This is just the kinohi loa – the beginning - of a long voyage of words. It is dedicated to my aumakua and my kupuna and especially to my father, to Clorinda, to Pinky and Laura.
My father's ashes were laid in deep swirling pools of water in the Atlantic more than 35 years ago – blood of Hawaii nurtured by blood of New England – joined in the moana that knows no boundaries. I am two spirits – of the anuanu land, the cold place and the nopu, the hot – of the ohana of my mother and father. Their love for joins these two worlds. May this work which we take on – from the valley of Niu to the sand plains of Martha's Vineyard – strengthen that union.
In the harbor - ice like pancakes. On the ship - decks rimed with salt stirred by yesterday's wind. Sloops and schooners – moored in ice - wear mustaches. Sleeping.
A longshoreman exits a building, windows sheathed in condensed warmth. “Ain't seen it like this for a long time. It's the wind chill – forty below.” Pigeons huddle on the building's roof.
Seagulls squat on lily pads of ice. The air is still. A plume of smoke rises like a white pine tree. The ship glides through slush. I slide away from one island home – to another.
A faint sun. Sky joins sea in a dull crease – a deeper band of gray – as if at the ocean's extremity the atmosphere was bent upon itself like a piece of tin. The island, receding, is dark. Then lighter. Then gone.
The heiau browed the hill, gift of many ancient hands, strong with mana like bleached bone wrapped in tapa. The knowledge came with a price, was a gift encumbered with duty. Our navigator accepted the gift with ha'aha'a – humility. He would soon stand upon the smooth planks of the canoe – the leader of yet another seeking, accompanied by his aumakua and his ohana, his comrades entrusted to each other, sliding through danger. But first this. Alone. The request for pomaika'i – blessing – and for alaka'ina – guidance – and for koa – courage. Ancestral mana throbbed from the stones of the heiau into the soles of his feet. He stood there beneath the heiau's hooded eyes – waiting to enter.
Tautira: Hokule'a's Home in Tahiti
I first visited Pape'ete in 1966 when it was a somnolent seaside town with a few yachts tied to the quay along the main street. There were low buildings along the street and a famous bar, called Quinns, which had a rough reputation. Today, few places are left from that earlier time. There are the grand avenues where the old French Colonial buildings still stand and the Hotel Royal Pape'ete which was once the best but is now overshadowed by many new ones on the city's outskirts. Office buildings rise above boutiques and restaurants. The bars are fancy in the French manner, which means expensive and with an "I could care less" attitude which passes for an island weltzschmertz.
The Banyan trees that I remember still cast pools of shade along the park beside the main street and locals with tattoos still sit under them watching life pass and talking in a mix of Tahitian and French. The popping of motor scooters is familiar but it's now drowned by the roar of big diesel tourist busses and Mercedes trucks and the street is clouded with fumes. Pape'ete has become a place that, if you know better, you leave as soon as possible.
Hokule'a's home port in Tahitian waters is the village of Tautira, an hour's drive on a road that winds through a landscape of utilitarian architecture - burgeoning strip malls, gas stations, lotissemonts - a French-Polynesian version of suburban sprawl. Following the road, the hubbub of uncontrolled development subsides. The air clears of fumes. Mountain peaks jostle toward the shore - presenting waterfalls and vistas into deep valleys. In Tautira, the road ends.
Robert Louis Stevenson visited Tautira in 1888 on a cruise through the South Seas . "One November night in the village of Tautira ," he wrote to a friend, "we sat at the high table in the hall of assembly, hearing the natives sing. It was dark in the hall, and very warm; though at times the land wind blew a little shrewdly through the chinks, and at times, through the larger openings, we could see the moonlight on the lawn... You are to conceive us, therefore, in strange circumstances and very pleasing; in a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth; surrounded by a foreign race that all travelers have agreed to be the most engaging... We came forth again at last, in a cloudy moonlight, on the forest lawn which is the street of Tautira. The Pacific roared outside upon the reef. Here and there one of the scattered palm-built lodges shone out under the shadow of the wood, the lamplight bursting through the crannies of the wall."
Tautira has changed since then, of course. The "palm-built lodges" are long gone, replaced by neat bungalows of wood or cinderblock with metal roofs. But the mountains of the VaitepihHa Valley still rise above the village and the Pacific still roars upon the reef and the swells still make a solid white line on an azure gin-clear sea. In the lagoon it is calm. There are stands of tall coconut palm along the shore along with ironwood, milo, mango and ulu trees with leaves that open like human hands, yellow in the palm, dark green at the finger tips. Small fishing skiffs are parked in many lawns. There is a public water tap by the Mairie - the Mayor's office - and many village women come here to wash their clothes; hanging them out to dry in the yard - pareos of many colors and designs. Driving into the village, the valley opens wide, revealing peaks deep inside, masked in cloud. The slopes are light green with ferns. Mango trees stand above the ferns and lower down are hala trees in groves. Tautira remains, as Stevenson wrote more than a hundred years ago, "a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth."
Nainoa Thompson first visited Tautira in 1976 as a crewmember aboard Hokule'a. There he met Puaniho Tauotaha, one of the village elders - a fisherman, canoe paddler, and canoe carver - a man of immense physical and spiritual strength.
"You could be in the canoe house," Nainoa remembers, "and there was laughter and singing and people talking but when Puaniho got up to speak there was complete silence. I didn't know what he was saying but it felt like an oration. And if he wasn't doing that he never said anything. When he coached the canoe paddlers he hardly said a word. He was an extremely quiet man. Very religious, very disciplined. He was the edge of the old times."
After her famous maiden voyage to Tahiti , Hokule'a sailed from village to village along the coast. Wherever she stopped, the crew was hosted like visiting royalty. Nainoa had yet to sail aboard the canoe on a long voyage and although he had prepared for the return trip he was nervous and he was embarrassed by the attention.
