Hokule'a forced to delay voyage
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer
A collapsed mast on its escort boat, combined with concerns about Hurricane Jimena and North Pacific storms, has delayed until next year the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule'a's expedition through all the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
But the canoe may make a shorter trip starting late next week, once the threat from the hurricane has passed.
"We decided it would be best to keep her in the harbor until the hurricane passes," said Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, who was scheduled to serve as captain during the voyage.
Society officials were scrambling yesterday to try to save a portion of the voyage the visit by Hawaiian cultural practitioners to the islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana. If details can be worked out, the canoe could leave next week and still carry out that part of the voyage.
Even if that doesn't work out, Hokule'a might still make a voyage from O'ahu to Kaua'i, then Nihoa, returning to the south of Ni'ihau and back to Kaua'i and O'ahu.
"We can't stop sailing," Thompson said. "The canoe's in top shape. We are keeping our mission in mind; we are just changing course."
Hokule'a is a 60-foot replica of a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe. Many of its parts are of modern materials, but it was designed to perform like traditional canoes.
The vessel was launched in 1975 and has more than 90,000 sea miles under its twin hulls.
During its 28 years, after a maiden voyage to Tahiti, it has visited the most distant islands of Polynesia including Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and dozens of islands in between.
Those were voyages of discovery, with a mission to prove that Polynesians in canoes could have purposefully voyaged to and from all of Polynesia and had the capability rejected by many early European analysts to effectively navigate without European instruments such as sextants and timepieces.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society's mission now altered from one of discovery to education using the canoe as a platform to excite Hawai'i's children about learning, their environment and culture. The name for the new mission is Navigating Change.
Hokule'a's proposed voyage to the coral reefs and remote rocks and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was designed to help people see the potential for restoring the environment of the main Hawaiian Islands.
During the past two years, Hokule'a has undergone an extensive drydock, during which its hulls have been strengthened and its fittings upgraded. It has new canvas, upgraded solar-powered electrical systems, new lashings and new safety gear. Teams of volunteers have been sanding, painting, testing equipment and training on board. And ultimately, it was not Hokule'a that caused the latest disruption.
The 70-foot ketch Excaliper, which was to escort Hokule'a on the 2,400-mile round trip from O'ahu to Kure Atoll, was on sea trials off O'ahu on Thursday when a mast collapsed. "A turnbuckle failed and the mast came down," Thompson said.
Then came word of the possible hurricane.
Delaying the canoe's voyage for more than a week or two is not an option, he said, because winter storms in the North Pacific will soon create swells that could endanger the few safe anchorages of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
"There was risk of not getting to islands because of the north swell," Thompson said. "We met with all the partners, and the consensus was to do it right."
A preliminary proposal is to move the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands sail to May 2004, after most North Pacific storms and before hurricane season starts. But the canoe would add trips through the main Hawaiian Islands, focusing on areas where there are particular problems with the marine environment, and places where people are trying innovating solutions.
Thompson said a key feature of the last-minute arrangements was to determine whether the cultural group's boat, the Marimed Foundation vessel Makani Olu a 96-foot, three-masted, staysail schooner could serve as Hokule'a's escort boat on a voyage to Nihoa and Mokumanamana. The schooner is at Kaua'i.
If not, the Polynesian Voyaging Society has escort boats available that can accompany the canoe as far as Nihoa which lies about 150 miles west of Kaua'i but not farther.
Polynesian Voyaging Society executive director Pat Duarte said the final decision about when and where to go would be made during the coming week.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at email@example.com or (808) 245-3074.