Saturday, September 11, 1999

Hokule'a logo

Nainoa Thompson
leaves Hawaii to
meet Hokule‘a

The famous navigator accepts that
the canoe might, for the first time,
miss its intended target

By Susan Kreifels


It's all about kids.

Navigator Nainoa Thompson, worried about the daunting challenge of finding Rapa Nui, said Hawaii's children are inspiring him most in his times of doubt and fear. And it will be the children who call him back if he doesn't succeed.

But Kamehameha Schools sixth-graders listening to Thompson yesterday are confident the Hokule'a crew will find the tiny, remote island -- the last to be settled by the ancient Polynesian navigators.

"The gods will be with them," pronounced Nicole Wong.

Thompson and crew members sailing the Hokule'a on the last leg of the Rapa Nui voyage leave Hawaii today. The students, as well as schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu, were at the Hawaii Maritime Center yesterday to bid him fair winds.

The Hokule'a is moored at Mangareva, about 1,400 miles west of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. The traditional voyaging canoe left the Big Island June 15 on its historic last sail of the century.

Hokule'a to Rapa Nui
Jun. 7, 1999
Rapa Nui, the Loneliest Island
Jun. 14, 1999


Hawaii's children have been a major focus of the voyage. A study program -- which includes lessons on navigation, protection of the land and sea, ancient Polynesian cultures and self-esteem -- will be used by Hawaii students as they follow the Hokule'a via daily Internet postings and weekly teleconferences.

Thompson and three other experienced navigators will be using the stars, waves and other signs of nature to guide the Hokule'a rather than relying on modern navigational equipment, replicating the sails of their ancient ancestors, who settled every inhabitable island in vast Oceania.

The canoe will carry 40 days worth of provisions for 12 crew members. In the 30th day, a chosen group of students around the state, monitoring progress via the Internet, will decide if the canoe is too far off course and advise the crew.

LeMahieu called the voyage a "vibrant and most powerful form of education" based on real-world experience that is "rigorous, engaging and fun."

Thompson hopes to leave Mangareva between Sept. 16 and Sept. 25, depending on winds, so the canoe can arrive in Rapa Nui around Oct. 25 during the full moon. That will make finding the island easier.

Thompson has always accepted the fact that the Hokule'a for the first time could miss its destination, in the most difficult sail of the vessel's 25 years. The 50-square-mile Rapa Nui is the most isolated inhabited island in the world. It has few sea birds, which are clues of land. The voyagers will be following the northern edge of an area that's in the stormy, cloudy season, which means navigational guides -- the stars and sun -- could be covered. And the crew will be sailing east against the winds.

Thompson said it "made sense to explore upwind" for the ancient Polynesians: "You can always go back home."

Although Mangareva is only 1,400 miles from Rapa Nui, Thompson estimated the canoe may have to sail up to 3,500 miles because of tacking, making it the longest Hokule'a voyage.

The canoe will first sail for tiny Temoe, 26 miles upwind, then for Pitcairn, Oeno or Henderson. Next it will head 300 miles west of Rapa Nui to start a small, tight search pattern of tacking.

"If we go by it, there's nothing in the environment to tell us we are lost."

Small enough to fit between Diamond Head and Barbers Point, "we could pass it on a dark, cloudy night in four hours," he said.

Being a single degree off course setting out from Mangareva could cause the canoe to miss Rapa Nui, Thompson said.

The public can track the progress of the Hokule'a by looking on the World Wide Web site
Photographs from the Hokule'a are slated to be available at

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