A New Generation of Navigators Pulls Hawai‘i from the Sea

As the sun began to light the sky this morning, a faint outline of Hawai‘i’s archipelago rose from the sea as Hikianalia approached from the Southeast after sunset last night. This land sighting holds many meanings for the three apprentice navigators aboard who have been applying their knowledge of traditional non-instrument navigation to guide Hikianalia home from Tahiti. It carries the elation of homecoming, relief from the rigor and responsibly of navigating, and a coming of age where years of preparation are met with the challenges of the open ocean.

“So far, this navigational experience has been quite challenging,” said Austin Kino, who has been sailing with PVS for 10 years, as he stood on Hikianalia’s bow last week enveloped by the grey cloud cover of the doldrums. “Nature is not giving us the clues that sometimes we need.” The band of calm winds and heavy cloud cover near the equator, dubbed the doldrums by sailors, is notorious for stalling voyages.

Through this area, Austin and his fellow apprentice navigators Kekaimalu Lee and Jason Patterson had to rely on their observation of the ocean swells for direction. The three of them also drew on the depth of knowledge held by the experienced crewmembers aboard, including the leg’s lead navigator Cat Fuller.

“Some days we have no sun, and no moon to navigate by and no stars. We got a little bit lost and our confidence was down,” said Kekaimalu who has been dedicated to teaching voyaging to new students and crewmembers back in Honolulu. “So when the sun finally came out, and we finally started going in the right direction it felt really good.” Despite the challenges this voyage has posed to them, the three apprentice navigators remained patient, positive and humble.

A few days ago, they emerged from the doldrums heading north.

The pivotal moment, after sailing north from Tahiti for nearly the entire voyage, is the decision to turn west in search of land. On June 10, Jason, Kekaimalu and Austin made their turn in search of Hawai‘i based on their approximation of the canoe’s latitude.

“Last night, we had a really clear night. We were able to measure the Southern Cross and Hokupaʻa (North Star), and we came to the consensus that we were right about 18°-18.5° North latitude, which would put us in the latitude around South Point (Hawaiʻi Island). So we feel like we are in Hawaiian waters.”

Then, last night, crewmembers sighted the lights of Hilo and were able to see Hawaiʻi Island early this morning.

“For me it’s been a little surreal so far,” said Kekaimalu. “Last night we could only see light and this morning we finally got to view the island. It was an amazing feeling after 25 days to finally pull land out of the sea. It still hasn’t really sunk in yet but I know it will in the next few days.”

A growing expertise, hard-earned through years of observation, and the guidance of mentors onboard, helped to lead them back to Hawai‘i.

“It’s been really important for us to work as a team,” said Cat. “Each one of us has had something to teach and something to learn. It’s been a great experience to have the four of us together and we’re are glad to be home.”

“We have a couple of really skilled crewmembers on board like Uncle Snake Ah Hee who knows what to look for and can teach us what to look for to search for the islands,” said Austin.

Hikianalia crewmembers will sail on to O‘ahu, where they will be met by friends, family and supporters. The gathering is planned for Tuesday, June 16 at 5 p.m. at the Marine Education and Training Center on Sand Island weather permitting, and the public is welcome to attend.

The return marks the beginning of a new journey within the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Hikianalia will sail throughout the state in the coming year, providing experiential learning opportunities for students and teachers, drawing on the technical abilities of the canoe and the emerging generation of navigators eager to support the expansion of the voyaging education that they received from their mentors.

Austin, Kekaimalu and Jason complete this voyage in the wake of many navigators before them, hoping to lead the way for more to follow. “I would like to see more children interested in sailing and navigation. I would like to see more schools including these traditional methods with our modern tools of today to help children find clarity, amidst enjoying the natural world,” said Austin.

“So far this navigational experience has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever undertaken and because of that it’s really an honor and a privilege to be part of a journey that’s so profound,” said Jason.

Click here to follow the voyagers as they continue toward Honolulu. 

Please help keep us sailing for future generations. All contributions make a difference for our voyage. Mahalo nui loa!

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