Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hōkūle‘a: The dangers of sailing around the world

Over 1,000 years ago, the islands of Polynesia were explored and settled by navigators who used only the waves, the stars, and the flights of birds for guidance.
In hand-built, double-hulled canoes sixty feet long, the ancestors of today's Polynesians sailed across a vast ocean area, larger than Europe and North America combined.
To explore this ancient navigational heritage, anthropologist/filmmaker Sanford Low visited the tiny coral atoll of Satawal in Micronesia's remote Caroline Islands.
The Navigators reveals the subtleties of this sea science, transmitted in part through a ceremony known as "unfolding the mat," in which 32 lumps of coral are arranged in a circle to represent the points of the "star compass."
To master the lore of navigation was to attain great status in traditional Micronesian society. 

From National Geographic by Daniel Lin

For the past few months, I have been writing entries about the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s incredible Worldwide Voyage (WWV): a five-year journey to sail around the world aboard two Polynesian voyaging canoes, using non-instrument navigation.

The first year of the voyage was spent sailing around the Hawaiian Islands and in less than two months, the canoes will leave their home and begin the international portion of the voyage.

 Crewmember Attwood Makanani, or “Uncle Maka”,
handling some line at the edge of the bow while Hōkūleʻa passes through a squall in Kualoa.
(Photo by Kaipo Kīʻaha)

Why Take the Risk?

When people hear about the WWV, a question often arises around the risks involved with this 47,000-nautical-mile voyage.
Certainly, it goes without saying that a voyage of this nature is not always going to be idyllic or smooth.
But Pacific Island people have spearheaded these long-distance, open-ocean voyages of discovery for thousands of years.
Today, the Polynesian Voyaging Society believes that: “the Worldwide Voyage is a journey that charts a new course toward sustainability that Hawai’i and the world urgently need.”

 Sunshine after the rain.
Crewmember Haunani Kane holds on as Hōkūle‘a gets close to land.
(Photo by Daniel Lin)

For us, the opportunity to inspire current and future generations of leaders to care for the Earth–through outreach, education, science, and storytelling–far outweighs any risks.
Master Navigator and PVS President, Nainoa Thompson, puts it best when he says: “if you come from the lens of what the canoe is supposed to do … it will do nothing if we’re tied to the dock.”

Hōkūle‘a’s Worldwide Voyage: Island Wisdom, Ocean Connections, Global Lessons
from Hōkūle‘a Crew

Safety Training

Like during any voyage–sea, land, or air–weather is always one of the major considerations for traditional captains and navigators.
For this reason, crewmembers undergo rigorous training around personal safety and foul weather situations.

Hōkūle’a has traveled over 140,000 miles in the Pacific Ocean over her forty-year history of voyaging, enough miles to circle the world over five times.
Thompson says that the crew preparations and safety training were carefully planned based on past experience.
“With the Worldwide Voyage, we are more prepared than we have ever been on any previous journey,” he adds.

 Micronesian Stick Chart of the Marshall Islands with island key
and overlaid on Google Earth for scale / context

Sail Planning

In addition to rigorous crew training, perhaps the best ways to prevent encounters with challenges during the voyage is through thorough research and meticulous planning.
For example, the sail plan for the WWV is dictated almost entirely by weather, specifically with regards to avoiding hurricane and cyclone seasons.
The leaders of PVS have put a great deal of effort into understanding the weather patterns of the world with guidance and input from scientists, meteorologists, and other sailors.

 Just because the crew doesn’t use a compass, that doesn’t mean they don’t take rain gear.
(Photo by Sam Low)

In addition the normal preparations for voyaging, PVS must now pay careful attention to new issues associated with new regions of the world.
Although Hōkūle‘a has logged an incredible amount of miles over her storied lifetime, all of her voyages have taken place in the familiar waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The opportunity to sail across new oceans is exciting, but it also makes the planning process even more critical.
By carefully planning and timing each leg of the voyage, Captains ensure that their crews and vessels have the best chance for a smooth sail.

Sailing On

Over the next three years of this monumental voyage, there will inevitably be challenges that test the physical and mental fortitude of the crew.

 Hōkūle‘a crew looking towards the western horizon.
We sail with the hope for a more sustainable future for our Island Earth.
(Photo by Daniel Lin)

However, the PVS family, or ‘Ohana wa’a, know from experience that even the roughest storms will pass.
What we must do is to continue to prepare, train, believe in the mission, trust in each other, and sail on.

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