The Story of Sail 32A

When you decide to sail a Polynesian voyaging canoe from Hawaiʻi around the world, the numbers quickly become mind-boggling. Four hundred crew members traveling 42,000 nautical miles to 322 ports and 18 countries is just the beginning. When you start assessing the variety of risks involved in such a daring adventure, the calculations become very interesting.

Consider gale force winds: The research estimated that during the total time of the Worldwide Voyage, the crew of Hōkūleʻa would encounter as many as 56 periods where the winds would reach gale force levels. Traditionally, crews encountering gale-force winds would need to undertake the risky and complicated task of dropping the two 300-pound front and back rigs down on to the deck.

Sail 32A has helped to propel Hōkūle‘a approximately 42,000 nautical miles of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage from May 2014 to June 2017.

Faced with the complexity of effectively training 400 crewmembers to safely drop the rigs in extreme conditions before the start of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, PVS leadership set about finding a way to reduce by 75 percent the number of times the rigs would need to be lowered. They redesigned and engineered a sail that would remain traditional in design but could be closed and collapsed without needing to be dropped onto the deck. This new sail was called #32A.

Sail 32A, was tested in the Alenuihaha Channel, the second-roughest channel in the world, on a day of gale force winds, with strong opposing currents, steep waves and ocean water so rough the horizon was a rarely-seen wall of white water from Maui to Kahoʻolawe. While in the channel and in the gale, the crew and the sails were given the ultimate test. The sails were opened, then closed and collapsed, and the crew moved to the back of the canoe, along with jugs filled with one thousand pounds of fresh water. They tied the steering sweep down and let the canoe find its own way. Sail 32A worked perfectly in these conditions.

Sail 32A was with Hōkūleʻa through every major stop of the voyage including New York in 2016.

The design of sail 32A, a mathematical equation, turned out to be a successful evolution in sail engineering. Sail 32A stayed up for more than 90 percent of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage and came home imbued with the mana received from the people and places Hōkūleʻa connected with in the ports and countries visited around the globe.

She has found new life in a limited series of collectible keepsakes. We call it the Sail 32A Collection, and these special items are available now for purchase. If you’re in the Hilo area, check us out at Merrie Monarch April 24-27, 9am to 4pm in the Naniloa Marketplace, Hilo.

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