"We would prance into these parties and sit down and they would feed us food and beer all night as if we were very special people - which we were not," he remembers. "We sailed into Tautira, the last stop in Tahiti , and we anchored and I had just had enough. I told Kawika, the captain, 'I will stay aboard the canoe.' The current was strong. We had two anchors and the bottom was coral and they were not going to hold well so I was worried. 'We are so close to leaving,' I thought, 'what if the anchors drag and we damage the canoe?'"
Kawika agreed that Nainoa could stay aboard while the rest of the crew went to the party in the village. That afternoon, Nainoa enjoyed the solitude. The canoe bobbed serenely at her anchorage. The sun began to settle over the nearby mountains.
"Finally, the sun went down behind Tahiti Nui," Nainoa remembers, "and I saw this little girl, maybe four or five years old, on the beach. She had a flower in her ear and she was waving to me to come on shore. She just kept on waving. So I went on shore and she grabbed me with hands so small that she could just hold two of my fingers. She took me by the hand and led me down the road and into a simple house with a dirt floor. They had put in some picnic tables and they had the whole crew in there and they were feeding them shrimp and steak and all kinds of food. Somebody would stand behind you and if your beer glass got half empty they would fill it up. Puaniho came in. He was the stroker for the old time canoe paddlers. He sat down. He had powerful eyes. He was poor in material things but he was a very strong and powerful man. He couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak French or Tahitian. We sat there and we spent the evening with him. It was just overwhelming how much the people of the village give when they had so little to give. They didn't have a floor in their house, much less beer and steak to share. I felt awkward. Here was this Hawaiian group who really didn't know a damn thing about sailing and they were treating us as if we were special people."
"We sailed back to Pape'ete and we were staying in a hostel," Nainoa continues. "Two days before we left I was sleeping in my room and about four o'clock in the morning I woke up. Puaniho's wife was pulling me by my toes and waving to me to go outside. So I got my clothes on and we went outside. She couldn't speak any English and so she just signaled to get in her truck. We drove all the way back to Tautira, early in the morning, as the sun came up. We went to every house, every house, and we stopped and they filled that truck up with food. By the time we drove back to Pape'ete I was sitting on a mound of food - banana, taro, mango, uru - everything. There was no verbal communication. Puaniho drove right up to the canoe. He knew exactly what he was going to do. They put all the food aboard and then he drove off."
"Somehow Puaniho knew that I was nervous about the trip. I was even considering not going. The next day he came back and he had carved a wooden cross, a necklace, and he gave it to me. That was when I knew that I had to go."
When Nainoa returned to Hawai'i aboard Hokule'a in 1976, he told his grandmother, Clorinda Lucas, and his parents, Pinky and Laura Thompson about Puaniho and the hospitality the crew had received in Tautira.
"I told that story to my grandmother and to my mom and dad and you can imagine what that meant to them. They knew that I was afraid - that I felt that I was not prepared. And these Tahitians knew what to do to care for me and the crew by giving us what they could - their food and their aloha."
In 1977, Nainoa invited Tautira's Maire Nui Canoe Club to Hawai'i to compete in the Moloka'i Race. About fifty people arrived. Pinky and Laura moved out of their home in the Niu Valley as did Nainoa and his sister Lita and her husband Bruce Blankenfeld. They converted the Hui Nalu canoe shed into a dormitory with bunk beds on loan from the National Guard. For a month Nainoa and his family hosted their Tahitian guests. It was the beginning of many such exchanges between the people of Hawaii and Tautira.
Maire Nui won the race. "All the other crews were competing for second place," Nainoa remembers. They returned twice more, winning each time, and retired the famous Outrigger Canoe Club cup which now sits in the house of Sane Matehau Salmon - Hokule'a's host whenever she visits Tautira.
"If you understand how anxious my parents and grandmother were during the 1976 voyage, you can understand how grateful they were for the hospitality shown to us by the people of Tautira. And you can understand how they would move out of their house and give it to them and feed them for a month. That's why Sane says 'This we will never forget and this is why we will always take care of you when you visit Tahiti .' And then you can also understand why Hokule'a has to come back to Tautira whenever we come to Tahiti ."
"For me, Tautira is not just a beautiful physical place. It's a symbol for the kinds of values that are important," Nainoa says. "I learned from the people of Tautira that there are other ways to measure wealth besides the things that you accumulate. The people of Tautira are extremely happy when they see that we are happy. When they give to you they feel rich themselves. That is what Tautira is all about.”
It's simmering in the flat skirt of land beneath Tautira's towering peaks. Crevices etched in the peaks by rainy season waterfalls are dry. The lagoon is a mirror and the surf is a light scrim lining the reef. Puffy cumulus clouds crenellate the horizon as cirrus and mare's tails glide almost imperceptibly overhead. There's not a breath of wind.
In the morning, we receive flu shots from doctor Ming-Lei Tim Sing and Kaui Pelekane, a nurse at Queen's Hospital in Honolulu .
Chad Baybayan presides at our first meeting as a crew.
“Have all the halyards been checked for wear and replaces where necessary?” he asks Kamaki Worthington, a crew member on the voyage to Rapa Nui who remained in Tahiti to care for the canoe.
“The halyards are done,” Kamaki says, “and the sails are tied on and ready. The number twenty-nine is on the fore mast and the thirty-two is on the mizzen.”
“How about the radios?”
“The handhelds work fine and we tested the transponders and the single sideband.”
The transponder is a radio transmitter that sends a signal to Honolulu via satellite where it is decoded at the University of Hawaii to provide a record of Hokule'a's track across the ocean.
“Good work,” says Chad .
“Mike and Kahua will check out the radios today,” he continues, assigning each of us our tasks, “and call PSAT this morning.”
“Ka'iulani and I will make sure the water is loaded aboard.”
“Sam, you inventory the documentation gear.”
“Bruce and Snake, you check the fishing equipment. Pomai and Terry will check the galley, and Bruce – can you make a list of the fresh food we'll have to take aboard?”
Whenever Hokule'a arrives in Tautira, her crew is fed and housed by the villagers, with assignments arranged by Sane Matehau, mayor for the last 23 years and a prosperous building contractor. Sane appears to be in his early fifties. He is a physically strong man, barrel-chested, with a round open face that is often creased with pleasure. He wears his hair in a modified brush cut. His girth is ample. He is a man who naturally commands attention. Sane has six brothers and three sisters - a huge family that has become our ‘ohana in Tautra.
