Crew Blog | Emily Lau & Finn Gibson: Studying the Star Compass

We’ve spent the past couple of evenings working on navigation with Uncle Bruce, and it’s one of our favorite parts of the day. After a long day in the sun, working on the boat and going on amazing adventures onshore in Maui, the nighttime with all the brilliant stars and cool, clear air is refreshing.

Hōkūleʻa rests in Lāhaina after her crossing of the Kaiwi Channel.

We started with the canoe compass, which is the way we calibrate the canoe to the cardinal points: ‘Ākau, Hikina, Hema, and Komohana. We stand at the pānānā of the canoe and line up the sun, stars, and the moon along various markings which denote different houses of the Star Compass. These days, the sun is setting in the house ‘Āina Ho’olua (slightly north of west). So, using the canoe compass, if the sun sets directly behind us, that means we’re pointing in the direction of ‘Āina Malanai (slightly south of east). (Of course, we’re anchored right now waiting for the ‘Alenuihāhā Channel to calm down, but this is a great time for us to practice!)

The canoe compass is one of the foundational parts of navigating, because it helps us steer accurately — but in order to use the canoe compass, we need to know where the stars, the moon, and the sun rise and set. Uncle Bruce uses his laser pointer to indicate different stars and constellations in the sky, and to trace out their paths throughout the night. For example, the “ecliptic” is the path that the sun travels throughout the year and the moon roughly travels throughout every month. The cool thing is, the ecliptic is drawn in the sky by the constellations of the Zodiac: Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries. Right now, we can only see Taurus early in the evening, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn early in the morning. We’re learning these constellations, and how to pick them out, so we can predict where the moon will rise and set a few days in advance.

Uncle Bruce started sharing his ‘ike about navigation with us only a few days ago (what he calls small bites of the elephant that is learning navigation), but already, our perception of the sky, of the stars, and of our positions here on Earth has drastically changed. We’re starting to really understand why Uncle Nainoa calls it a “Star Compass” — because we’re using the stars to locate ourselves.

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Crew Blog | Kai Hoshijo: Crossing the Kaiwi

Written by Kai Hoshijo

I’ve been close to Kaiwi my whole life growing up around the corner in Niu while benefiting greatly from its patterns. The bending of waves and wind have always been a gateway for my experience growing up and enjoying the ocean but I had never been in the thick of it and not on a waʻa. 

I have nothing to compare my first channel crossing to. It was rough and windy… and while I was tired from recently finishing up my semester, it was electric. Surprisingly as we were getting smacked by waves, there was a sense of enjoyment amongst our crew. We made many adjustments along the way to try to balance our canoe and make moves. 

Amongst those adjustments is also to be in waʻa mode and I’ve come to notice that Hōkūleʻa will easily push you to project like you are a part of the waʻa. as it moves you must feel and adjust with it. Trusting in one another with our captain and navigator, Uncle Nainoa and Tamiko, is a dominating dynamic while underway. Kaiwi showed me that we as a crew are facilitators with Hōkūleʻa. In a sense there’s this freedom yet control when you are in a place like Kaiwi 

In the latter part of the night when I began my watch I could hear the whipping wind and I saw a sky full of stars that I will never forget. The first time in my life where I was able to see and realize that we are surrounded by this sky. It’s always been there but how are we to ensure that experience for others? In terms of sailing we use the stars to understand where we are and where to go and how. But in a sense, this view of Ka Iwi was asking what Lewalani is telling us for methods of care? Ka Iwi reinforced my belief of interconnectedness and lessons embedded in ancestral practice with adaptation. 

One of the most important observations was seeing different parts of the Pae ʻĀina. This helped me to understand home in a different way. The raw power of Hawaiʻi and how these elements collect, brew, and bend. It’s scary but sometimes the things you want the most are the scariest. The raw power makes you feel different and on edge so finding that calm both in yourself, the waʻa, and your crew is a keystone part of my experience.

