Reflecting on the months leading up to her first voyage to Rapa Nui, Navigator Haunani Kane said, “So we all found out that we were going to Rapa Nui maybe two months beforehand and Nainoa, even at those initial meetings, he continuously told us that in order to prepare for his Rapa Nui trip he spent years studying. And then on top of that he told us how difficult it was for them to find the island on that first trip to Rapa Nui.”
As the most isolated landmass in the world, finding Rapa Nui is a true test of one’s navigation abilities. This feat which Nainoa Thompson accomplished in 1999 was a challenge he would place upon four of his young students. For these apprentice navigators, however, the first of many obstacles would occur before Hōkūleʻa set sail.
“Well we started off as apprentice navigators because it was under the assumption that Nainoa was going to come with us. Unfortunately he had some family stuff that he had to take care of. He decided to go home, and he left us with great leadership, but yea we would be the ones navigating Hōkūleʻa to Rapa Nui,” said Kane.
Lehua Kamalu, a member of the Rapa Nui navigation team said, “Nainoa always says we’re not training to know everything that we’re going to need to know while we’re out there. We are just training ourselves to learn what we need to see and be observant and aware of the signs that are going to give us our direction to actually complete the navigation successfully. I think the dynamic on this particular leg with 4 training navigators was learning how to learn from other people as well as hopefully taking on a bit more responsibility in sharing what you know and helping teach others whether it was other crewmembers or sharing other bits of information with the rest of your team.”
Veteran crewmember Billy Richards said about the navigation team, “They all have their own experiences and I think we all tried, everyone tried, to kōkua the four when they think they needed it. In many ways, though, the four didn’t really need much, they had each other and what I am really glad of is they worked as a team, a really good team.”
Kāne explained what it felt like as the crew neared Rapa Nui, “Searching for an island is a bittersweet experience. I was almost kind of fearful of that moment because you and your crew you work together the entire way. The crew holds your course and you as the navigator are helping your crew, you are directing them to where they need to be. But I felt like seeing the island or not seeing the island would be on us. That’s entirely on the navigation team. So as we were getting to the point where we thought we would see the island, then we were supposed to see it at this time of the day and okay that passed, and then its in the middle of the day we cannot really see anything. There’s like a whole bunch of clouds, we were looking for the cloud that don’t move. Okay we are passing those clouds. Throughout that morning Max and Keahi were telling us about the spiritual aspects of navigation: trusting your naʻau and going beyond the math and science and having the confidence in yourself.”
Kamalu reflected, “People talk about the magic of Hōkūleʻa, she knows where the island is and I think there is reason for that I think not only is she special but every hand that has created her eveyone that has sailed her um and all those prayers that people put into her, they are really the ones that help her find the island. This was the first time I felt the magic myself.”
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