Edmon and Lurline – Shantell, Sam and Pomai
Vaihirua – Maka
Tepe'a and Toimata – Bruce
Ota and Terrevarua – Tava, Kamaki and Chad
Sikke and Linda Matehau - Mailing and Kona
Franco and Laiza Toofa – Kaui Pelekane
Jaqueline and Sabu – Marco
Sylvain and Lydia Atchong – Terry
Mereille and Manuia Marutaata – Ka'iulani
Maeva and Patrice Taerea – Nainoa and Pinky
Rosedine and Gerrard Mana - Joey
We continue to prepare for sea. During the morning crew meeting, Nainoa asks us to have the canoe ready to depart on three hours notice beginning tomorrow. The wind has been light and northerly but if it shifts back to trades from the southeast, we must be ready to take advantage of it.
“Our main problem is to get north beyond the Tuamotus,” he tells us, "and that's about 240 miles. So if the wind shifts we've got to go."
The Tuamotus screen our course to Hawaii . Sometimes called "the dangerous islands," they are low coral atolls - difficult to see during the day and almost impossible to see at night - although Master Navigator Mau Piailug can smell their coconut palms many miles at sea. The islands are a blessing for canoes sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti because they provide a 405 mile long "safety net" across the canoe's path - a large area of land and bird signs that extends the geography of landfall. But sailing back to Hawai'i they're a barrier to the open ocean which must be passed before a navigator can breathe freely.
With the wind on our beam - from the east - we can sail through the Tuamotus quickly, but when it's from the north, as it is today, we must tack - extending the time we are among the low coral atolls - and the danger.
As we wait for favorable winds, hundreds of chores are completed - life jackets, harnesses and flashlights are distributed to the crew; strobe lights, and man overboard gear is checked; electrical equipment - radios, satellite transponders, solar panels and batteries – is tested; galley gear is loaded aboard.
Tomorrow the vigil begins. The navigators will scan the skies for signs of easterly winds while we await the word to depart. Our duffel bags are packed.
Sailing Hokule'a with a crew of volunteers over routes not traversed for perhaps a millennium has presented many crises. One such occurred in May of 1997, when Nainoa hired a surveyor to inspect the canoe prior to its voyage to Rapa Nui .
A marine surveyor is empowered to say whether or not a vessel is seaworthy. He uses simple tools, a trained eye, a pocketknife and a rubber mallet. With his knife he probes for dry rot, a kind of virus that reduces wood to dust, although not obviously so to the naked eye. Poking in strategic places tells the story. If the knife goes in easily, the wood is rotten. Banging on the hull with a mallet may produce discordant notes to a surveyor's ear, another sign of problems.
After a few hours of poking and banging on that May afternoon, the surveyor made his report: "the canoe is rotten," he said. "I cannot certify her seaworthiness. I suggest you think about putting her in a museum." The pronouncement was a surprise but not a shock. Nainoa had seen places where there was dry rot, but the canoe had taken him safely across many oceans and had demonstrated more than seaworthiness, she had shown her mana, her strength of spirit. Retiring Hokule'a to a museum was not an option.
"I need two lists," Nainoa said to the surveyor, "I need a list of what's wrong with her, and a list of what to do to make her even stronger than when she was built."
The what-to-do list was long. Two of the wooden iakos had to be replaced - an onerous job but not exceedingly so. The hull was another matter. Wooden stringers run lengthwise from bow to stern, providing strength. There are five such stringers on each side, many of them rotten. The job of fixing all these problems fell to Bruce Blankenfeld.
In September, the canoe went into dry-dock. Perhaps "dry-dock" is a misnomer because it conjures a picture of Hokule'a in a mammoth shipyard cofferdam. Hokule'a's dry-dock was a shed in a decrepit section of the Port of Honolulu . Nearby was a junkyard with a tall fence and barking dogs, a pile of sand for making cement, a small marina, a few boatyards that did not appear very busy. Bruce set about finding workers.
"It's easy to find people when you're ready to go sailing but when you need them to maintain the canoe it can be pretty difficult. I had a group of young folk come down at the beginning of September and tell me they wanted to help. I said, 'well, it's pretty easy to do that. All you have to do is show up.' But after they saw all the work that was going on, they never returned."
What the prospective workers saw was nasty. Young men and women squirmed through hatches only slightly wider than their shoulders where they toiled for hours, in Stygian gloom, amidst fiberglass dust and the odor of polyvinyl resin. They excised the rotten stringers. They fitted new sections of wood. Then they "sister-framed" each stringer by adding two new pieces of wood, one on top and one on the bottom. Triangular wedges of foamed plastic followed for yet more strength and to "fair" the stringers into the hull. They sanded all this smooth and laid layers of glass fiber over it. They pushed resin into the fiber's mesh. When it hardened, the process was repeated. Then again. Three coats of resin; then two coats of paint. Meanwhile, other volunteers sanded off the hulls' gel-coat. Fiberglass dust veiled the canoe, clogging the pores of exposed skin. For eight months, Bruce found himself down at dry-dock at odd hours inspecting the work. Seeing his crew laboring over the canoe was like seeing a resurrection.
"Even though the work was hard, there was always a lot of energy. We saw progress every day. People are working together in the same place. It's usually dry and, compared to sailing the canoe, working conditions are luxurious. There are fits and starts, but everything seems to come together all right in the end. You are working on something that is very beautiful. You are touching the past with sandpaper and saws and rope lashings."
Bruce supervised his crew as they stripped the canoe's twin masts and brushed on eight coats of varnish and sanded each to the texture of baby-skin. Then they renewed five miles of rope lashings a few feet at a time. They ripped off deck planking, replaced and relashed it. The canoe received new iakos, new splashboards, and new manus fore and aft. She received stanchions, catwalks, hatches, and wiring for running lights and emergency radios.
