Crew Blog | Miguel Castrence: Meet the Gershon II Crew

My favorite part of escort duty is the opportunity to get external shots of Hōkūleʻa

My favorite part of escort duty is the opportunity to get external shots of Hōkūleʻa. Photo credit: Cheryl Kornberg

Written by Miguel Castrence 

I have the unique privilege to serve as a crewmember on the Gershon II to escort Hōkūleʻa from Aurere, Aotearoa to Brisbane, Australia. Before flying down to Auckland, I knew very little about this 50 ft steel cutter, other than the fact she had previously served as escort vessel during the 1995 Nā ʻOhana Holo Moana voyage (Hawaii – Rarotonga – Tautira – Nuku Hiva – Hawaiʻi) under the leadership of Captain Steve Kornberg.

Climbing aboard the Gershon II in Mangonui Harbor, I experienced déjà vu. It felt so familiar as I’ve done a few inter-island sails on storied escort boat Kama Hele. The resemblance shouldn’t have been a surprise: Alex Jakubenko had built both Kama Hele and the Gershon II for the specific demands of escorting the voyaging canoes. Yet I quickly saw the difference between these two boats as I got to know the crew. Kama Hele had become a PVS work horse, while the Gershon II is the floating home of Steve and his wife Cheryl.

Gershon II Crewmembers

Miguel, Terry, Bob, Cheryl, Steve & Bill preparing to depart Aurere.

Captain Steve had already logged 20 years of ocean crossings throughout the Pacific before meeting Cheryl. Over the following 20 years, Cheryl has been the first mate of the Gershon II, with countless blue water sails from Hawaiʻi to Tasmania, ranging from remote Polynesian atolls to New Zealand’s fjords and Rakiura (Stewart Island).

Joining us on this Aotearoa – Australia leg was another seasoned sailor, Terry Causey. Terry had also supported the 1995 Nā ʻOhana Holo Moana voyage as captain of the Goodwind, the escort vessel for the voyaging canoe Makali‘i. Terry brought along his college buddy Bill Harz, a geologist with exemplary dishwashing enthusiasm who provided endless comic relief during our Tasman Sea crossing.

I shared the 10 – 2 watch with Bob Engle, who knows the workings of the Gershon II from bow to stern. Since 1972, he’s been able to trade his woodworking skills in exchange for ocean time aboard various boats in Hawaiʻi. Moreover, his expertise in fishing and cooking has insured that he gets reinvited to sail. Since 2011, he has voyaged with Steve and Cheryl to Kiribati, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and New Zealand.

Because of all the weather delays, Terry and Bill had to return home to California before our sail to Sydney. Yet as serendipity would have it, on our second day in Coffs Harbour we bumped into Suzi Pearson, an English sailor who befriended Steve, Cheryl and Terry 32 years ago while she lived on the Big Island. They hadn’t seen or heard from her in the last 15 years, but fate reunited them as she coincidentally has a Tahiti Ketch in Coffs Harbour, where she has been residing for the past 8 years. It wasn’t hard for Steve to convince her to join us on the Gershon II for a few days and help us get to Sydney.

Cheryl, Bob, Steve & Suzi after our arrival in Watsons Bay, Sydney

Cheryl, Bob, Steve & Suzi after our arrival in Watsons Bay, Sydney

By the end of this leg, I will have spent about 6 weeks with the Gershon II and her crew. That may not be a lot of time on land, yet on the ocean it’s not the quantity but the quality of time spent together that creates such long-lasting ties. I now see the significance of our boat’s name. “Gershon” is a Biblical name, meaning “stranger in a foreign land, always to be treated as family”. I’m deeply honored to be “hānai‘d” by this crew of amazing individuals!

Photos by Miguel Castrence unless otherwise noted.

Crewmember Miguel Castrence

Sending a care package down the tow line to Hōkūle`a. This was a fun memory: we were trying to get rid of food that could be confiscated by Australian customs and quarantine. Rather than waste it, we shared it with Hōkūleʻa crewmembers. Plus it was a way for us to thank them for sharing the ahi they caught with us. We packed chicken, cheese and other refrigerated items in a sail bag, tied it to an empty water jug and let it float down the tow line. They were stoked!

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

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