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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 27, 2004

'Tiny little island' greets Hokule'a

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

OFF MOKUMANAMANA — An exhausted crew led by sleepless, red-eyed navigators surfed a following sea through the day and night to make a picture-perfect landfall yesterday morning at Mokumanamana.

Navigator Ka'iulani Murphy, exhausted after having stayed awake for more than 30 hours during Hokule'a's voyage from Nihoa island, took the opportunity to catch a nap after crew member Russell Amimoto spotted the island of Mokumanamana.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It was amazing. This tiny little island in the middle of the ocean," said navigator Ka'iulani Murphy.

The same swell that had challenged the sailors through the 28-hour passage made it impossible to anchor at the island, where whitewater climbed the rocky island's sides.

The canoe made a pass along the southern side, stopped for chants and the ceremonial blowing of a pair of pu, Hawaiian shell trumpets.

Hokule'a then proceeded under reduced sail for French Frigate Shoals. The speed was reduced to allow for a morning departure at the island. Captain Nainoa Thompson said the canoe's navigators will point the course without instruments as they have thus far, but from this point on will keep track of their exact location with satellite-based global positioning system receivers. The reefs of the atolls northwest of Mokumanamana and Nihoa are too low to see from far away, and it would be too dangerous to sail the canoe through them without the help, he said.

"Our first rule is safety," he said.

Murphy, who had made her first solo non-instrument navigation from Kaua'i to Nihoa Sunday and Monday, called the Nihoa-to-Mokumanamana voyage a team effort, in which she consulted with Thompson and sailing master Bruce Blankenfeld.

Hokule'a's crew spotted Mokumanamana about 10 a.m. yesterday, 28 hours after leaving Nihoa. Crew member Ka'iulani Murphy was the lead navigator but drew on the experience of captain Nainoa Thompson and sailing master Bruce Blankenfeld to make a pinpoint landfall. Murphy called it a team effort.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

Thompson credited the entire crew of 13, saying it took good steering and seamanship as well as navigation to get Hokule'a to its destination.

The sail is one of the most challenging passages in the 1,500-mile Hawaiian archipelago for traditional navigation, both because its 155 miles make it the longest inter-island channel in all Hawai'i, and because Mokumanamana is so small a target.

While Nihoa is 900 feet high and covers 150 acres, Mokumanamana has just 45 acres and is about one-third as high.

Thus, while Thompson spotted Nihoa from nearly 30 miles out, watch captain Russell Amimoto spotted Mokumanamana just a dozen miles out. A lower, smaller island is even harder to see.

And while the canoe came up on Nihoa several miles north of the island, Mokumanamana appeared right on course, visible between the canoe's twin front manu.

Murphy said Thompson had recommended a course change at 8:30 or 9 a.m. yesterday to account for waves having pushed the canoe off course to the north more often than to the south during the night's steering. Without the course change, Hokule'a would have sailed a course a mile or two north of the island — still well within the range of visibility.

Once the island was sighted, student Murphy and mentor Thompson, who had both been awake the entire voyage so far, took naps—Thompson under cover in one of the canoe's bunks, and Murphy on deck with a jacket over her head.

Mokumanamana is an enigmatic island. Also known as Necker Island, it has very little soil, but is spotted with 33 Polynesian-design stone shrines whose origin is clouded. Some believe they may have marked repeated ceremonial visits to the island hundreds of years ago.

In addition to the shrines, archaeologists have found stone tools and other artifacts that appear very much like those found in the main Hawaiian Islands. Radiocarbon dating suggests the island was first inhabited several hundred years after the main Hawaiian Islands were populated, and that visits to the island stopped some time before European contact.

The island is narrow and rocky, with a few species of native plants growing in the small amount of soil. It is shaped something like a fish hook with its shaft lying east-west and its hook pointing north from the west side.

Hokule'a crewman Tava Taupu said it was easy to find rock formations that looked like faces — something he has seen frequently in his nearly 30 years of sailing on Hokule'a.

"I find all the islands have something like that," he said.

As the canoe moves from the two volcanic islands to the reefs and atoll islands, the voyage's mission changes somewhat from one featuring navigation as its hallmark to a greater emphasis on natural science and education.

The canoe continues to be in daily contact with school groups, who can ask questions about sailing aboard the voyaging canoe. Crew members will be doing volunteer conservation work at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island and Kure Atoll. The voyage is entitled Navigating Change, and one goal is to use the wildlife-rich Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to encourage people in the main islands to take better care of their home islands.

Advertiser science writer Jan TenBruggencate is sailing as a crewmember aboard Hokule'a and sending back dispatches using satellite communications.