An army of volunteers donated thousands of man and woman hours to Hokule'a's rebirth, a laying on of hands that expressed their deep commitment to the canoe and what she meant to them. They came from all walks of life. There is Russell Amimoto, for example, nineteen years old, a professional house painter and volunteer canoe lasher. He has served Hokule'a for three years. There is Kamaki Worthington, twenty-six, a teacher, fiberglasser, also a veteran of three years service. There is Kiki Hugo, in his forties, a cross country trucker who spends long months on the mainland driving from San Francisco to the Bronx, the Bronx to San Francisco, until he earns enough money to return home to Oahu. He is a kupuna, an elder crewmember with twenty-five years service. There is Lilikala Kamalehiva, fortyish, college professor, chair of the department of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, Hokule'a's chanter and master of protocol; Wally Froiseth, early seventies, once Hawaii's most famous big-wave surfer, now captain of the pilot boat of the Port of Honolulu; Jerry Ongies, early sixties, retired Army officer, ex-manager Dole Pineapple plant, boat builder, cabinet maker, canoe fabricator. This list of workers is an extremely small selection of the hundreds who donated their time to the canoe. The complete list would fill a book. If you were to ask these people why they have so freely given of themselves to the canoe they will provide a variety of reasons, unique to each of them, but there will also be a common response similar to what Nainoa once told an audience of legislators when they asked him why they should fund Hokule'a and her voyages.
"We must sail in the wake of our ancestors," he told them, "to find ourselves."
Finally, on the last week in March, the work was finished. The surveyor returned with his knife, his mallet and his well trained eye and certified the canoe "Lloyds A-1," nomenclature used by the world's largest insurer of watercraft to signify complete readiness for sea. A few days later, the canoe was launched. Among the men and women who tended Hokule'a as a giant crane lifted her from her cradle and laid her upon the ocean was Bruce Blankenfeld.
“The mana in this canoe comes from all the people who have sailed aboard Hokule'a and cared for her," Bruce said, looking out over the crowd that had come down for the launching. "I think of the literally hundreds of people who have come down and given to the canoe when she was in dry dock. I think of everyone who has shared similar work since she was first launched in 1975, those who have sailed aboard her, the men and women in all the islands we have visited who hosted us. All of this malama - this laying on of hands - adds to the mana of the canoe. It is intangible but it is alive and well."
You could imagine a meeting like this in a thatch-roofed canoe house hundreds of years ago with the visitors' double-hull voyaging canoe drawn up on the beach outside. But this meeting is held in the white-washed conference room of Tautira's mayor - Sane Matehau - and the date is January 27th, the year 2000. Only the feeling is ancient - a sharing of stories by friends from distant islands, a bonding together of a wide-spread `ohana.
Outside the conference room, the setting sun colors clouds over nearby mountains and a cool wind washes ashore over the reef. Inside, we are seated in a circle with representatives of Tautira's community, including Kahu from the Protestant, Catholic and Mormon churches. Sane has called the gathering to celebrate the 25 th anniversary of the joining of Tautira's people with the people of Hawai`i .
The first to speak is Tutaha Salmon. For a Tahitian, he appears almost delicate, yet his bearing is dignified, suggesting confidence. His graying hair indicates he may be in his seventies. Tutaha was once the mayor of Tautira – a position now held by Sane - his son-in-law. He is now the governor of a large Tahitiian district including Tautira and three other towns: Faaone, Taravao and Pueu.
"It's an honor that whenever Hokule`a sails to Tahiti she lands here in Tautira," Tutaha tells us. "How many times have you come? I cannot count them. But what's important is that you are now our family - our brothers and sisters."
Following protocol that is ancient, Tutaha then speaks of his elders. The enfolding story of Hokule`a's relationship with Tautira began with "the old men" - a six-man canoe team who paddled their way into the history books
"Our dream of cultural exchange was born twenty-five years ago. In those days the man I remember first is Puaniho. He has now passed on but he showed us the way. He was a quiet man, but powerful. There was Mate Hoatua the steersman on the canoe from Haleolono to Waikiki . He steered the whole way, without relief. Henere, Tevae, Nanua and Vahirua paddled the canoe. We called them "the old men" because their minimum age was fifty. This is our time to remember them and to tie that rope tight to the mast."
"The old men" of Tautira's Maire Nui canoe club first traveled to Hawai`i in 1975 to compete in the Moloka`i race. Pinky Thompson next rose to speak in response to Tutaha's welcome.
"I want you to know that we feel at home ever since you took a strange looking Hawaiian youth into your homes 25 years ago, my son Nainoa. You recognized immediately that he was a stranger in a land that was strange to him and you malama-ed [took care of] him."
Nainoa came to Tautira in 1995 as a member of Hokule`a's crew. He recognized immediately that the "old men" of Maire nui paddled differently then any team in Hawai`i .
"They were so smooth," Nainoa recalls, "their movements were fluid, no lost energy, and their canoe seemed to leap forward - faster than anything I had every seen.”
He wanted to learn from them and in 1977 he got the chance. In that year's Moloka`i race, Nainoa's team from Hui Nalu lined up next to "the old men."
"They were twice our age, and we were a pretty strong crew but they left us in their wake, paddling easily."
In that same year, Nainoa traveled to Marina del Rey to serve on a motor boat escorting Maire Nui in the Race to Newport Beach , California .
"They finished the race, took a shower, and were drinking a beer before the second place canoe arrived. They beat them by an hour and 4 minutes."
Nainoa invited Maire Nui to stay in Niu Valley when they came to Hawai`i in 1978 for the Moloka`i race and again in 1979 when they won the koa division for the third consecutive time – retiring the famous Outrigger Canoe Club cup to an exhibit case at Sane Matehau's home in Tautira. Over the years, visits by Maire Nui to Hawai`i and by Hawaiians to Tahiti continued. Puaniho built a Koa canoe for Hui Nalu and later another famous Tautira canoe builder flew to Kona to build six Koa canoes - helping to inspire a renewal in traditional canoe building that thrives today.
