GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kaleo Wong steered the Hokule'a while Atwood Makanani acted as a spotter during a storm Sunday morning en route from Majuro to Pohnpei.
Hokule‘a requires tows in doldrums
The voyaging canoe and its companion face challenges from the weather
ABOARD THE HOKULE'A » Steering with the main paddle on the double-hulled canoe Hokule'a, Atwood Makanani pointed to a glimmer behind a large bank of clouds to the south that blocked most stars from sight yesterday (Majuro time).
As the crew of the Hokule'a and its companion double-hulled canoe Alingano Maisu make their historic voyage through Micronesia, they are facing major navigational challenges.
And on top of that, the canoes have hit the doldrums, forcing the two vessels to accept tows to keep them on time to get to Pohnpei. The crews sometimes weather torrential rains.
For the past two nights, the two vessels navigating by traditional Pacific way-finding methods without modern instruments have often found their course west from Majuro atoll toward Pohnpei shrouded in clouds.
Unable to see stars or even a slice of moon for most of the night, Hokule'a navigator Bruce Blankenfeld has been relying on the wind direction of the lei hulu (feather lei) on the mast, northeast winds and swells from Alaska, and easterly waves from South America to guide the vessel.
"You can tell the direction of the wave from the feel of the wave against the vessel," Blankenfeld said.
For the past two nights, the crew has worn foul-weather gear due to squalls and torrential rains that limited visibility to the north to a quarter-mile at times.
The sea water is lukewarm in this seafaring route near the equator and known for stirring typhoon weather as it moves farther north.
At times the winds whip through at 30 mph, making the crew switch the rigging.
Then the wind will nearly die, pushing the vessels along at a little more than 3 mph.
Blankenfeld has had to request a tow twice from the escort boat Kama Hele to get the Hokule'a out of a slow drift, especially since the voyage has on its schedule a number of stops -- including Japan by May.
The vessels are making a pilgrimage through Micronesia to the atoll of Satawal, home of master navigator Mau Piailug, who taught Pacific way-finding to native Hawaiians on their landmark Hawaii-Tahiti voyage in 1976.
The voyage supported the assertion that Hawaiians were capable of navigating long ocean voyages by using their knowledge of nature, long before the Europeans used the chronometer to sail beyond sight of land.
The Hawaii-Tahiti voyage also sparked a renaissance in canoe voyaging that has spread to Polynesia and Micronesia.
The vessel is an island unto itself, providing a rest stop for a brown booby on the rear and enough rain in a net bag on the main deck to sprout a clove of garlic.
The crew sleeps under a canvas in the hulls of the vessels, above a hatch storing water and provisions, and works in shifts.
At least half of the crew has paddled canoes and is familiar with the techniques of steering in ocean conditions.
Makanani, 53, has been on two ocean voyages, including a trip with the double-hulled canoe Makali'i from Hawaii to Saipan in 1999 and the Hokule'a to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in 2000.
He said he enjoys talking with children about the Hokule'a, and he sees the canoe as embodying the soul of the families that live within the homeland of islands in the Pacific.
"The canoe is the bridge," he said.