Hōkūleʻa Update | December 20-31, 2016

On Leg 26, Hōkūleʻa voyages south from Florida to Panama. In this update, Justyn Ah Chong describes listening in on star discussion by the navigators, observing a full sky of constellations and shooting stars, and receiving a 35-lbs New Year’s Eve present from Kanaloa.

December 30

Blog by Justyn Ah Chong

The crew was blessed with another clear night as we sailed under a moonless sky full of stars to guide our way South to Panama.  On nights like these, we lose count of the number of shooting stars we are blessed to see blazing their way across the night sky.  The wind and swells are almost directly behind us as we point just west of south in nice, comfortable 10-15 knot winds.  With the wind pushing us from behind, steering becomes a little trickier, requiring a bit more finesse so as to keep the waʻa from accidentally jibing.  This being our 10th day at sea now, this crew has become fine-tuned to the rhythm of the canoe and the touch of the hoe (steering paddle), keeping Hōkūleʻa balanced on her current course line.

As the sky begins to lighten with the anticipated arrival of the sun, my 2-6 watch hands the reigns over to the 6-10 watch, while Captain Bruce talks through various star lines with apprentice navigator, Brad Wong.  Instead of going back into my bunk to get some rest, I decide to stick around and capture some of this interaction.  As uncle Bruce continues, I canʻt help but be amazed at the vast depth of his knowledge, pointing out the faintest of stars and calling each one out by name.  It was a lecture that was so easy and enjoyable to get lost in.  Before I knew it, the horizon began to fill with the soft warm glow of an approaching sun as one by one, another star slowly faded into the brightening sky.

It truly is one of the most phenomenal things to witness at sea, especially from the lens of the photographer – the way the light and colors painted across an endless sky move and dance as the sun makes its morning climb up from the horizon, dips in and out of shape-shifting clouds, and then crawls back down below the horizon again at the end of the day.  The progression of colors and the cascading of light rays remind us that most times the simplest things in life are the ones we often take for granted, like the coming and going of the sun each day.  Yet these are often the most breathtakingly beautiful things we are blessed to witness.  It’s a beauty great enough to bring on the memory and presence of loved ones that have come and gone.  To remind us they are still here, always watching, always guiding, and in instances like these – smiling.  These simple beauties remind us how fortunate we are to be here in this moment in time, doing whatever it is that we do, with whomever we were meant to intertwine paths with, fulfilling the responsibilities we were put here to fulfill, and to enjoy and make the most of every moment of it in the process.

As another day passes aboard this waʻa kaulua, we welcome the night with a wonderful meal, the strumming of a guitar, light conversation, and a beautiful setting sun, taking us one day closer to our destination.  Our bow continues to point hema (south), and hokupaʻa (Polaris, North Star) sits behind us as we move quietly through another clear starry night to soon pull Panama from the sea.

December 31

Blog by Justyn Ah Chong

Tonight was definitely not as clear as the last few nights.  All throughout our 2am – 6am shift we were met with a series of long far-stretching squalls pelting heavy rains onto the waʻa.  Dressed head to toe in our foul weather gear we sailed on, learning how to keep on course when all the stars in the sky disappear.  The heaviest of the squalls came just after 6am after our shift change, bringing with it 30-35 knot winds, sending the canoe boosting forward.  It was a scramble on deck to readjust sails and regain control of the waʻa through the squall, but the crew managed tactfully.

This being the start of our new years eve, and also the last day of our 2016, these pelting rains, in a way, felt natural, felt right. It felt like a sort of cleansing; a washing away of the high’s and the lows, the good, the bad, and the ugly of another year gone by.  It brought about in the dark early morning hours a cool, fresh start to welcome a new year, and with it, a new energy.

Spirits amongst the crew remain high as we continue to head Hema toward Panama, sailing with beam reach winds and a beam swell on a port tack, gliding along at 6-8 knots.  Just before lunch, Kanaloa decided to bless our crew with a nice 35 lb New Years gift.  A glimmering ʻono hooked onto our line and made its way toward the waʻa as Uncle Bruce and Lohiao reeled in the catch.  Needless to say, everyone on board is stoked!

This is the last day of our 2-6 watch’s 3-day cooking rotation, so as Uncle Bruce cuts and cleans the ʻono, we gather the knives and bowls, the garlic, onions, and ginger, and start prepping for an ʻono New Years Eve lunch. On the menu is freshly sliced sashimi with wasabi-shoyu sauce and fried ʻono steaks with rice.

As we enjoy our amazingly ʻono lunch, folks can’t help but have thoughts pulled to family and loved ones back home.  As we continue to celebrate our New Years Eve on board Hōkūleʻa, we remember all those at home who are also ringing in the New Year; those that love and support us, those that allow us to be here sailing the Caribbean right now instead of being at home with each and every one of them this holiday season.  As the New Year brings about a new energy and the anticipation of new changes upon the horizon, one thing remains a solid and constant foundation – ʻohana.  Though we miss and think constantly about our loved ones and ʻohana at home, the canoe has a magical way of bringing a diverse group of individuals together and over time, over wind and waves, over the winding course of a voyage, make them family.  So today, in the absence of our family at home, we celebrate the coming of a new year with our canoe family, our ʻohana waʻa.

It’s a rare and special thing to ring in the New Year at sea aboard mama Hōkūleʻa, and for each and every one of us, we honor the privilege and the burden – the kuleana.  It’s definitely a New Year celebration that we won’t soon forget.

As the year changes, it’s clear from the look on everyone’s faces that there’s one more thing that still hasn’t changed – the kuleana of mālama honua and the mission to bring mama Hōkūleʻa back home.  Now just a few days out of Panama, we have come that much closer to bringing Hōkūleʻa back into her home waters of the Pacific Ocean; that much closer to bringing her back to our ʻohana throughout Oceania, and eventually to her birth sands of Hawaiʻi.  It’s an honor for each and every one of us on this leg of the Worldwide Voyage to wrap up our mama canoe’s travels around the globe through never-before sailed oceans, like tying up the loose ends of a fading year, and bringing her back into the waiting arms of the Pacific Ocean, full of new stories, new life, and new mana to share – just like the feeling of stepping boldly into a new year.

To all of our friends and ʻohana celebrating the New Year back at home, know that each one of us love you and miss you dearly.  But we will see each other again very soon, in the ebb and flow of a New Year.

Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou, Happy New Year 2017!


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