Nainoa, Bruce, Pinky and their Hui Nalu colleagues studied the Tahitian way of paddling and became champions themselves. Pinky remembered those moments in his presentation at the Mayor's office.
"You helped us become champion paddlers, but you did much more than that. You helped us to return pride to our Polynesian people by restoring our native craft of canoe building and paddling."
"'The old men' taught us what it means to be champs,” Nainoa added. “It's not about outward appearance. It's about what happens inside. They didn't talk much because they knew that the mana comes from within. They didn't think of themselves representing just a club - they represented all their people.”
“We're on three hour call to set sail,” Nainoa tells us at this morning's crew briefing. “Our first problem will be to get to the Tuamotus, 240 miles to the northeast. The crew is made up of new sailors and expert sailors. It's designed that way. Bruce and Chad are in overall charge of safety and of educating the new crew. They will stand six-hour watches each – six on and six off. They will hot bunk with each other, share the same puka, because when one is sleeping the other will be on watch. Tava, Snake and Mike will be watch captains. Shantell will navigate and so she will be up most of the time. Ka'iulani and Kahualaulani will assist her so they will stand 6 hour watches, on and off. Pomai will cook, so she'll not stand a watch. The rest of you will be on watch for 4 hours, then have 8 hours off.”
On one of the long tables at Sane's house, where we eat every morning and evening, Nainoa spreads a map of the Pacific. He traces his finger along a red line drawn on the map from Tahiti to the Big Island .
“This is our course line. It's been drawn like this ever since 1980. Makatea, here, and Rangiroa and Tikihau, here, will be stepping-stones as we head north. Once we clear the Tuamotus we will sail on long tacks, hopefully one single tack, to this point 275 miles west of the Big Island , where we will turn to sail downwind, probably to Hilo . With the new sails we have now we should be able to sail efficiently. I think it will take about 22 days.”
“Our problem now is the weather. Normal trade winds, from the east or southeast, are ideal. Hokule'a can point six houses into the wind, so we can sail north or northeast. But the forecasts are now calling for winds from the north and in those conditions here's what happens.”
Nainoa takes two pencils and joins them together at the ends, the lead tips pointing outward. He arranges them in a fan with the included angle equal to six houses - 67 and a half degrees – the angle that Hokule'a can make when sailing into the wind. He lays the pencils up against the chart with the right hand pencil heading north, into the wind, and the left hand one – our course in a northerly wind – pointing off to the northwest.
“If the wind forces us to sail off to the northwest, we'll end up in Satawal.”
“The weather pattern in the Pacific at this time of the year extends over an area 5000 miles long. Since December, the Pacific (mid Pacific?) has been a convective factory of rising air. There's a large high-pressure system to the east. In the winter, the high-pressure systems move, but now they stall and another has formed to the west. In between the two systems there's a depression – a trough that extends south of Tahiti and to the west across the Pacific. It's a doldrum condition caused by two stationary air masses. A whole Pacific-wide system. That trough (which causes the north winds?) extends for a long, long way. If we set out now and sail to the northwest, we'll never get out of it. That system may be here for a long time. We're stuck.”
“There's a hurricane to the north of New Zealand , 2000 miles away, but there's no real chance that it will come up here. The hurricane is a refrigerator. It sucks out warm winds so it might allow the trades to reestablish themselves. If that happens we might get a single day of good sailing weather. But don't count on it.”
“So we have a big challenge. We have light winds but they're blowing from the direction we want to go – right in our face. To get out of here, we may have to tow. No one likes to tow, but we may have no other choice. Our voyage has a larger intent – we sail to serve our community – and we have to be back in time to get the canoe ready for her birthday at Kualoa on March 12 th . We cannot wait beyond the 5 th of February to leave, even if we have to tow. About 240 miles north of Manihi we can get into good trade winds.
Nainoa pauses, for a moment, allowing this to sink in.
“Okay, Chad and Bruce, you are in charge of seeing that the canoe is ready and conducting safety drills. But remember; be careful of the heat. You can easily dehydrate.”
(Check all of the above weather analysis with Nainoa)
Saturday, January 29 - Weather Watch
The ocean remains unsullied. Parapets of cumulus cloud are stalled around the horizon. There's a breath, and no more than that, of wind - but it's out of the north, so getting to the Tuamotus will be an ordeal of constant tacking into headwinds.
The high-pressure(?) ridge containing light unstable winds continues to dominate our weather system. We want the ridge to move but it's blocked by a zone of low pressure to the south, which pulls the wind toward it, creating northerlies. This morning Nainoa speaks with Bernie Kilonsky at the University of Hawai`i . The low may finally move south, Bernie tells him, allowing the high pressure ridge to move with it. If so, the light and variable northerlies should be replaced by easterly trades. We may see some change on Sunday and certainly by Monday. And, if Bernie is right, the trades should fill back in by Tuesday.
"Ok," says Nainoa, "we stay on alert to go within three hours notice - but if Bernie is correct we'll probably not leave until Tuesday."
In the meantime, Nainoa and Shantell Ching join with student navigators Kahualaulani Mick and Ka`iulani Murphy to lay out their course line to Hawai`i and discuss alternative routes depending on changeable wind and weather conditions. Bending over the kitchen table in Nainoa's house, they first consider the effect of the current.
"The longer you're in the current the more its effect will be," Nainoa explains, reviewing basic knowledge, "so the amount of offset will depend on your speed. The slower you go - the more the offset."
The offset is also affected by the angle that the canoe makes to the current. Assuming the canoe's speed to be five knots, for example, with an easterly current of half a knot, a heading of Manu (NE) will produce an offset to the west of four degrees. Increasing the canoe's angle to the current increases the offset. If she heads Nalani (NE by N) the offset is five degrees, while a course to the north (Akau) means an offset of six degrees. This kind of effect becomes great over long distances. Consider the passage from Rangiroa to the doldrums, about 1100 miles. At a speed of 5 knots, a half knot easterly current will set the canoe to the west 12 miles a day or 108 miles during the nine day voyage.
