Hōkūleʻa Moʻolelo: 18 Years Ago Rapa Nui Raised from the Sea



Eighteen years ago, Hokule’a first visited Rapa Nui on a historic voyage that closed the Polynesian triangle for the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Here is the report filed by crewmember/documenter Sam Low.

Hokulea Moolelo GraphicFriday, October 8th, 1999.

“Garlic Eggs for Breakfast!” Says Terry Hee, carrying the last two dozen eggs past a group of smiling crew members lining the rail. Terry had planned to ration the eggs for another day at least, but now there’s no reason. We have seen land – and the land is definitely Rapa Nui!

Yesterday at sunrise we set our course south-southeast, beginning the first real leg of our zigzag search pattern. Nainoa intended to tack back north at sunset but the wind curved northeast making that impossible. So instead of tacking, he decided to follow the wind around and steer east-southeast. This was a risky strategy. Although the Navigator’s dead reckoning placed us well west of Rapa Nui, what if they were wrong and we were south of it or even to the east? We would sail by the island in the night.

To make matters worse, we had not seen the stars for two nights and our latitude was therefore based on dead reckoning from star sights that were two days old. Without either sun or stars to steer by, the navigators had been relying on an unexpected blessing – a steady swell from the southwest. But had the swell changed direction?

“This wind is a gift to us to go east,” Nainoa explained to us last night. “So I say let’s go. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. If our dead reckoning is good, and I think it is, we should take the chance.”

All last night and on into the morning the winds continued to blow strong from the northeast and Hokule’a responded by speeding east-southeast – 6 to 7 knots at times – slicing through the waves, producing long tendrils of spray from her bow.

Near dawn, Max Yarawamai spotted two holes in the clouds ahead low on the horizon. Born and raised on the low Micronesian atoll of Ulithi, Max’s ability to see islands at great distance is almost legend aboard Hokule’a.

“I looked carefully at the two holes on the horizon,” Max explained later, “checking first the one on the starboard side. I saw nothing there so I switched to the puka on the port. I saw a hard flat surface there and I watched it carefully. Was it an island? The shape didn’t change! It was an island all right. We had found the dot on the ocean.”

“I didn’t expect to see the island this soon,” Nainoa told us later. “But we knew it was near. We were following the wind around – steering more east as time went by – and the wind drew us to the island. That’s a fact – you make of it what you want. In the end all we did was follow the wind, Hokule’a found the land.”

Hokule’a is now tacking toward Rapa Nui which is about 25 miles away, but upwind, so it’s uncertain whether we will make landfall late this afternoon or early tomorrow morning.

Reviewing the Voyage

Chad Baybayan: “You look at the crew on all the voyages and its not just Hawaiians. The entire Hawaiian community is included in the canoe. It’s really Hawaii’s community. The people who sail on board the canoe are a reflection of the community and society that we live in.”

At about 10 AM, local time, a few hours after having seen Rapa Nui ahead off our port bow, Nainoa called us aft to share some thoughts about the voyage. Bruce, Chad and Nainoa spoke – here are their words:

Nainoa: “The voyage is pau and this gives me almost an empty feeling. But everyone should be proud of this accomplishment. We have traveled to the last corner of the Polynesian triangle and that achievement is not just ours – it belongs to everyone who has donated a portion of the millions of man hours spent taking care of the canoe over the almost twenty-five years since her creation.

“We worked hard to prepare for this voyage but it was not just academic preparation and physical training that got us here. It was my plan to continue sailing southeast and tack back northeast at sunset – but the wind shifted northeast and if we tacked we would have been going back the way we had come. So instead I decided to follow the wind around and in the morning the island was off our port bow. The wind brought the canoe here. It’s about mana. Hokule’a has latent, quiet, sleeping mana when she is tied up at the pier in Honolulu. But when the canoe is sailed by people with deep values and serious intent the mana comes alive – she takes us to our destination.

“The mana is inside all of us. It’s tied to our ancestry and our heritage. Sometime, in the press of daily life, we neglect it. But when we come aboard this canoe and commit our spirits and souls and lives to a voyage like this one, I think we all feel it. I know I do. This is a very privileged moment for all of us – we have stepped inside that realization of mana on this voyage.

“When we go back to our special island home, we need to remember this moment. Mana comes from caring and commitment and values. We malama our canoe and she takes care of us. When we return to Hawaii we need to remember to malama our islands just as we do this canoe. We need to commit ourselves to the values that give life meaning. This canoe is so special – and our island home is so very special – if we learn to care for our land and our ocean they will also take care of us.

Bruce: “A lot of things have happened on this voyage that gave me chicken skin. The port hull of the canoe is the wahine hull and the starboard hull is the kane hull. The symbolism is that the male and the female forces give us life. The symbolism is that they also balance each other – they help each other survive on the ocean.

“In this crew we have shown a nice respectful balance. We have shown that we all know how to work hard and how to treat each other well and that is one of the most memorable parts of the voyage for me. The work ethic among this crew was fabulous. There was not one negative word. This kind of caring for each other is part of the on-going rediscovery of what voyaging is all about.

“The mana in this canoe comes from all the people in the past who have sailed aboard Hokule’a and cared for her. I think of the literally thousands of people who have come down and given to the canoe when she was in dry dock. I think of Bruno Schmidt in Mangareva who showed up with his truck every morning to take us wherever we needed to go. I think of the people in Tautira and Aotearoa and the Marquesas who did the same. The list is endless. All of this malama – this caring – adds to the mana of the canoe. It is intangible but it is alive and well. We can all feel it. I just want to acknowledge it.

Chad: “What made this voyage so special for me was that I felt so comfortable because I knew I was among people who had earned their spot on the crew. You guys are my heroes because you all showed such dedicated professionalism. I am proud to have sailed with you. Now we have another special journey ahead of us, to return the canoe home to our own special part of the Polynesian triangle, and by doing that we honor not only our ancestors but all those people who have supported us at home.

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