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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 6, 2009

Hokule'a back from Palmyra

Photo gallery: Hokule'a Returns

By John Windrow
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Makena Holomalia, left, of Wai'anae, greets returning voyager Kailin Kim after the Hokule'a's return home from Palmyra Atoll. Bad weather marred the return leg of the voyage.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hokule'a crew Bruce Blankenfeld, right, along with, from left, Capt. Russell Amimoto, Robert Frankel, Zack Keenan, Mike Taylor and Kealoha Hoe pulled into Sand Island yesterday on their return from Palmyra.

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The Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule'a returned home to O'ahu yesterday after its voyage to Palmyra Atoll.

On calm waters under blue skies, Capt. Russell Amimoto's crew of 12 brought the canoe in to a waiting crowd of family, friends and old salts at Sand Island.

One of the saltier ones on hand was Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. He said that storms and overcast skies had been a big problem for the 12-day, 1,400-mile return leg of the voyage, but Amimoto and navigator Bruce Blankenfeld showed great skill and leadership in bringing the canoe home from Palmyra. The vessel had departed O'ahu for Palmyra on March 10 with a different crew, which flew back ahead of Hokule'a.

With the return crew, Thompson said, "The bad weather never let up until a day before they got here." He said Hokule'a and its crew dealt with thunderstorms, squalls and winds of 25 to 30 knots. Plus the skies were overcast most of the time, making navigation extremely difficult.

"They had to read the waves and make hundreds of leadership decisions every day and they had to be good ones," he said.

The trip to Palmyra was part of the Polynesian Voyaging Society's plans for an around-the-world voyage for Hokule'a beginning in 2012.

For that effort, Thompson said, the Polynesian Voyaging Society needs some new captains, and Amimoto will be one of them. "He officially graduates and becomes a deep-sea voyage captain today," Thompson said. "The key factor is leadership and he showed it."

The crew, back home safely, stood in a circle on the deck of the 62-foot vessel and said a prayer. Then the crew members stepped onto the pier to cheers and lei.

Amimoto's wife, Karin, threw her arms around her voyager and gave him a kiss that lasted longer than most. Someone remarked that she kissed him as if they had been apart for years, not weeks. Karin smiled shyly and said, "You have to make every day count."

Amimoto, whose brother, Carey, was aboard the escort vessel, greeted his parents, Carey and Suzanne. He was modest and soft-spoken and said the weather had been a problem, but "not so bad."

They used waves, birds, fish and the sun to guide them, he said, and the stars whenever the skies cleared "a little of everything."

It felt good to be home, he said, after his first long voyage, which "definitely was an opportunity and a responsibility."

Amimoto credited "lots of good people" for the voyage's success.

His dad told him that he had some Heinekens in a cooler and Amimoto said, "that sounds good."

Crew member Kaina Holomalia, 24, of Wai'anae, said the trip had provided "lots of good (memories) of young people making dreams."

He described being out on the middle of the boundless Pacific in such a small craft as "humbling."

Holomalia said that "when we stepped on the pier today we were doing it for the ones who sailed before and the ones who will sail after. Thousands helped us get here," he said, "not just the 12 you see today."

The Polynesian Voyaging Society plans more deep-sea voyages this year, probably to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; dry dock and repairs in 2010; sailing to more than 40 communities state- wide in 2011; and commencement of worldwide voyages in 2012.

See its Web site at http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/.

Reach John Windrow at jwindrow@honoluluadvertiser.com.