HOKULE'A 30TH ANNIVERSARY
Hokule'a captain Bruce Blankenfeld, above at right, works with crew members during a training voyage for the Rapa Nui trip as the canoe sails near Kalaupapa on the north shore of Molokai in 1997. Inset at right, Hokule'a is joined by New Zealand's Te Aurere, background, during the 1995 Na 'Ohana Holo Moana or "The Voyaging Families of the Ocean" to the Marquesas Islands. CLICK FOR LARGE
Building a Dream
Commemorating Hokule'a's Historic 1976 Journey
The two wooden koa masts came from a master canoe-builder on Maui.
The hull was made of layers of plywood covered with a protective shell of fiberglass, and the sails were canvas instead of traditional lauhala.
Despite having to combine modern with traditional materials, builders of the voyaging canoe Hokule'a kept as close as possible to the shape and weight of an authentic Polynesian voyaging canoe while fighting an uphill battle to gain financial support for their project more than 30 years ago.
Their objective was to sail to Tahiti from Hawaii using traditional Pacific wayfinding techniques that did not require western instruments, thereby refuting historians and archaeologists who argued that Polynesians were incapable of making long-distance navigated voyages.
"Hokule'a has rewritten our Hawaiian history in a way that has ... restored our culture, heritage and ancestry."
Nainoa Thompson ~ Navigator of the Hokule'a
"Our project was a hard sell," recalled chief designer Herb Kane. "Some people thought we were nuts ... But enough people believed in what we were doing."
What Kane and co-founders Ben Finney and the late Tommy Holmes did was build a 62-foot, double-hulled canoe that carried a crew of 15 people 2,400 miles from Honolua Bay on Maui to Pape'ete, Tahiti, in 1976.
Also aboard were a dog, chicken, and a pig, along with 1.25 tons of water and a ton of canned, packaged and dried foods.
Finney said he was aware at the time that some people thought Holmes, himself and Kane -- "two haoles and a Hawaiian from Chicago" -- seemed an unlikely trio to launch such a project.
But the three who founded the nonprofit Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1973 demonstrated a love for sailing and a passion for showing that native Hawaiians were capable of traveling long distances on voyaging canoes using the intelligence gathered through their knowledge of nature.
Holmes, a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club, was an avid waterman and began sailing outrigger canoes at a time when canoe sailing was a lost art in Hawaii.
Finney, a University of Hawaii cultural anthropologist and former San Diego surfer, had built and tested a 40-foot version of a Hawaiian double-hulled canoe in 1965, as a first step toward developing a larger version to sail to Tahiti.
Kane, who had spent his late teens and early adult life in the Midwest, left his career as an artist in advertising and publishing in Chicago to return to Hawaii to pursue his goal of building a voyaging canoe.
Finney recalled Kane and Holmes coming to see him in the early 1970s.
"We each had our own vision of not only making a scientific and academic point of setting the record straight but also having the Polynesians themselves taking the lead in the process," said Finney, who was the founding president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Later, the society, under new leadership from Myron "Pinky" Thompson, built the traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe, the Hawai'iloa.
Some crew members of the Hokule'a formed a nonprofit on the Big Island and developed the voyaging canoe, Makali'i.
Along with Hokule'a, Hawai'iloa and Makali'i made the Hawaii-Tahiti-Marquesas voyage in 1995. Kane, whose grandparents were taro farmers in Waipio Valley on the Big Island, said he was aware of ancient chants describing the lore of voyaging canoes.
One of them was " 'Ei'A Hawaii" or "Behold Hawaii," known to be composed centuries ago by the navigator of King Moikeha after sighting the Big Island while returning from Tahiti .
"My primary motive was to establish the recognition that the voyaging canoe had to be the central artifact of Polynesian culture, because without the canoes there would be no Polynesia," Kane said.