Crew Profile

Worth the Risk

After sailing more than 16,000 nautical miles on the Worldwide Voyage, Hōkūleʻa now faces new challenges and risks on the most dangerous leg to date.

Master navigator Nainoa Thompson revealed, “It’s probably the most complex sail plan we’ve ever had. It’s twenty-four hundred miles in a direct line going from Mauritius to Madagascar to the eastern side of South Africa and then we go around the southern tip of Madagascar. We enter the Mozambique channel, it’s got the fastest oceanic, it’s called a western boundary current, in the world. It’s stronger than the Gulf Stream. This leg more than any leg I think in the last 40 years is really trying to be able to be really really intelligent about how you deal with the wind plus the wave.” 

“So when the current comes down, it goes against the wind, what it does is it makes the waves bigger and it stacks them, it brings them closer together. Hōkūleʻa does not like those stacking waves, she’s not built for that. The canoe is not designed for that and so if we get into the situation where it is so rough then I do think that there’s nothing you can do. The canoe will be in overwhelm: you won’t be able to steer her and you won’t be able to raise sails. And so basically all you can do is sit it out,” explained Thompson. 

The unique challenges of this leg are also reflected in the crew, which includes both veteran and younger sailors.

Thomspons said, “Itʻs a challenge, it’s got risk, we know it, we understand it, we’ve been preparing for this particular leg. This is a good crew and I can hear it in their voice, I can feel it with them. They understand what they’re getting into, they’re matured, and they’re focused” 

Among the crew is Archie Kalepa, former Director of Ocean Safety for Maui County and current safety officer aboard Hōkūleʻa. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more afraid of a particular leg than I am of this leg. But in the same sense, I think that I’m really more aware of what’s going on and my role within this canoe,” said Kalepa. “I can take some of my knowledge that I’ve gained over the years of being on the ocean and look and see what’s out there and be able to analyze what I see as safe for the canoe, for the crew, and for the rest of this particular leg.”

“In my mind, I played out all the worst case scenarios so that when and if that does happen, at least I’m a little bit more prepared. Number one is knowing the responsibility I have to the people of Hawaiʻi and really the responsibility that each one of us, including myself, have to the canoe and every other crew member onboard that canoe,” said Kalepa. 

Thompson reflected, “I’ve been preparing for this leg for a long time. Years of research and this long process of mitigating risk and at the same time looking at these enormous opportunities of having Hōkūleʻa touch the sands of Africa. That notion that there would be possibly this moment that you would put her on the sands of Africa, half way around the world, the genesis of humanity, and us being the youngest culture to go back and to pay respect to humankind, I mean all of that. So you know, I mean, it may be the most dangerous leg, but it’s also one of the most pivotal legs.”


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