Crew Blog | Chad Wiggins: The romance of sailing is gone

The Polynesian voyaging canoe Hikianalia is on a journey to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Crewmembers will be sending frequent updates so that educators and students can track her progress in conjunction with the Worldwide Voyage Tracking Map

Chad Wiggins P1250247Written by Chad Wiggins

“The romance of sailing is gone.” Those words, our captain and navigator Kaleo Wong said, are what “Uncle” Bruce Blankenfeld had shared with his crew during a particularly difficult stretch of seas. Kaleo imparted them to us, as another crew dealing with one situation for which even the most weatherly sailing ships are inadequately designed – no wind.

The sixteen of us have been becalmed for 24 hours, ghosting on an occasional breath of air and a favorable current for a rendezvous with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research ship Searcher off Lehua Island near Ni‘ihau.

We are sailing on Hikianalia as a part of the Main Hawaiian Islands voyage through a partnership between the Polynesian Voyaging Society, The Nature Conservancy, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, ʻOiwi Television, and NOAA with community leaders, crew, and scientists.

Behind us, twenty-five miles of blue culminates in the valleys of Makua, Makaha, and Wai‘anae. Three hundred miles ahead lays Nihoa, an uninhabited island that is part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – a World Heritage site encompassing 140,000 square miles of ocean. Nihoa has some of the most powerful and significant spiritual connections in the Pacific as well as natural treasures including coral reefs teeming with fish where man is just another link in the food chain, surrounded by marine predators and thousands of nesting seabirds.

For now, we can only imagine Nihoa rising from the horizon, as we gaze over the rail of Hikianalia at floating plankton and jellyfish placidly bobbing on the glassy sea. In eleven days, some of these same jellies will wash ashore at Waikiki, following their inevitable lunar rhythm. Like them, we are bound to return in a week and half – with or without the data from Nihoa we are seeking to record.

For a scientist who studies nature, it is humbling to be fully at her mercy. Although time to think and write these words is bought at a cost, Kaleo reminds us of the concept of hoʻomanawanui, “patience,” or, literally, to “make more time” – to commit to something for the long term. For our friends and family and careers and obligations and the things that make our heart sing we are constantly making time, but in this moment of rare calm I find a deeper meaning in the quiet reflection we find in this rare and truly calm weather in the middle of a typically rough open ocean channel between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. We know our intended destination.

We are trained, able-bodied, and capable, but without wind we cannot sail. But we know our destination and our purpose and our navigator knows the sea and sky so well that, when the wind blows, we can reach her – even if she blows against us. Sometimes life is like that. We can tolerate and accept situations that are not aligned with our vision, until something comes and tests our resolve. At those times we may move quickly toward our destination, or we may chart a new course, or if we are not prepared we may be lost.

We strive to care for nature in Hawai‘i because we love her – so that we can know her forever – see her, feel her, hear, smell, and taste her – connect with her. Our journey is to mālama, to care for what we have been given, and unlike the small crew of this canoe dancing gently in a glassy sea, we are all on this journey together to care for our home on the land that rises from the deep.

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