HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "One of my all-time favorites that is always on here every year -- $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii. Now some people are watching and thinking I'm making this up. I'm not making it up," Sen. John McCain said.
In a stinging speech attacking earmarks in a senate spending bill, the Arizona republican singled out dollars designated for the Voyaging Society - keeper of the sailing canoe Hokulea - as a waste of money.
"If he's questioning the quality of our work, I'll fiercely defend the sacredness of that canoe, the work of thousands and thousands in our communities here in the Pacific for 35 years of taking care of her, sailing with purpose, and doing our very best to create educational opportunities that help our children in Hawaii,' master navigator Nainoa Thompson said.
McCain's criticism of the Voyaging Society wasn't his first dig at the organization that oversees Hawaii's ancient sailing practices.
Hokulea is planning a worldwide voyage in 2013.
"When you're talking about money, every one of those sails, everybody on those canoes that kept every mile safe, everybody is a volunteer," Thompson said. "People aren't there for the money. But we need support."
In a written statement, Sen. Daniel Inouye's spokesman Peter Boylan said, "Rather than learn anything about the Hokulea, how the Pacific was populated by Polynesians sailing with nothing more than the stars, wind, sun, moon and currents as their guide, Sen. McCain wants to vilify the Polynesian Voyaging Society as emblematic of wasteful government spending."
McCain also blasted other earmarks in the $8.3 billion omnibus bill, including $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama and money for syrup research in Vermont.
"We'll spend a lot of time talking about this bill and the outrageous number of earmarks it contains," he said.
But Thompson said before criticizing the Polynesian Voyaging Society, McCain should learn about Hokulea first hand.
"My comment to Sen. McCain -- just come sail," he said.