cultural protocols will occur at Kualoa, Thompson said.

The voyaging society also plans to sail the canoe, a more than 40-year-old replica of traditional Polynesian sailing vessels, to 29 ports across Hawaii this year and next year to thank the communities for their support — as well as to get a better sense of the local efforts to protect the islands’ environment.

“Our job when we get home is not to be the lead,” Thompson said Wednesday. “It’s not … to find the elements of sustainability because people are already doing it. Our job is to connect them. It’s to build the relationships.”

Since May 2014, Hokule‘a volunteer crews have steered the vessel through some of the world’s riskiest places to sail, including the Indian Ocean and the South African coast, to help advance the Malama Honua mission.

Crews met twice with former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — first in Apia, Samoa, in 2014 and then in New York City in 2016. From the first meeting, they secured a pledge to better protect the world’s oceans prior to the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement to curb climate change.

They’ve also collected 11 declarations by governments and nongovernmental organizations for marine protection along the route, according to the voyaging society. This includes a collective of dozens of Hawaii public agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses and schools that signed the legally nonbinding “Promise to Pae‘aina” — a pledge to better manage the state’s marine resources.

But the larger political climate that Hokule‘a faces on its return journey — as it sails against stiff winds and waves toward Easter Island — is different from the one it saw when it left Hilo in 2014. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has indicated he might somehow upend the Paris climate deal, a treaty that reflects the stated values of Hokule‘a’s Malama Honua voyage.

Thompson said he can’t worry about the shifting politics. In the canoe’s journey of more than 35,000 miles so far, its crews have encountered thousands of people concerned with protecting the environment for future generations, he said.

“What we’re finding is there’s another culture out there. … It has nothing to do with race, it has nothing to do with the boundaries of geography, it has nothing to do with political systems,” Thompson said while sitting aboard Hikianalia. The double-hulled vessel will soon depart Sand Island to rejoin Hokule‘a in the Marquesas Islands and escort her on the journey home.

“It’s a culture that’s global. It’s about values; it’s about caring; it’s about compassion and kindness,” he added. “The more that the political system is (what) we would define as adverse, the more you’ve got to sail. I don’t like the political climate and culture that I see, but I never did. Not that I don’t care, but that’s not going to stop this community from doing what it believes in.”

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      • To me, the voyage proves that one can navigate the seas using the stars with the occasional help of compasses, GPS, portable radios, processed foods/water and backup vessels in case of trouble. Also changes of fresh crews along the way helped. What did it accomplish? Not much except for making some polynesian feel good but did nothing to prove the point of their heroic warriors surviving only on rainwater and fish/birds caught along the way and navigating on by stars. Cynical? Yes,

        • You are not being cynical. As Ken writes below, the point has been made about early navigation. And Allie is correct in the sense that use of technology is “for the best.” Any loss of life at this point would be absolutely senseless. There are some, however, who suggest that the name of the organization should be changed to Polynesian Towing Society, because of the dependence on fuel-burning Gershon to get Hokulea to its next speaking engagement. Cynical? No.

  • Do hope National Geographic or similar will do a tv documentary on this latest voyage for the world to witness. Thompson has always been a class act, a true native of Hawaii.

  • In the 1960s & 1970s, UH Professor Ben Finney had a dream, called the Hokulea. He brought together the National Geographic’s Society, Mau Piailug, Herb Kane, and several close friends.

    Nainoa Thompson became Mau Piailug’s apprentice & protege. He would carry on UH Professor Ben Finney’s dream, from his Harvard University days.

    The Hokulea has made Hawaiian history forever. In the past, the astral navigational skills of all Polynesians, was labeled as alleged. It is no longer an alleged skill and legend.

    Hopefully, a new generation will step up to the plate.

  • “Hokule’a’s mission will continue.” Yes, of course it will. Forever. Polynesian Voyaging Society has become a large business/bureaucracy spending millions of dollars, including tax dollars from all U.S. taxpayers, appropriated by Congress. Such an institution always wants to keep going forever. The original purpose of Hokule’a was to prove that navigation by the stars was possible. That mission was finished after the first few voyages. Done. Nowadays the canoes are well equipped with fancy electronics as we know from seeing all those live-streamed films and the public-relations charts showing their daily locations. But the bureaucracy lives on from generation to generation. And the only way to keep it going is to dream up new purposes — new reasons for existing.

    I hope Congress will stop appropriating tax dollars to the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Let it operate with private donations from individuals and philanthropic groups. Its future should be like the Boy Scouts / Girl Scouts; but focused on environmental values with a Hawaiian twist. They need to set up a system of merit badges to give public awards and status to young people for particular achievements; plus a career ladder for the bureaucrats who run the business and public relations operations. Otherwise PVS will wither and die, because there’s nothing left to prove. Its mission is now to be a cheerleader for worldwide environmental sustainability (there are thousands of organizations already doing that) and for so-called “Hawaiian values.” It’s like a shark — it must keep swimming or else it will die.

    • ….and to teach new generations of navigators and captains are important to maintain knowledge and learning navigation by the stars. The next generation and the next, and the next……learning to harvest the sea , without over doing it, to help sustained life and humanity.

      • I know what the propagandists claim “Hawaiian values” are. If you remove the Hawaiian words in the names of the Hawaiian values and focus on the descriptions, they are the same values all good people worldwide strive to implement and seldom succeed. “Eradication” however knows nothing about Hawaiian values, because if he/she did, he/she would never say such a hateful thing about someone he/she has never met. The name “Eradication” says a lot about the attitude of the person behind it.


    “…the group won’t know if its Malama Honua (“care for the earth”) worldwide sail succeeded in spurring more action against climate change, runaway pollution and other environmental hurdles…”

    It is a shame that the voyage is not only sponsored by the state’s largest climate polluter, Hawaiian Airlines, but it has not included any process for purchasing carbon offsets for the many long-haul flights by crew members, family and support staff. This means the voyage has had a huge carbon footprint.

    So far, this has also been a lost opportunity that undercuts the meaning and integrity of this extraordinary project.

    Just think of the impact a local carbon offset purchasing system could have on improving Hawaii’s forests and watersheds, and the educational impact this could have on the nearly 100 million visitors who will fly to and from Hawaii in the coming decade.

    Imagine the multiplier effect these visitors could have in sharing sustainable attitudes and ideas back in their home communities.

    Now imagine what people would think about the Malama Honua voyage and Hawaii in general if more and more become aware that the massive carbon footprint of the WWV and our Airline industry was ignored.

    Please, Nainoa, seize this opportinity before the voyage is over.

    Sen Mike Gabbard is interested in introducing a bill or resolution supporting a system to facilitate air travelers purchasing local carbon offsets in reforestation projects.

    Please contact his office.

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