As Hōkūleʻa departed South Africa headed for South America, she sailed beyond the halfway point of the Worldwide Voyage. This 16th leg of the voyage covered new territory for Hōkūleʻa’s crew in many respects.
It was the first time that Hōkūleʻa sailed in Atlantic waters–the crossing required crewmembers to become familiar with Atlantic currents and prevailing winds. Totaling 4,200 nautical miles (nm), it was the longest leg of the Worldwide Voyage and of any other voyage in Hōkūleʻa’s 40 year history. When the canoe docked in Brazil, it marked the voyage’s first engagement with South America. As she sailed into the New Year, it was also the first time Polynesian Voyaging Society crewmembers spent the Holiday Season at sea.
The crew departed Cape Town and sailed 700 nm up the West Coast of Africa until Walvis Bay, Namibia. There she tacked west towards the island of St. Helena–a tropical island situated 1,200 miles off the southwest coast of Africa. After a brief stop for reprovisioning on St. Helena, Hōkūleʻa continued northwest, passing near Ascension Island as a navigational aid before reaching Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago off the Brazilian coast, where crew visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hōkūleʻa then sailed into the port of Natal, Brazil, while the entire country was celebrating Carnival.
This leg required an unprecedented amount of focus from the navigators aboard the canoe because seeking small island targets at far distances allows for only a very narrow cone of error. Navigator Kaleo Wong and apprentice Jason Patterson, with guidance from Pwo Master Navigator and Captain Bruce Blankenfeld, were tasked with keeping Hōkūleʻa on target. Blankenfeld’s mentorship of Wong throughout previous legs of the voyage had increasingly shifted to a more hands-off approach as Wong’s knowledge and experience expanded. This leg crystallized the mutual evolution of the two generations of navigators that Wong and Blankenfeld represent.
This leg – in which Hōkūleʻa not only touched the Atlantic for the first time, but traversed it – challenged crew to navigate from the continent of the cradle of civilization to the continent of the lungs of our planet while traversing new mental and physical territory along the way.