The legendary Hawaiian canoe Hokulea is set to embark on a historic round-the-world trip setting out from Oahu. The double-hulled 3-sail vessel was built in the 1970’s using traditional Polynesian boat designs and has become an icon for Native Hawaiian culture. It will set out on what is planned to be a 3-year journey covering 47,000 miles with stops in as many as 85 ports on six continents.
The challenge will be daunting. The crew has been trained in part by Pius “Mau” Piailug, who is one of the very few people in the world to have specialized in the art of traditional Polynesian navigation. The crew will rely on only the wind to propel the 62-foot vessel and the stars and its rudder to guide it through the high seas of the southern hemisphere. Many of these navigational secrets were passed on orally to the apprentice, oddly enough in the form of song. Very little was written. These skills included the understanding of various stars and their motion and how they would set in the horizon and how the weather affected different parts of the ocean. The observation of the wildlife was also noted as to the migration of birds and their movements between the many South Pacific islands. The movements of the ocean and its currents together with cloud formations and their colors were pivotal as well. All of these observations of nature provided the navigators with the only clues they would have to be able find their way.
Hokulea is not built with screws, nails, welded joints or any of the other more standard methods of holding components together. It is largely held together using rope and other elements that are consistent with the traditional art of canoe making. Many of the South Pacific islands had their own secrets for canoe and outrigger canoe construction and the different tribes of the islands were not always keen to share such secrets.
History has noted that threads of languages from as far away as Taiwan made their way to South Pacific islands such as Tonga and Samoa, which eventually found their way to Hawaii as well. This is a clear indication that the sailors at that time were able to develop tremendous navigational skills; and it is the use of these skills that the crew of the Hokulea plan to put on show for us to witness as they circulate the globe.
The Hokulea will be accompanied in its journey by a modern sister canoe called the Hikianalia, which will be equipped with modern technology that will be able to transmit around the world the progress of the Hokulea. The voyage will be documented for educational purposes so that students for all over the world will be able to witness this ancient navigational art together with the experiments that will be performed and the data that is collected.
Money is naturally a very important issue for such an undertaking. As much as $30 million will be needed for the 3 year voyage, much coming from corporate sponsors and private donations.
So let’s hope that we all are able to learn something new about the nearly lost art of Hawaiian and Polynesian canoe sailing. Bon Voyage!