The navigators memorize current effects like these as a set of general principles which can be easily modified mentally as conditions change. If they sail north at 5 knots and the current is from the east at half a knot - the westerly offset is 12 miles each day. Change the canoes speed by 50% to 2.5 knots and the daily offset will be twice as much - or 24 miles – because the canoe will take twice as long to cover the same distance.
"We always try to eliminate having to do math in our heads," Nainoa explains, "it can cause serious brain damage."
For now, the navigators concentrate on the "first stage" of the voyage home - from Tahiti to just north of Rangiroa - when the canoe will enter the open ocean and begin "stage two" to the doldrums. During the first stage, Makatea - about 124 miles to the north - will be a stepping stone, a chance for Shantell and her colleagues to test the accuracy of their navigation. They consider when to depart Tautira in order to arrive at Makatea with sufficient time to explore the island.
They decide to leave at 11 am . They will have no celestial bodies to steer by so they must guide the canoe by "back sighting" on Tautira's mountain peaks. Shantell figures they will be able to use the 4,500' high mountains for about 60 miles on a clear day and maybe 30 on a humid day - like today.
"That means that if we sail at five knots we can use our back sight for about 6 hours," she says, "or until 5 p.m. By 3 p.m. the sun will be low enough on the horizon to steer by so we can check our course to Makatea and modify it if necessary."
When they reach Makatea, the navigators must decide when to set out for the difficult pass between the low coral atoll of Tikehau and Rangiroa which leads out into the open ocean. Kahualaulani runs his finger over the eastern side of Tikihau's fringing reef.
"These black marks are coconut trees," he says "and we should be able to see them maybe ten miles at sea - during the day. At night, forget about it. We might be right on top of the reef before we see it."
"The distance from Makatea to Tikehau is 40 miles," says Shantell "and we want to be no closer than 10 miles at sunrise, so when should we leave?"
"If we can average five knots then we should leave about midnight ," says Ka`iulani, "which should get us to a point about ten miles off the reef at about 6 a.m. "
And so it goes - the three navigators bend over their charts, discuss strategy, and make notes in their logbooks. From time to time, Nainoa joins them, asking questions - probing their readiness.
"I may be asking a lot of questions of you guys now," he says, "but at sea I'm going to back off. We'll meet at sunrise and sunset and talk about where you think you are and what course we should steer, but I will only step in if you're about to make a mistake that will jeopardize our safety."
The navigators' meeting breaks up at about noon but they will meet again at sunset to watch the stars rise over Tautira's peaks and establish their "back sight." The rest of us wait impatiently to board the canoe and leave - but for them the voyage has already begun.
For the crews of Kamahele and Hokule`a, including new arrival Nalani Wilson, today was mainly one of rest. The weather continues unchanged - hot, humid with little wind - although it was cooler last night. At 4 a.m. this morning Ota, Sabu, Papa Vaihiroa and Tepea began preparing the imu for what may be our last big feast in Tautira before departing. At one p.m. , we gathered at Sane's to pule, then dig into roast pork, fish, taro, breadfruit and all the traditional dressings - a grand Tahitian feast. And singing, lots of singing.
CREW PROFILE - Pomaikalani Bertelmann
A generation or so ago two Bertelmann brothers married two Lindsey sisters and the trajectory of history in the Big Island town of Waimea shifted slightly. Glenn Bertelmann and Delsa Lindsey had seven children and Clay Bertelmann and Deedee Lindsey produced five - a tight family with deep roots in a much larger `ohana that thrived beneath the gentle catenary arc of Mauna Kea . In Clay and Deedee's family, Pomaikalani was the first-born - on March 7, 1973 , in Honoka`a. At the time, her father was a well known Parker Ranch cowboy, so it's not surprising that young Pomai grew to love horses - in fact, animals of all kinds.
"I was basically raised on my family's ranch and riding was a passion since I can remember," Pomai says. "I also worked as a kid on Hale Kea ranch in Waimea, fixing fences, raking the arenas, exercising horses and taking care of the livestock."
Waimea was less dressy in those days, an informal rural town where children could safely ride horses along the main street and in the surrounding empty pastures. They rode to the Dairy Queen drive-up window to order hamburgers, they staged informal barrel and baton races and played "musical chairs" in the vast empty prairie just outside town.
"A sense of community was second nature among us," Pomai says, "there were kids from all the families - the Keakealani family, also Rebozos, De Silvas, Kimuras, Lindseys - a lot of Lindseys - Kainoas, Colemans, Kanihos, Kaauas, Bergins, Awaas, Purdeys and the Fergerstrom family - to name a few. All of us were kaukalio (riding horses)."
One of the biggest events in Waimea was the fourth of July rodeo organized by the Parker Ranch Roundup Club where cowboys from the ranch's numerous divisions competed in various events - cutting, roping, racing.
"The cowboy life style was not exclusive of women, not at all. There were a lot of awesome women riders too. Lorraine Urbic sat a horse like no one else, and she won a lot of races. Then, just to name a few, there was Hoppy Whitehead, Val Hanohano, and Peewee Lindsey - all of them very strong people - great role models for us."
But life in Waimea embraced more than the land-based culture of the Paniolo.
"One of my fondest memories," Pomai explains, "was loading up the family Bronco with my mom and dad and the five of us kids and then picking up all my cousins and food and camping gear and heading for the beach. We went to a place called Wailea at Puako. There was no one there in those days. We had the place all to ourselves. Right next to where we used to camp there's a telephone pole with the number "69" printed on it. Since then, things have changed. Malahini now call Wailea "number sixty-nine". When you lose the real Hawaiian name, you lose a lot.”
At Wailea and other places, Pomai learned to dive with her father and she enjoyed fishing but never really grew fond of other water sports. As a youngster it was always the life kaukalio and with animals that attracted her most. But in 1975, her Uncle Shorty sailed aboard Hokule`a on her maiden voyage to Tahiti .
"We supported him as a family, and whenever the canoe came to the Big Island we helped care for her and her crew."
During the series of voyages between 1985 and 1987, Pomai's father Clay sailed often aboard Hokule`a.
