A Final Sail on Hōkūleʻa: a Memorial for PVS Founder Ben Finney

Ben Finney, who co-founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society, was a trailblazer in reviving voyaging and navigation. This remembrance is by his son Sean. This piece comes to us as the Finney ʻohana and PVS prepare to celebrate Ben’s life this Saturday in Honolulu. The public is welcome to join us for the occasion – scroll to the end of this post for more information. 

In a few days, I will take my four-year-old daughter, Vera, from California to Hawaiʻi. It will not be her first trip to the islands, but it will be the first time that she sees and sails on Hōkūleʻa.

Although the sail we are about to take on this historic canoe will be short, it will be in many ways the end of a momentous voyage for my family. While my one-year-old son, Leon, will not remember it, I believe Vera will — perhaps as vividly as I remember Hōkūleʻa in Papeete, Tahiti on June 4, 1976 when I  was around the same age and with my family.

My father, Ben Finney, founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society alongside Tommy Holmes and Herb Kane. Their goal was to build the first Polynesian deep-sea voyaging canoe in 600 years and to show the world how the first people reached Hawaiʻi and other islands in the Pacific.

Hōkūleʻa’s Tahiti arrival in Papeʻete Harbor, 1976 attracted much of the island population.

On that day in June, 1976, the Hokule’a, after 2,700 miles and 34 days at sea, entered the harbor of the largest city in Tahiti. The governor had declared a holiday, and much of the island’s population, some estimated as many as 17,000 people, came to the harbor where a flotilla of Tahitian canoes with carved prows waited to welcome their sister craft from Hawaiʻi.

Sean and his brother Greg greet their father Ben Finney after he arrived in Tahiti aboard Hōkūleʻa.

Also waiting were my mother, little brother, and I. We sat in the shade of an aila tree. My mother was worried about my little brother, still a baby. I kept busy as I could, playing with a tiny bit of plastic that I thought looked like a spaceship.

Ben Finney, bearded voyager aboard Hōkūleʻa.

My memories are intense but fragmented. The crowd surges, and we are pushed into the water. My mother cries for help. Suddenly, above us standing on the hull of the Hawaiian double canoe is a man who grew a beard during his long voyage — my father.

There are more shards: Going to the French governor’s mansion where the candy was not candy, but a salty hors d’oeuvres (the footman in a powdered wig holding a silver tray should have tipped me off). Riding in the back of a pickup truck to a chief’s house. Touching colorful Tahitian money. Visiting a village built over the sea. Napping on a straw mat; diving for a sea cucumber. The scuttle of land crabs, indelibly loud. Then leaving the islands. Tahitians giving us not flowers but shell leis in farewell. I remember how heavy they were and that I was proud to wear so many.

On March 3, 2018, from 9am to 11am, our family, with help from our friends at the Polynesian Voyaging Society,  will hold a public memorial for my father on Sand Island where Hōkūleʻa is docked. Afterwards, we will board Hōkūleʻa to take my dad on a final sail and scatter his ashes beyond the breakers of Kaimana Beach in Waikiki, near where he lived.

I don’t know what Vera’s memories of that day will be, but I trust that like my recollections of Tahiti in 1976, they will amount to understanding the scale of her ancestor’s accomplishments and be a source of pride in what I pray is her long and well-lived life.

Help Us Bid Aloha to PVS Founder Ben Finney

The family of Ben Finney, along with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, invites friends, colleagues and the public to join them for a celebration of his life.

WHAT: Celebration of Ben Finney’s Life

WHEN: Saturday, March 3, 2018, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

WHERE: Marine Education Training Center (METC) at Sand Island

RSVP: Please indicate your intent to attend by visiting Hokulea.com/ben

Confirm Your Attendance

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