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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 3, 2004

Recovering the seafaring tradition of Hawai'i

Crew members of the Hokule'a and its escort boat took part in an 'awa ceremony at Sand Island yesterday afternoon. The canoe left Sand Island last night, bound for Kaua'i.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

 •  Map: The Hokule'a's long journey

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

The voyaging canoe Hokule'a sailed into the darkness last night to begin a historic voyage up and down the Hawaiian archipelago, on a new environmental and cultural mission called "Navigating Change."

Mike Taylor of Kailua was among those participating in yesterday's 'awa ceremony. The latest voyage of the Hokule'a includes five legs and 120 crew members.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It's 4,000 miles, four months, five legs and 160 crew members," said Nainoa Thompson, master navigator and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Crews of the various legs participated in a traditional 'awa ceremony yesterday afternoon at Honolulu Community College's Marine Education and Training Center, followed by a fund-raising event for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which operates the Hokule'a.

The canoe was navigating by the stars across the Ka'ie'iewaho Channel to Hanalei Bay on Kaua'i. They are expected to arrive in Hanalei about midday today under the command of captain and navigator Bruce Blankenfeld. Most of the O'ahu-to-Kaua'i crew will get off, to be replaced by a second crew for the sail to the leeward islands.

Thompson will serve as captain and Blankenfeld as sailing master for the leg from Kaua'i to the leeward, or Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, to Kure Atoll — the most distant point in the chain — which lies more than 1,200 miles west-northwest of Hanalei Bay and almost 1,600 miles from Hilo, Hawai'i.

The Hokule'a will leave Hanalei on Saturday and head for its first stop, Nihoa Island. Navigation to the first two islands will be by noninstrument techniques employed by navigator Ka'iulani Murphy, 25. Beyond that, Thompson said, the canoe's crew will use noninstrument techniques on the open ocean, but will use satellite navigation as they approach the hazardous reefs of coral islands that are difficult to see from a distance.

It is important to reinvolve the people of Hawai'i in knowing and understanding the leeward islands, said semiretired University of Hawai'i anthropologist Ben Finney, who helped launch the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Hokule'a.

"This is really part of Hawai'i's history that has been lost," Finney said.

As of Friday, 60 classrooms throughout the state had signed up to participate in satellite phone discussions with the canoe while it is on its voyage.

Camille Kalama of Kailua greets Keoni Kuoha of Waimanalo after the 'awa ceremony for the Hokule'a at Sand Island. The Hokule'a crew is expected to reach Kaua'i about midday today.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Beyond Nihoa is the rocky island Mokumanamana, and beyond that, nearly 1,000 miles of rocks, reefs, atolls and low coral islands. Scientists describe the region as containing some of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the world, full of unique communities of marine life, millions of nesting seabirds and broad expanses of sand, coral and coralline algae reef and pale blue waters.

The Hokule'a, which was launched in 1975, has for most of its existence had a mission of rediscovering ancient Polynesian sailing routes and developing noninstrument navigational techniques like those used by prehistoric Hawaiian and other Polynesian sailors. With this voyage, the canoe adds "Navigating Change" — the mission of protecting the islands and reefs it visits.

"Our focus has always been about raising islands out of the sea, but then, what about the issue of taking care of them?" Thompson said.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society has worked with a long list of government, educational, scientific and cultural partners in developing its new educational mission, which includes a detailed teachers' curriculum. Learn more at the Web site, www.navigatingchange.org.

"It's about the protection of our island home," Thompson said. "Navigating Change is premised on the idea that the main Hawaiian Islands are changing, but the change hasn't been good.

"We're compromising our coral reefs, and to some degree, the ocean is a mirror that reflects the well-being of the islands ... but there are solutions. I don't want to project just doom, but hope. There are agencies doing good work and there are communities doing good work.

"The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands give us an ecological benchmark we can work for. I don't think it's reasonable to expect the main Hawaiian reefs to become like the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But the baseline should at least express this: Stop the decline."

The canoe will stop at each of the islands and atolls, and the crew has been granted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permission to go ashore on four of them: Tern Island at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Kure Atoll and Midway Atoll.

At Midway, most of the crew will be replaced by a crew that will take the canoe back to Kaua'i without stopping along the way. Another crew change there will put a youthful crew aboard for a long voyage to Hilo, which will involve sailing to just north of the Equator and tacking back north to find the Big Island.

This leg is a kind of passing of the navigational baton. None of the most veteran Hokule'a crew members will be aboard. Russell Amimoto will serve as captain and Ka'iulani Murphy as the lone navigator, sailing for the first time without one of the older generation of sailors for backup. Most or all of the crew members will be younger than the canoe they're sailing.

"The old goats are getting off. Us guys are not going to live forever, so it's important that none of us are aboard," Thompson said.

"Bruce and myself and (Big Island traditional navigator) Shorty (Bertelmann) and the others are becoming what our elders were to us.

"They were the mentors, and now we need to be. If you don't accomplish that, then all the work we've done will die with us," he said.

After arriving in Hilo, the Hokule'a will begin a series of sails, with up to 10 visits to locations in each county where important environmental projects are taking place, Thompson said.

Advertiser Staff Writer Jan TenBruggencate will serve as a crew member aboard Hokule'a during the voyaging canoe's trip through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. He will send back regular dispatches during the trip.

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