Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 20, 2007

Voyage of Friendship

 •  Hokule'a 2007 voyages to Micronesia and Japan
Follow the Hokule'a as they sail to Micronesia and Japan in our special report.
Hokule'a photo gallery

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

Wellwishers gather around the voyaging canoe Alingano Maisu just prior to its departure from Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island.

DIANE REPP | Special to The Advertiser

spacer spacer

Three decades ago, a middle-aged man from the tiny island of Satawal in Micronesia gave the people of Hawai'i an amazing gift: He taught a handful of Hawaiians wayfinding, the lost art of noninstrument navigation.

Since then, that gift has been passed on, and other Hawaiian canoe sailors have learned wayfinding.

Yesterday, the Hawaiian voyaging community set out from Kawaihae Harbor to acknowledge the gift with one of its own. They will give Mau Piailug a Hawaiian-design voyaging canoe, built for him by the West Hawai'i-based Na Kalai Wa'a Moku O Hawai'i with the help of the statewide voyaging community.

Two leaders of the voyage, Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson and captain Shorty Bertelmann of the canoe Alingano Maisu, were among Piailug's first students.

Yesterday's departure, timed to miss the worst of the storm season in the western Pacific, had been delayed a week as powerful winds pounded through the 'Alenuihaha Channel. Eventually, voyage leaders dropped a plan to cross the channel and visit Kaho'olawe before heading southwest, but the winds stayed strong through yesterday morning.

By afternoon, winds were fast declining in strength, and the leaders opted to leave before the breezes were gone altogether. Final ceremonies included chants and tearful goodbyes.

Finally, only the crew of the two canoes stood together aboard the Alingano Maisu.

Mission spokeswoman Kathy Thompson said they chanted for the Big Island canoe Makali'i, which is staying behind, and for Hokule'a, which was moored nearby. After a final song, Piailug's canoe, Alingano Maisu, pulled away from the Kawaihae dock at 5 p.m., followed a half-hour later by Hokule'a — the 30-year-old double-hulled voyaging canoe on which Hawaiians first practiced the skills Piailug taught them.

The canoes left the harbor in light winds under tow shortly before 6 p.m. As the sun set, Hokule'a set its twin sails. Powerboats accompanied the canoes and their escort, the motorsailer Kama Hele, as they pulled away from shore, but they were expected to drop away before long.

Hokule'a, Maisu and Kama Hele were to sail last night down the east coast of the Big Island to South Point, and then turn west-southwest toward Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

From there, they would hop from island to island until they reach Satawal, where Alingano Maisu will be ceremonially presented to Piailug. He is now 75 and frail with diabetes.

The canoe won't stay at Satawal, which lacks a proper harbor for the 54-foot canoe. Maisu will sail to its new home in Yap. Piailug's son, Sesario Sewralur, 36, who is on the Maisu crew along with four other Micronesians, lives on the island of Yap.


Piailug named his canoe. Alingano Maisu is a wind, a particular wind that knocks breadfruit out of the trees. In Piailug's culture, only chiefs can grant permission to eat breadfruit from trees, but if the wind knocks them down, they are free to all.

The name is a metaphor for the free sharing of information — like Piailug's act of sharing the arcane art of wayfinding with a culture thousands of miles from his home islands.

He taught his students the stars, how to read the weather, to feel the swells rock the canoe, to know the oceanic and island birds, to recognize a current by the appearance of wavelets on the surface and much more. It is a skill that has allowed Hawaiians for the last 30 years to navigate the far reaches of the Pacific and make accurate landfalls.

Hokule'a captain Bruce Blankenfeld said the crews will use noninstrument methods to find the islands in Micronesia. Navigators will identify stars to follow. They will point out cues to steering, like the angle of the moon, where the sun must be at dawn and dusk, and how the wind must cross the decks if the canoe is to stay on course.

Customarily the navigators —Chadd Paishon on Maisu and Blankenfeld on Hokule'a — sleep little. They insist the boat-steerers keep the canoe path as straight as possible, and they keep in their heads their assessment of how far off the preferred course line the canoes are sailing.

The navigators will first head for Johnston Atoll, about 800 miles from the Big Island. They will not stop there, but will use either the sighting of the atoll or the viewing of its birds as an navigational indicator.

The canoes are expected to average about 100 miles a day, crossing the 2,200 miles to Majuro in about three weeks.


After the canoes reach Yap, Hokule'a will go on with escort Kama Hele, sailing north to Japan to celebrate the long connection between Hawai'i and Japan. King David Kalakaua visited Japan during his world tour in 1881, and many of Hawai'i's citizens are the descendants of immigrants from Japan.

The voyage has missions besides the delivery of Maisu and the goodwill visit to Japan.

Students across the state will follow the voyage, and the state Department of Education is among the voyage partners.

There is also a health mission. The canoes will carry medical personnel to some of the remote islands of Micronesia. Partners in the medical mission include Aloha Medical Mission, Oceania Community Health, Papa Ola Lokahi, the University of Hawai'i School of Medicine Department of Native Hawaiian Health, Pacific Basin Medical Association and Pacific Islands Primary Care Association.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.