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Voyage Update | May 18, 2021

Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia will not be departing Lahaina, Maui today

Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia will not be departing Lahaina, Maui today because the winds in the Alenuihaha Channel have continued to create dangerous conditions for the voyaging canoes and the crew.  Forecasts say that there may be a window from Wednesday at the earliest.

Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia have been moored off of Lahaina, Maui, since Thursday, May 13, the morning after departing Honolulu for a training voyage to the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the area of the Pacific Ocean known as “the doldrums.”  The crew is awaiting conditions to improve so the canoes can safely cross the Alenuihaha Channel, between Maui and Hawaiʻi Island.  Unlike the Kaiwi Channel, which was quite windy and rough itself, the Alenuihaha is known to pose a larger challenge, and it has been under a small craft advisory with sustained winds of near 30 mph and stronger gusts.  

“Hawaiʻi is notorious, world-known by sailors as being a really rough place because of the height of our islands, funneling winds, strength of our currents going against the waves.  It’s just a place you have to pay respect to,” said Nainoa Thompson, Pwo navigator and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.  “Nature will decide the time of departure, not us.”  

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Voyage Update | May 16, 2021

Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia Delayed in Maui Due to Rough Conditions in the Alenuihaha Channel

Voyaging canoes Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia have been moored off of Lahaina, Maui, since Thursday, May 13, the morning after departing Honolulu for a training voyage to the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the area of the Pacific Ocean known as “the doldrums.” The crew is awaiting conditions to improve so the canoes can safely cross the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel, between Maui and Hawaiʻi Island. Unlike the Kaiwi Channel which was quite windy and rough itself, the ʻAlenuihāhā is known to pose a larger challenge, and it has been under a small craft advisory with sustained winds of near 30 mph. The earliest the crews will depart Lahaina will be Tuesday, May 18 (weather permitting).

Hōkūleʻa Captain and Pwo Navigator Nainoa Thompson and Hōkūleʻa Safety Officer Archie Kalepa shared updates on why the Alenuihaha can be so treacherous and why the call was made to stand by.

Hōkūleʻa Safety Officer Archie Kālepa

According to Thompson, the ʻAlenuihāhā is known for large waves and very strong winds funneled between Haleakala and the North Kohala Mountains and Mauna Kea, and when the current opposes the wind it becomes extremely dangerous. “It’s not like the wave is coming at you when it hits the canoe. Many times it’s coming down on you. It’s so steep and so tall that it breaks down on the canoes.”

Master Navigator and Hōkūleʻa Captain Nainoa Thompson

“We are training for the storm, but also being smart about certain areas on the earth that you need to have high respect for, so that our job is to grow as students, grow and learn by observing nature, and so we are here waiting for nature to tell us when we can go,” added Thompson. “So we set all our schedules and our calendars, everybody has to do that. These crews are volunteers, they all got to get back. But the final decision about sailing, leaving a port is up to nature, to tell us when it’s time we’re going, and it’s not the time. So we are standing by, we are paying attention. We are being patient, that’s what we’re trained to do by the great navigator Mau Piailug.”

Thompson also acknowledged that in addition to observing nature, PVS leadership is also using science and technology to help them with making these key decisions. He has been consulting with Ray Tanabe, Director, Pacific Region, NOAA National Weather Service, to get his perspective using satellite observations from space and at different positions in the ocean and on land.

“Right now the conditions are pretty rough in the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel. We’re seeing winds at least 25 knots and that corresponds to close to 30 miles an hour with higher gusts,” said Tanabe. “Because the trades have been around for a while now, the seas are also very high so we’re seeing wind waves as high as eight to 10 feet in the channel,” he added.

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Voyage Update | May 14, 2021

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Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia departed for “the doldrums”

Written by Vance Kaleohano Kahahawai Farrant

One of the most amazing things about our sail through the Ka’iwi channel was that in spite of crazy conditions, with winds whipping and big waves cracking against the side of Hōkūle’a, our crew was able to maintain such a calm and confident demeanor. I think part of that was due to the comfort of having an extremely experienced teacher on board with Uncle Nainoa, but I also think that a large part of it was due to the fact that we have an amazing crew of caring, hard working people and a strong crew relationship that allowed us to remain calm and joyful throughout what might have been an otherwise traumatic experience.

