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Hōkūle‘a: The Dangers of Sailing Around the World

Crewmember Attwood Makanani, or "Uncle Maka", handling some line at the edge of the bow while Hōkūleʻa passes through a squall in Kualoa. (Photo by Kaipo Kīʻaha)
Click to Enlarge: Crewmember Attwood Makanani, or “Uncle Maka”, handling some line at the edge of the bow while Hōkūleʻa passes through a squall in Kualoa. (Photo by Kaipo Kīʻaha)

For the past few months, I have been writing entries about the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s incredible Worldwide Voyage (WWV): a five-year journey to sail around the world aboard two Polynesian voyaging canoes, using non-instrument navigation. The first year of the voyage was spent sailing around the Hawaiian Islands and in less than two months, the canoes will leave their home and begin the international portion of the voyage.

Why Take the Risk?

When people hear about the WWV, a question often arises around the risks involved with this 47,000-nautical-mile voyage. Certainly, it goes without saying that a voyage of this nature is not always going to be idyllic or smooth. But Pacific Island people have spearheaded these long-distance, open-ocean voyages of discovery for thousands of years. Today, the Polynesian Voyaging Society believes that: “the Worldwide Voyage is a journey that charts a new course toward sustainability that Hawai’i and the world urgently need.”

Sunshine after the rain.  Crewmember Haunani Kane holds on as Hōkūle‘a gets close to land. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Sunshine after the rain. Crewmember Haunani Kane holds on as Hōkūle‘a gets close to land. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

For us, the opportunity to inspire current and future generations of leaders to care for the Earth–through outreach, education, science, and storytelling–far outweighs any risks. Master Navigator and PVS President, Nainoa Thompson, puts it best when he says: “if you come from the lens of what the canoe is supposed to do … it will do nothing if we’re tied to the dock.”

Safety Training

Like during any voyage–sea, land, or air–weather is always one of the major considerations for traditional captains and navigators. For this reason, crewmembers undergo rigorous training around personal safety and foul weather situations.

Photo by Sam Low
Just because the crew doesn’t use a compass, that doesn’t mean they don’t take rain gear. (Photo by Sam Low)

Hōkūle’a has traveled over 140,000 miles in the Pacific Ocean over her forty-year history of voyaging, enough miles to circle the world over five times. Thompson says that the crew preparations and safety training were carefully planned based on past experience. “With the Worldwide Voyage, we are more prepared than we have ever been on any previous journey,” he adds.

Sail Planning

In addition to rigorous crew training, perhaps the best ways to prevent encounters with challenges during the voyage is through thorough research and meticulous planning. For example, the sail plan for the WWV is dictated almost entirely by weather, specifically with regards to avoiding hurricane and cyclone seasons. The leaders of PVS have put a great deal of effort into understanding the weather patterns of the world with guidance and input from scientists, meteorologists, and other sailors.

In addition the normal preparations for voyaging, PVS must now pay careful attention to new issues associated with new regions of the world.  Although Hōkūle‘a has logged an incredible amount of miles over her storied lifetime, all of her voyages have taken place in the familiar waters of the Pacific Ocean. The opportunity to sail across new oceans is exciting, but it also makes the planning process even more critical. By carefully planning and timing each leg of the voyage, Captains ensure that their crews and vessels have the best chance for a smooth sail.

Map of piracy incidences in 2011 according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre.  Yellow: Attempted Attacks; Red: Hijackings; Purple: Suspicious Vessels.  (Courtesy of the International Chamber of Commerce)
Piracy is a new risk that the leaders at PVS must address in their plans. Today, the sail plan steers carefully away from pirates and areas of conflict. This is a map of piracy incidences in 2011 according to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. Yellow: Attempted Attacks; Red: Hijackings; Purple: Suspicious Vessels. (Courtesy of the International Chamber of Commerce)
In circumnavigating the globe, another thing to carefully plan around is the notorious Agulhas Current of southeastern Africa. One of the strongest currents in the world, the Agulhas is a challenge for even large ocean tankers.  (Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)
In circumnavigating the globe, another thing to carefully plan around is the notorious Agulhas Current of southeastern Africa. One of the strongest currents in the world, the Agulhas is a challenge for even large ocean tankers. (Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

Sailing On

Over the next three years of this monumental voyage, there will inevitably be challenges that test the physical and mental fortitude of the crew. However, the PVS family, or ‘Ohana wa’a, know from experience that even the roughest storms will pass. What we must do is to continue to prepare, train, believe in the mission, trust in each other, and sail on.

Hōkūle‘a crew looking towards the western horizon.  Regardless of what challenges lie ahead, crewmembers rely on each other and their rigorous preparation to overcome and sail on.  (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Click to Enlarge: Hōkūle‘a crew looking towards the western horizon. We sail with the hope for a more sustainable future for our Island Earth. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

To get a better understanding of how the crew prepares for a safe and successful voyage, I highly recommend this video created by the talented folks at ‘Oiwi TV.

Hikianalia Crew Training from Oiwi TV on Vimeo.

Further readings

Hōkūle‘a: Getting Ready for the Voyage of a Lifetime

Hōkūle‘a: The Art of Wayfinding

Renowned Voyaging Canoe Embarks on Its Greatest Journey Yet

Read All Worldwide Voyage Posts

Comments

  1. Robert Wahler
    Pepe'ekeo, Hawaii
    May 29, 2014, 5:23 pm

    From the Farm of gladness (Hokumele, Onomea Farms) to the Star of gladness, Hokule’a: have a safe and inspiring journey. Hikianalia, too. Mahalo nui!
    A hui hou aku and Aloha nui ~~~
    -Bob and Carolyn Wahler

  2. Ruben Lucero
    Isleta Pueblo, NM
    April 24, 2014, 10:25 pm

    I wish you all the best of luck and may you be guided by our creator on this voyage.

  3. Brandy Meadows
    North Carolina
    April 8, 2014, 11:34 am

    Wow, this will be a major accomplishment. I wish them all a safe journey and thank them for taking on this voyage to send the message that we need to care for the Earth.

  4. Jenny Hina Taranga
    Te Matau a Māui
    April 5, 2014, 5:38 pm

    Aloha kakou! Awesome mahi aku tuakana katoa / awesome work all our elder brothers & sisters! Arohanui