“Iʻm the best version of myself when Iʻm out here.”
Almost two decades ago, when I began voyaging, I first heard those words spoken by another. So many times over the years, Iʻve reflected on how much Iʻve come to know and live that sentiment.
Tonight, I paused in typing to dim the computer screen and look up, seeing the stars appear out of the black of the night as my eyes adjusted. We have good wind, a steady rhythm, and clear skies with a full canopy of stars from which to choose our guide – tonight, we follow Hikianalia, the namesake of our younger sister canoe, and sister star to Hōkūleʻa at our home latitude.
This simple act of looking up, letting myself adjust so I could actually see those markers in the heavens, hits a chord for me. These same stars, some of which we can still call by their ancient names, were used by our ancestors to find their way. Following in their wake, sailing Hōkūleʻa transforms us and our surroundings to something beyond time, something deeply connected to the wisdom of those who came before us. Those who knew to live simply, in balance with nature, to care for each other. As our ancestors transformed raw materials into voyaging canoes that could carry them safely for thousands of miles, we too are transformed by this vessel and what she represents.
To be sure, we are not as daring as the first to sail here were. Our brave, tenacious ancestors sailed and settled the entire Pacific centuries before Europeans dared to leave the sight of land, using the wisdom and record they could read from the natural world to guide their travels over the greatest expanse of ocean known to man. We sail today knowing that there is land out there bearing one house South of West, La Kona, for about 1500 more miles, because we study maps and other information to chart our intended course lines before we leave the dock. We also sail with the aid of other modern materials, to keep us dry and warm, to keep us fed – perhaps our ancestors would have laughed at our softness, our need to hang on to some of the comforts of the modern.
But I know for myself, I am transformed, becoming the best version of myself that I know. As many of my fellow voyagers will agree, we are who we are today because of the long trips we have done, because of the act of voyaging. The process that occurs on these long legs, the shedding of layer after layer of our everyday modern, hectic lives, like the skin that peels from us after exposure to sun, rain, and salt – it is humbling and frightening, as we are forced to reach into our inner unknown and look back at ourselves in a very real and honest way. We become leaner, more attuned to what our body needs to survive and be strong, rather than the over-consumption and high calorie counts of fast-food and modern convenience. Our senses begin to sync with the natural world, and we fall in rhythm with the movement of the heavens and the sea.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts a voyage like this brings for someone like me is the gift of time to reflect. At home, I’m constantly running at breakneck speed, trying to meet the demands of life, to fulfill all the responsibilities that never seem to relent. And while some of this is by my design, much of it is set by the expectations and culture of our modern world – we live in the imbalance of what those who know me well hear me refer to as “what you gotta do versus what you wanna do.”
Here, traveling at 7 knots, or just under 8 miles per hour, is about as fast as we want to go. You can feel the canoe rocking gently, sails full, and crew happy. Imagine traveling this slow in H-1 traffic as 6pm, as I do daily in my commute – itʻs painful, and fills our lives with anxiety and frustration. Or the frustration of losing your phone for even an hour or two – out here, I went a couple of days before I even looked for my phone, and only because it is my camera with a lifeproof case for pictures in the pouring rain. If not for the weather, that phone would probably still be in my bag, and stay there til we touch land again. That phone which on land, at home, never leaves my side, even as I sleep.
Those of us who are selected to sail on these voyages are blessed in so many ways. We are given the privilege to sail in the ways of the ancients, to bring the power and wisdom of our people into this modern age. I cannot think of another place where I can practice Hawaiian culture with such intensity, such depth – me, who demands that those who work for me speak and live Hawaiian language and culture daily, I find my deepest engagement in my own practice out here, on the deck of Hōkūleʻa. But perhaps the greatest gift Hōkūleʻa gives me is that she demands that I reassess my life, providing me the opportunity to stare deep and hard at all that limits my view plane at home, and think about the kind of person I want to be and the life I want to lead. She has given me the opportunity of a lifetime – a brief moment in time where I am transported to a place where I have a real chance to fundamentally recalibrate, to change my ways.
The most difficult task I face on this voyage is not the screaming winds, the pelting rain, the scorching sun, or the confused seas and skies – the most difficult task I face on this voyage is letting myself be permanently transformed to the me I really want to be.