"He was away at sea for maybe six months during those two years, and I began to wonder a little about the kind of life he was leading."
Gradually, Pomai's family was becoming more and more entwined with the sea. From 1989 to 1991 the Bertelmann family helped search the forests surrounding Mauna Kea for koa logs to build Hawai`iloa. They cooked and packed food for the searchers, walked side by side with them during long weekend treks - took a key role in the entire process. Ultimately, so devastated were Hawai`i 's forests, that no logs were found and the canoe was built instead of Alaskan spruce. But from this effort, Mauloa was born - the first traditionally made Hawaiian six man coastal canoe fashioned within perhaps centuries.
"We did find Koa logs big enough for a smaller canoe," Pomai explains. "We went to Keahou to fell the trees and we lived there over a long weekend in tents."
The canoe builders used adzes that they fashioned from stone gathered at the ancient Keanakakao`i adze quarry on Mauna Kea under the watchful eye of Mau Piailug. From 1991 to 1993, Pomai's father Clay spent every weekend at Pu`uhonua O Honaunau working on the canoe.
"In traditional times women were not allowed to work on canoes so we supported the men," Pomai explains. "Mauloa was built by the Na kalai wa`a - the canoe builders - from Koa and Breadfruit sap and sennit and Lauhala, her hulls were smoothed by stones and she was given a sheen with Kukui oil.
In 1992, Pomai went with her father to O`ahu to help him prepare for Hokule`a's voyage to the Cook Islands . There she met a group of young people who were beginning to assume leadership roles - Moana Doi, Keahi Omai, Ka`au McKenney and Chadd Paishon, who she would eventually marry.
"I began to think seriously about my life in 1992," she remembers, "and as I learned more about the values involved in voyaging, I thought I wanted them in my own life. Voyaging gave me a sense of family - which was familiar since I had grown up in a strong supportive family - and it gave me a connection to my cultural roots. And when Mau Piailug began to stay with us I met a man who had done so much for our people - how could I not be excited?"
Next came Makali`i - the Big Island canoe built by a passionate community effort spearheaded by Clay, Shorty and Tiger Espere. Beginning work in January 1994, the canoe was finished the following December. In September, Pomai became - as she puts it - "a one woman administrative staff," for Na Kalai Wa`a Moku O Hawai`i - The Canoe Builders of Hawai`i. She was hooked.
In 1995, Pomai sailed aboard Makali`i from Tahiti , through the Marquesas, and back to Hawai`i. "Then in 1997, Mau asked us to take him home to Satawal on Makali`i and, of course, there was no question about it." In February of 1999, Makali`i raised anchor and set out on the voyage called E Mau - "Sailing the Master Home."
"We sailed to many islands in Micronesia to honor Mau among his own people," says Pomai. "On Satawal I saw Mau as a complete man for the first time - not just as a navigator - but also as a father, a husband, a fisherman, a farmer - you should see his taro patch. I have never seen him so happy."
Soon after Makali`i returned from Micronesia , Pomai was once again deeply immersed in organizing the details of caring for the canoe and organizing it's many educational voyages. Through the intimate grapevine of Hawaiian sailors, she learned of Hokule`a's upcoming voyage to Rapa Nui . "I also heard that it might be Nainoa's last voyage as a navigator," she remembers, "and I was heart broken. I always wanted to sail with him. I thought I might never get the chance." A short time later, Nainoa called and invited her to come aboard Hokule`a for the fifth leg - the voyage home.
"This is such an honor for me," Pomai says, "to have a chance to not only learn from Nainoa but from the greatest sailors of the last quarter century of traditional voyaging - from Uncle Snake and Uncle Mike and Uncle Tava. I'm now sailing with the guys who started the renewal of our ancient voyaging arts and contributed to the beginning of the revival of our Hawaiian culture."
January 31, Monday - Wind Watch
At 5:30 a.m. Shantell and Pomai Bertelmann stand at the end of the jetty leading into Tautira's harbor. They see the dark outline of mountain peaks descend to the sea - punctuated by upthrusting coconut palms at the shore. They see an upturned scimitar of moon, pale against the brightening sky, and the bright spot that is Venus. More importantly, they see a broken rope of compressed ropy cumulus clouds trailing away to sea from the mountains' dark slopes.
"There's wind out there," Shantell says, "and it looks like light trades. The clouds are dispersed on the horizon which means the wind is light, it's not strong enough to push them together, but it's there alright."
Ripples flit across the surface of the lagoon - fanning away from the beach - the result of wind funneling through deep valleys behind Tautira.
"That's a local wind," Pomai says, "which is apparently from the south, but it's not significant."
Cars and bicyclists begin to move through the village. A group of children, bearing baguettes, walk by. The sun rises orange behind the low scudding clouds and the clouds lighten and pick up the sun's orange glow. High cirrus clouds are brush strokes of yellow and white.
After breakfast, we meet aboard Hokule`a where Nainoa , Chad and Bruce assign each of us watches and duties while underway. The canoe is moored in the sheltered lagoon. There's no breeze and it's already extremely hot. Snake, Mike and Tava - the three Watch Captains - take us through drills. We open and close the sails and practice bending different jibs on the forestay. We rig a larger mizzen sail in anticipation of light winds. As a final drill, and without warning, Bruce yells "man overboard" which elicits a scurry to pull in the sails, douse the jib, deploy the man overboard pole and make radio contact with the imaginary escort boat ghosting in our wake.
"Good job," is Bruce's comment.
By 2 p.m. , the low ropy cumulus clouds have morphed into puffy ragged shapes - an N.C. Weyeth sky - with exuberant parapets of cloud marching briskly from east to west. Palm fronds clack together in the freshening breeze. Nainoa spreads the word - if the winds continue to build, we may depart tomorrow morning.
In the afternoon, Shantell and the student navigators gather with Nainoa. They discuss the weather. “When you look at the clouds and see that the bases are all at the same level over the horizon, then you can predict that there is wind out there.” says Nainoa. “If you see high clouds with a lot of vertical development, the winds are slowing down. But you can be fooled. During a hot day like this morning, the land heats up and the cool air over the water tends to flow toward the land – a convection effect – and that makes it appear that there may be strong trade winds. But if the wind comes out of the valleys at night, you know that it's not trades.”
