Crew Profile

Voyage Update | June 27, 2021: Voyaging Canoes Return to O’ahu after Training Young Navigators in Papahānaumokuākea

After eight days of training and exploring the islands and waters of Papahānaumokuākea, the crews of Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia returned to the Marine Education Training Center at Sand Island on Oʻahu at 7:15 am this morning. Themed “Navigating the Kupuna Islands,” the voyage took the canoes to Nihoa, Mokumanamana and Lalo (French Frigate Shoals) so young navigators could be trained in voyaging and learn about the cultural and ecological significance of these sacred places.

The training trip focused on preparation for longer voyages, ultimately the Moananuiākea Voyage, which will launch in Spring 2022. It was designed so that five young navigators in their 20s would be able to use small islands as very distinct targets providing deep sea, ocean experiences and challenges in navigation. They were tested on different segments of the voyage but the primary one was from the island of Niʻihau to Nihoa. According to Pwo Navigator Nainoa Thompson, finding Nihoa from Niʻihau is similar to trying to find an island half the size of Diamond Head from Kailua-Kona in the middle of 120 miles of open ocean. The young navigators were precise and were a mere one degree off from a direct line to the island.

“What we were looking for was not so much their navigation skills, but their ability to work as a team to work together to take care of each other. The values of caring were primary and they were extraordinary,” said Thompson. They were intense; they were supportive; they had doubt and in the doubt they started to question, but they worked out every single question and they were unified.”

“We saw what can be accomplished when young people come together in a unified way to be a team, to do things that are very extraordinary that many, many other people in the world can’t do,” said Thompson.

After Nihoa, the crew sailed to the spiritual line of Mokumanamana. They did not go ashore out of respect to the abundant wildlife that exists on the island.

“The wildlife there is so sacred that every footprint counts when sometimes you make the wrong step and you crush shearwater burrows. So we, out of respect to life and nature at its best, we have chosen not to interfere with the living system that exists, up here in Papahānaumokuākea,” said Thompson.

After Mokumanamana, the crew spent time at Lalo (French Frigate Shoals) to explore and better understand this big atoll and its coral reefs. They, along with NOAA Research Coordinator for Papahānaumokuākea Randy Kosaki, conducted the first underwater survey of the area since Hurricane Walaka hit in 2018. Satellite data shows widespread coral destruction, which the crew found while diving to survey the area.

“So what we found was, diving in a place called La Perouse, we found toppled over giant table corals, maybe 10-feet across, upside down and broken and dead. But we also found keiki, babies, the same species of fast-growing table corals that are now attaching to many of the stones there. It’s regenerating itself,” said Thompson.

While diving and exploring the region of the reef that’s been destroyed, the Hikianalia crew found what may be 19th century shipwreck parts including anchors, pots and rings. Marine archaeologists will return to the site in the next two to three years to help identify and verify the ship from which the artifacts came from.

While exploring Lalo’s East Island, the crew observed thriving wildlife including sea turtles, ulua, tiger sharks and thousands of seabirds all living in a system of life that is restoring itself.

“In other words, the hurricane didn’t destroy Lalo. What it did was it damaged it, but created the opportunity for it to restore itself,” said Thompson.

“So in the end you know we we were privileged and gifted to be in this experience where those of us on this canoe by its values really have especially as students of navigation that depend on the life of the sea to help us find our way across the Pacific and that we inherently believe that the health of ourselves and our families are dependent on the health of the natural world,” said Thompson. “Papahānaumokuākea becomes our school, because it’s left alone, we found that nature. Probably the most important ability for nature to renew itself is when we leave it alone.”

The “Navigating the Kupuna Islands” Training Voyage is the second in a series of deep-sea training sails to prepare crew for the Moananuiākea Voyage, a circumnavigation of the Pacific scheduled to launch in May 2022. The 42-month, 41,000 mile journey will cover 46 countries and archipelagoes, nearly 100 indigenous territories and 345 ports. Focused on the vital importance of oceans, nature and indigenous knowledge, the goal of the Moananuiākea Voyage is to develop 10 million new crew members, navigators and leaders for the planet.

About Polynesian Voyaging Society

The Polynesian Voyaging Society was founded in 1973 on a legacy of Pacific Ocean
exploration, seeking to perpetuate the art and science of traditional Polynesian voyaging
and the spirit of exploration through experiential educational programs that inspire
students and their communities to respect and care for themselves, one another, and
their natural and cultural environments. For more information about the Polynesian
Voyaging Society and the Worldwide Voyage, visit www.hokulea.com or find us on
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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