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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 22, 2004

Departure unleashes crew's enthusiasm

Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

HANALEI BAY, Kaua'i — Crew members of the voyaging canoe Hokule'a allowed themselves to feel excited yesterday as they prepared for a morning departure for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after two weeks of delays.

Hokule'a crew members Na'alehu Anthony, left, and Keoni Kuoha lash a guardian figure to the rear left manu of the canoe in preparation for a morning departure.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I've got butterflies," said navigator Ka'iulani Murphy.

Others were more effusive.

"This is the epitome of all my dreams come true," said Leimomi Dierks. "I expect to come back with more questions than answers, which is kind of intimidating, but it will fill a big puka (void) in myself."

The double-hulled canoe was to leave at dawn for its first leg, a 150-mile passage to the island of Nihoa, the easternmost of what some call the leeward islands, others the Kupuna Islands — formations older than the main Hawaiian Islands that hold the archaeological remains of Polynesians from before European contact with the main islands.

The crew checked and stowed gear yesterday, inspected the canoe's rigging, and in a moment that quieted everyone on board, lashed two carved figures to the stern: a female figure on the left, or port, manu and a male figure on the right.

The figures represent 'aumakua — family or personal gods — and are seen as guardians or protectors of the canoe. Some consider them the vessel's eyes.

"The canoe suddenly felt different once they were there," said one visitor.

The crew of 15 included trained veterans and newcomers to the canoe.

"This is totally new for me. I have never sailed on the Hokule'a, but it's my fourth trip up the (island) chain," said Randy Kosaki, a biologist with the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve who is a resource specialist for the canoe's educational mission.

"I'll be looking through a cultural lens, not just a biological lens on this trip," he said.

The canoe is under the command of Capt. Nainoa Thompson, sailing master and crew chief Bruce Blankenfeld and navigator Murphy.

They will navigate without instruments to the first two rocky, high islands. But as the canoe approaches the hazardous reefs and atolls from French Frigate Shoals, Murphy will navigate in open water, and the crew will switch to satellite-based measures for safety.

The voyage represents the first trip through the islands by a Polynesian voyaging canoe in the modern age. The re-establishment of a cultural connection to those islands is an important feature of the voyage; education is another.

The crew already has held daily teleconferences with classrooms throughout the state and on the Mainland and American Samoa, and will continue them from the canoe. Educator and crew member Ann Bell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is leading the teleconferencing program, and said the canoe represents a powerful tool to interest children in learning.

"The kids already have an emotional attachment to the canoe. ... They know it is special to Hawai'i," Bell said. "We have a responsibility to bring (the leeward islands) back to the kids of Hawai'i, because it's their archipelago, their back yard."

Advertiser Science Writer Jan TenBruggencate will serve as a crew member aboard Hokule'a for the trip through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and will send regular dispatches.