We were ready to trust and help one another. Most of us got soaked by waves, it was cold, and there was no shortage of stumbling on deck whenever the waves rocked us suddenly and yet there was such an abundance of smiles and learning happening throughout the journey. The channel crossing reminded me that while it is amazing when we can voyage beyond Hawai’i, we have a whole universe of learning to do within our own islands, and as we connect with other ʻāina, we should never forget the wonder and importance of giving our aloha and attention to our own islands, including our ocean.

Ka’iwi can teach us so many lessons about life and voyaging. We should never take traveling in Ka’iwi lightly, but that place has the potential to become a powerful classroom to educate future generations. Ka’iwi is not simply an empty or dangerous void between O’ahu and Moloka’i but rather a convergence of immense life and mana, which deserves our highest respect. Similar to the ways that our crew is hoping to reimagine the ways in which we acknowledge the importance and beauty of Ka Houpo o Kāne, we can actively give greater respect to these spaces closer to home.

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Crew Blog | May 13, 2021

Written by Vance Kaleohano Kahahawai Farrant

One of the most amazing things about our sail through the Ka’iwi channel was that in spite of crazy conditions, with winds whipping and big waves cracking against the side of Hōkūle’a, our crew was able to maintain such a calm and confident demeanor. I think part of that was due to the comfort of having an extremely experienced teacher on board with Uncle Nainoa, but I also think that a large part of it was due to the fact that we have an amazing crew of caring, hard working people and a strong crew relationship that allowed us to remain calm and joyful throughout what might have been an otherwise traumatic experience.

We were ready to trust and help one another. Most of us got soaked by waves, it was cold, and there was no shortage of stumbling on deck whenever the waves rocked us suddenly and yet there was such an abundance of smiles and learning happening throughout the journey. The channel crossing reminded me that while it is amazing when we can voyage beyond Hawai’i, we have a whole universe of learning to do within our own islands, and as we connect with other ʻāina, we should never forget the wonder and importance of giving our aloha and attention to our own islands, including our ocean.

Ka’iwi can teach us so many lessons about life and voyaging. We should never take traveling in Ka’iwi lightly, but that place has the potential to become a powerful classroom to educate future generations. Ka’iwi is not simply an empty or dangerous void between O’ahu and Moloka’i but rather a convergence of immense life and mana, which deserves our highest respect. Similar to the ways that our crew is hoping to reimagine the ways in which we acknowledge the importance and beauty of Ka Houpo o Kāne, we can actively give greater respect to these spaces closer to home.

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Moananuiākea Film | December 6, 2018 @ Doris Duke Theatre

The Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV proudly present MOANANUIĀKEA: ONE OCEAN. ONE PEOPLE. ONE CANOE. at upcoming screenings in Honolulu, Oʻahu. MOANANUIĀKEA is a feature-length documentary about Hōkūleʻa’s most ambitious journey to date: the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

December 6, 2018 at 7:00pm
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts

900 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi 96814

To purchase tickets, visit the Doris Duke Theatre website.


Moananuiākea illustrates the crucial role of indigenous voices and perspectives in both storytelling and in creating paradigm-changing solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The film honors ʻike Hawai‘i — traditional wisdom of our island culture — on a global stage. It extends the values of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage and the Hōkūle‘a, a beacon of sustainability, unity and culture, beyond the voyaging community for perpetuation in the wider world.

Moananuiākea plays a vital role in carrying the enduring legacy of the Mālama Honua Voyage into the future. The voyage’s groundbreaking conservation and preservation initiatives have already inspired countless new practices to protect our environment. The wildly successful revival of a traditional art that was nearly extinct has created a resurgence of pride and respect for native cultures and encourages the active rediscovery of forgotten cultural practices. The film does more than bring the audience to the sea, it shows them how our ancestors have always had the keys to a collectively bright future and how it is up to us to use them.