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Hokule'a returning from difficult voyage


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POSTED: Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Hokule'a is expected to arrive home this afternoon or evening from the worst sailing weather in the Polynesian canoe's history, said Mei Jeanne Wagner, Polynesian Voyaging Society spokeswoman.

She said that was the report from Nainoa Thompson, the society's lead navigator, who remained home, but communicated daily with the canoe's escort boat.

"The weather has been just awful the entire time," she said, explaining that the canoe has encountered worse weather in the past, but never for an extended period, according to Thompson.

On this trip, the canoe had 100 percent cloud cover until it arrived about five miles off the Big Island yesterday, she said. "They never saw the North Star once."

But the canoe was "dead on" track the entire way, she said. "It's just amazing they were able to get here with virtually no celestial clues other than the sun when it peeked out. They were doing it by the swells, winds and sun when they could see it."

The only real trouble was on the escort ship, which was tossed around by 12-foot waves, she said. The Hokule'a was built to withstand high winds "in a much easier way than a modern vessel," she said.

The six crew members were thrown off their bunks and bruised, but no one was seriously hurt, she said.

The Hokule'a left here Feb. 28 for Palmyra Atoll on a training voyage for younger crew members. A new 12-member crew flew in from Hawaii on March 24 to sail back here.

Thompson was worried that he "basically sent kids out there and was not there to help," Wagner said.

"For a training trip, this was the best they could have possibly done. Everything wrong was thrown at them and they came through with flying colors."

The crew for the first time includes a teenager — 17-year-old Kailin Kim, a senior at Kaiser High School.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society rule is that only adults can go on deep-sea voyages, but she was so exceptional in her studies that the board and Thompson allowed her to join the crew, Wagner said.

Kim is taking navigation courses at Honolulu Community College in addition to her classwork at Kaiser, where she is valedictorian and on the water polo team, Wagner said.

The canoe was traveling slowly yesterday, trying to get away from light leeward winds and sail to Maui, then to the Diamond Head buoy and on to the Marine Education Training Center at Sand Island.

Wagner said only a small celebration is being planned with family and friends because the crew members will probably be anxious to go home. "I'm guessing in a couple weeks we will have both crews get together for a big party."