Sailing on Hōkūleʻa

Yesterday I finally got my chance for an overnight sail on Hōkūleʻa. Since coming out of dry dock, Hōkūleʻa has been under sail constantly, going around Oʻahu and traveling to the neighbor islands as well to make sure all old and prospective crew members start getting sailing experience. Last week I went for a mid afternoon sail on Hōkū and by the time we came back to shore about 3 hours later, I could barely contain my seasickness. It did not leave me immediately enthusiastic about going out again, but having always wanted to be on Hōkūleʻa in the middle of the sea during the night, I signed up. First thing I did was borrow a prescription ear patch that helps with seasickness. I am happy to report that in spite of a very dry mouth, which is one of the side effects of the patch, it worked beautifully, and that made all the difference between being miserable and thoroughly enjoying the awe of being on open ocean.

Hōkūleʻa is scheduled to set sail next March on her first leg of the World Wide Voyage. At the end of this month, she comes out of the water for drydock again, this time to finish various things that didn’t get done during the last dry dock as well as to prepare the canoe for this immense journey. Hence the rush to train crew members, although final crew selection for the voyage won’t be made for another few months.

Sailing on Hōkūleʻa 2My purpose for wanting to sail on this small double hulled canoe was to gain insights into the lives of my seafaring ancestors. Pollution has certainly destroyed much of the land and even the shoreline over the years, but out in the deep blue sea, I’m pretty sure that not much has changed, at least relative to non-instrument sailing. Currents, winds and stars continue to provide accurate clues for navigation. I wanted to feel what it may have been like for the Polynesians who traveled from the Marquesas to Hawaiʻi in ancient times. Some archaeologists believe settlers arrived as the third century, long before the migration voyages from Tahiti in the 1300s.

Hōkūleʻa is 62 feet long and 20 feet wide. Not a huge platform on which to be standing with a dozen or more other people while currents and wind pushed the double hulled canoe every which way through the night. Nor is she very high off the water. Every once in awhile I got sprayed from a wave breaking over the canoe while I slept inside a hull while the canoe pitched and bobbed. The water wasn’t cold as we are in the tropics, so it was more startling than anything else. Rather than trying to sleep, though, I wanted to be on deck, where the night sky was incredibly bright with stars, especially after the moon set. What a privilege to step into this world. I have no doubt that I was seeing what the earliest ancestors saw as they followed the stars from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi, relying on Hōkūleʻa, or Arcturus, once they crossed into the northern hemisphere, to guide them to Hawaiʻi.

Our 15 hour trip tacking back and forth across the waters outside the south shore of O’ahu was everything I could have hoped for. The message of aloha and protecting the land and seas that Hōkūleʻa will carry with her as she sails around the world is visionary and powerful, and what an honor it is to be part of this huge adventure.


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