Life on Hōkūleʻa is unlike any other I have ever imagined. Splashing along at 6 knots through the bumpy and lumpy Indian Ocean, this 12 ft wide and 42 ft long open deck is our entire community. Our escort vessel Gershon II in the distance, a far-off plane, and occasional floating debris are our only signs that we aren’t the only humans on the planet. But we aren’t alone – all around us the ocean and sky embrace us.
Though we may be isolated from other people, we do have our fair share of visitors. Malolo (flying fish) and muheʻe (squid) fly onto our deck, occasionally hitting us mid-flight; some days, mahimahi take our lure in time for dinner. Dark ʻuaʻu kani (shearwaters) skim just above the waves in small flocks, and koaʻe kea (white-tailed tropic birds) circle the mast overhead. They appear to be discussing Hōkūleʻa’s presence in foreign waters.
We’ve become attuned to the subtle variations in our physical surroundings. Wind strength and direction cause the sea to become rougher, and call to us to change our sails. Distant storms, south of Africa, produce huge swells that are indifferent to local wind and waves – I’m glad I’m not sailing where these mighty waves were born. Rain squalls pass through, causing temporarily gusty winds, teasing us with the possibility of the freshwater showers we all look forward to.
Night has its own rhythms. On clear nights, we steer by the stars as they rise in the east and arc through the sky. Each hour of the night has different prominent stars and constellations, including the Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way and the namesake of our voyaging canoe, Hōkūleʻa. Satellites, shooting stars and what might have been a comet enliven the night sky. Some nights, bioluminescent organisms in the inky water cause our shimmering wake to glow blue-green, and the white caps to look ghostly. On full moon nights, only the brightest stars are visible and whitecaps gleam brightly; the ocean, sky and canoe are a complex vision of silver and gray, like an Ansel Adams photo. Sail changes are far easier on these nights, but part of me misses the dark sky and glowing water.
Overnight the wind lightened, sea smoothed, and we opened more sail – the rhythm has changed, bringing with it the excitement of new sights and sounds. The wonders of this voyage never cease to amaze.