Canoe makes round-the-world voyage without modern instruments

The Hokulea, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, shown off Honolulu three years ago, has returned to Hawaii after making a journey around the world.
Sam Eifling/Associated Press/File
The Hokulea, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, shown off Honolulu three years ago, has returned to Hawaii after making a journey around the world.

HONOLULU — No modern navigation instruments guided a Polynesian voyaging canoe as it followed the horizon during a three-year journey around the globe.

About a dozen crew members for each leg of the voyage relied only on their understanding of nature’s cues — ocean swells, stars, wind, birds — and their own “naau,” or gut, to sail across about 40,000 nautical miles to 19 countries, spreading a message of “malama honua”: caring for the earth.

On Saturday, thousands welcomed the double-hulled canoe Hokulea home to Hawaii when it entered a channel off the island of Oahu and tied up to a floating dock with iconic Diamond Head in the distance.


Ka’iulani Murphy, an apprentice navigator on the double-hulled canoe, said the successful journey taught her the value of ancient Polynesian maritime techniques.

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‘‘We really are sailing in their [the ancestors’] wake,’’ said Murphy, 38. ‘‘We had to relearn what our ancestors had mastered.’’

The toughest part of the journey was dealing with cloud cover and trying to maintain the proper speed so the boat escorting the canoe could keep pace, she said, adding that she enjoyed eating the fish the crew caught during the journey.

Bert Wong came to Ala Moana Beach Park to celebrate Hokulea’s homecoming — and to celebrate his son, Kaleo, a Hokulea navigator, according to Hawaii News Now.

‘‘Just being here and feeling the ‘mana’ [power] that’s here, it’s something to enjoy which brings tears to my eyes,’’ Wong said. ‘‘This is so powerful.’’


The crew held a formal homecoming ceremony on Magic Island, a peninsula in Honolulu, that included welcoming remarks from Governor David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell and a speech by Nainoa Thompson, a well-known master navigator, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, was moved as he addressed the crowd, saying that he was ‘‘standing here on behalf of the many,’’ Hawaii News Now reported.

‘‘Thank you, Hawaii. Thank you for the moment,’’ he said. ‘‘I am very humbled to tell you right now that Hokulea is home.’’

The voyage perpetuated the traditional wayfinding that brought the first Polynesians several thousand miles to Hawaii hundreds of years ago. The trip also helped train a new generation of young navigators.

“Hokulea” means star of gladness. The canoe was built and launched in the 1970s, when there were no Polynesian navigators left. So the Voyaging Society looked beyond Polynesia to find one.


Mau Piailug, from a small island called Satawal in Micronesia, was among the last half-dozen people in the world to practice the art of traditional navigation and agreed to guide Hokulea to Tahiti in 1976.

‘We had to relearn what our ancestors had mastered.’

Ka’iulani Murphy, a navigator on the Hokulea 

‘‘Without him, our voyaging would never have taken place,’’ the Polynesian Voyaging Society said on the website for Hokulea. ‘‘Mau was the only traditional navigator who was willing and able to reach beyond his culture to ours.’’

The epic round-the-world voyage that started in 2014 shows how far Hokulea has gone since its first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976.

Disaster befell another voyage in 1978 when the canoe capsized off the Hawaiian island of Molokai in a blinding storm. Eddie Aikau, a revered Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard on the crew, grabbed his surfboard and paddled for help, but was never seen again. The rest of the crew members were rescued.

Crew members hope the success of the latest journey will inspire other indigenous cultures to rediscover and revive traditions. Thompson said he also hopes indigenous cultures can help with solutions to modern-day problems such as climate change.

Native Hawaiian ancestors were not only skilled navigators but good stewards of the islands who farmed and fished sustainably.

‘‘They figured it out — how to live well on these islands,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘And I think that is the challenge of the time for planet earth and all of humanity.’’