“This morning it looked like we might have light trades,” says Shantell, “but in the afternoon when I was at Sane's the clouds started to get more vertical.”
“And wisps of cirrus,” says Nainoa. “When rain squalls develop vertically the rain pulls down the moisture and leaves cirrus behind. The wind regime is still very light. We have to wait until tomorrow to see what develops.”
“The trip to Rapa Nui required that I be able to focus and to use my instinct much more than my intellect,” Nainoa says. “We sailed on even when there were no stars. We were pushing every inch of the way to stay ahead of a front behind us. That was a trip that I knew my intellect would not get us through, so for this voyage I'm paying more attention to the other side.”
The navigators focus on the upcoming voyage to Makatea. (Check this) “Makatea is 65 degrees from Tautira,” says Shantell, “ so if you factor in 5 degrees of lee drift and 5 degrees of current at 5 knots (the current or speed of canoe?) we want to point the canoe one house upwind of the current. We want to steer Nalani.”
“What is the estimated time of departure out of Tautira to get to Makatea based on a canoe speed of three knots?” Nainoa asks. “Keep in mind that we can see about 21 miles on a light wind day because there's no salt in the air.”
“At one a.m. on Wednesday,” says Shantell.
“So we would be at Makatea at 6 p.m. , that's ugly.”
“How long would it take if we can sail at 4 knots?”
“So when do we leave?”
“ Eleven a.m. ” (I don't think this is right. If takes 41 hours at 3 knots and 31 hours at 4 knots, the difference in time to leave is 10 hours, so 6pm minus 10 hours = 9AM?)
“Yes, so we need a wind that will allow us to sail at about 4 knots. If our speed parameter is 4 knots, we won't leave tomorrow. Let's shoot for Wednesday and better winds.”
“If we want to stop ten miles short of Tikihau at night, do we wait at Makatea or de we leave and wait at Rangiroa?” Kahualaulani asks.
“If the winds are from the east we go and wait at Rangiroa. If they are behind us – no. The wind will tend to blow us onto the islands.”
“Tikihau is hard to see,” says Shantell. “When we went there in '95, it took me a long time before I could see the trees.”
“I want to sail home,” says Nainoa at the close of the meeting, “because only through sailing can we learn. It's the relationship between us and the canoe and nature that I want, so I'm opposed to towing because that allows us to artificially set our speed and we don't learn.”
At the end of the day, we fan out to our homes to wash clothes, write in our journals and prepare for departure. Shantell Ching lays out her star charts on the long dining table at Sane's house and immerses herself once again in the intricate details of navigating Hokule`a home.
At 5 a.m. , when the village first begins to stir, the lagoon is calm. Palm fronds are motionless. The air is still. It appears that yesterday's cloud messengers and their rumor of trade winds was a ruse. Last night, downpours cleaned the sky, opening a view to brilliant stars - Orion (ka heihei o na keiki), Taurus (kapuahi) and the Pleiades (makali'i) - a virtual explosion of tiny, blinking points of light. This morning it is, once again, much too tranquil for our tastes.
At last night's navigator's meeting, Nainoa discussed the French weather predictions, courtesy of Guy Raoul – our meteorological guru in Mangareva. Today - winds ESE at ten knots; tomorrow - ESE at 5 knots, Thursday - ESE at 10 knots and Friday - variable. The direction of the wind is favorable but its velocity is not. In ten knots of wind, the canoe - heavily loaded as she will be at the beginning our voyage – can make maybe three knots. In a five knot zephyr, she will bob and rock – almost stalled. We decide to wait for the weather pattern to reveal itself. But deadlines are approaching - Hokule`a's March 12th birthday celebration at Kualoa, for example. Nainoa's guesses that if the winds do not become favorable by Saturday, we will be forced to depart Tautira under tow. To prepare for that, and be ready to leave on short notice, Alex and Elsa Jakubenko will depart Mo'orea, where they've been visiting with their family, to arrive here tomorrow aboard Kama Hele.
Today, the crew gathers at the canoe to load fresh produce. Over the rail, gifts from the people of Tautiura, come bananas, mango, limes, coconuts, vi (a mango-like fruit), grapefruits... We stow onions and ginger in netting along the port and starboard navigators' platforms. Pomaika`i Bertelmann and Dr. Ming-Lei Tim Sing check out the galley - a two burner propane stove in a fiberglass box on deck - and inventory basic staples. Mike Tongg briefs us on radio procedures. Joey Mallot, Kaui Pelekane, Kona Woolsey and Snake Ah Hee lash spare booms along the port and starboard catwalks.
At six thirty p.m. we meet aboard the canoe. Nainoa tells us we may depart tomorrow if the wind shifts, but more likely on Thursday. The latest weather reports from both French and American meteorologists agree that the wind north of Rangiroa, beginning on Saturday, is likely to be 20 knots out of the east - reason enough, he explains, to leave on Thursday even if at the end of Kama Hele's towline. A Thursday departure will also give the navigators some moonlight when we reach the vicinity of Hawaii so they may see the nighttime horizon and more easily judge a star's altitude - the key to latitude.
“If we wait here too long,” says Nainoa, “the moon will be too small to see the horizon. We want to be in the latitude of Hawaii on the 25 th when the moon will be up at 11:30 .”
And when we reach three degrees north - the usual address of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (the doldrums) - the moon should be full, a guide to direction even under heavily occluded skies.
"But right now there is no convergence zone," Nainoa tell us, “because the low to the South is pulling the southeast trades around more to the east.”
The convergence zone is where two massive wind belts collide - the northeast and southeast trades. It's a broad zone of unstable weather near the planet's belt line. But partially because of the low to the south - pulling the winds down to it - there is now virtually no convergence so the weathermen predict that to the north of Rangiroa we should encounter steady easterly winds to power us all the way to Hawaiian landfall.
This has been an excerpt - contact Sam for the entire document