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Crew Blog| Kekai Lee: I Belong to the Sea

Kekaimalu LeeBlog by Hikianalia crewmember Kekaimalu Lee

Before departing Papaʻete, I asked Nainoa – “How did you feel your first time being lead navigator?”

The question came from my fear and nervousness, and his reply wasn’t very comforting. He expressed he was afraid for me IMG_4955because I don’t have the same support he did when he left, referring to his teacher, Papa Mau.

Nainoa shared a story about how he didn’t feel ready until Uncle Sam Kaʻai explained that everyone had a kuʻula (fishing marker or altar) in ancient times, except the navigator. Navigators don’t have kuʻula because they don’t belong to the land, they belong to the sea. The mountain is their kuʻula. He asked – where is your kuʻula?

I thought about this, while being tied to land in Tahiti for over a week. After all the meetings and goodbyes, we went back to the beach before departure, and it all become real to me. My wristwatch gives me the time of day so I can manage my crazy schedule, tying me to land and the things of the land. On the beach before departure, I took some time to do a personal ritual for going to sea – I walked to the water’s edge in Tautira, gave my watch to the crew, and asked them to put it away for me until we return home. At that moment, I picked the mountain in Tautira to be my kuʻula.

IMG_7257 (1)
Some of the navigation team meeting before departure.

IMG_7258 (1)Then we get out to sea, and just get pounded for two days with squalls and black nights. We shut down the canoe, and I never felt so incompetent in my life. The other canoes kept going; I wondered if we were going to make it. We studied for months before leaving for Tahiti – knowing the sun, stars, swell, etc. is all the cognitive side of navigation; you can train for that. What do you do when the sky is black and the wind and swell have changed and roaring? It’s the instincts you can’t train for; you either have it or you don’t.

IMG_4970I spoke with Uncle Chadd Paishon before leaving for Tahiti to go over some questions that I had on the navigation. IMG_5038One of the things he told me will always stay with me. He said “Always know where home is.” I hold that lesson close to me; I always envision where home is, and never let that image slip from my mind.

At first the task seems daunting and hopeless – when the sky goes dark and you lose all signs from nature. But I am now enjoying the challenge and the opportunity for my sea legs to grow a little longer and learn from nature.

It is an honor to navigate the last leg home.


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