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Hokule‘a returns to its origin to say ‘mahalo’

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    Crew change the sail before voyaging canoe Hokule‘a departs the Marine Education Training Center (METC) at Sand Island to begin the Mahalo, Hawai’i Sail on Wednesday.


    Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, talked with crew and fans Wednesday aboard the Hokule‘a at Sand Island before it departed the Marine Education Training Center.


    Nainoa Thompson gives a press conference along with Captain Archie Kalepa before voyaging canoe Hokule‘a departs the Marine Education Training Center (METC) at Sand Island to begin the Mahalo, Hawai’i Sail on Wednesday.

Two months after safely returning from what the University of Hawaii’s president called an “audacious, bold and slightly crazy” voyage around the world, the Hokule‘a is venturing back to where it all began.

The traditional Polynesian canoe replica left Sand Island on Wednesday afternoon for Maui’s Honolua Bay, kicking off its “Mahalo Hawaii” statewide sail.

During the next six months, its crews, led by the Oahu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, aim to thank communities for supporting the Malama Honua (“Care for the Earth”) Worldwide Voyage and see how they can support local conservation efforts.

The Hokule‘a and its escort vessel, the Hikianalia, will visit 37 ports, sail some 5,000 nautical miles and try to reach about a third of all schoolchildren in Hawaii under the PVS plan.

“In my personal opinion, it’s the most important leg,” PVS President Nainoa Thompson said during a news conference Wednesday. Behind him, a volunteer crew mostly from Maui raised spars onto the masts, tightened the lines, and loaded supplies onto the canoe ahead of departure.

Honolua is where the Hokule‘a departed in 1976 for its first long-distance voyage to Tahiti. Later this week, crews are slated to join more than 1,200 Kamehameha Schools students and other volunteers to plant 1,000 native Hawaii trees above the Puu Kukui Watershed Preserve near the bay, sail officials said.

Archie Kalepa, a veteran Maui waterman and big-wave surfer, said it’s part of an effort to eventually plant 4,000 native trees there, including 2,000 koa trees.

“We know today that we can voyage,” said Kalepa, who crewed on some of the riskiest Malama Honua voyage legs and will captain the Hokule‘a this week to Honolua.

“(But) we have yet to begin to learn from the ground up, from mauka to makai, what can we do to better preserve this place for futures to come,” he added.

On June 17, tens of thousands of spectators welcomed the Hokule‘a home after its three-year journey circumnavigating the globe. The Malama Honua voyage aimed to raise awareness for better protection of the world’s marine resources and its indigenous cultures.

During various legs, the Hawaii-based crews faced the threat of piracy, rogue waves, hurricanes, man-overboard emergencies and other dangers — but Thompson has said he believes it would have been riskier to keep the canoes “tied to the dock” and done nothing.

“We’re ground-zero for climate change, and the pulling together of Pacific Islanders through voyaging is something that hasn’t happened through the more formal governmental forums,” added University of Hawaii President David Lassner, who addressed local media gathered at Sand Island on Wednesday.

The university system, along with Hawaii’s private and public schools, partnered with PVS throughout the voyage to try to apply the experiences aboard the canoe to the classroom.

The Pacific deep-sea voyaging revival in recent decades “is something that unites us,” Lassner added.

PVS plans to use the following general schedule for its mahalo sail:

>> August and September: Maui (Honolua), Oahu (Haleiwa) and Kauai

>> October: Hawaii island and Maui (Hana)

>> November: Maui (Maalaea/­Wailea), Lanai and Molokai

>> Late-November to mid-December: Windward Oahu

>> January: Leeward, east and south Oahu

The sail will allow PVS and Hawaii’s broader ‘Ohana Wa‘a (“Canoe Family”) Hawai‘i coalition to “better understand how can we as a voyaging family help serve in the future,” Thompson said.

After several days moored at Honolua, the Hokule‘a is slated to return to Oahu for nine days — and perhaps longer — so that crews and sail organizers can rest and plan further, he added.

“I don’t think any of us anticipated the exhaustion from the worldwide voyage,” he said Wednesday. “We’re going to take whatever it takes for us to get strong and healthy and focused again. Right now, people are just tired.”

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