Hokulea's historic worldwide voyage took years of grueling train - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

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Hokulea's historic worldwide voyage took years of grueling training, prep

(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Polynesian Voyaging Society) (Image: Polynesian Voyaging Society)

It was a voyage that took more than six years to plan and more than two years of intensive crew training.

In the end, all of that planning paid off.

Three years ago, Hokulea launched its "Malama Honua" worldwide voyage and on Saturday, the voyaging canoe will return home, after traveling tens of thousands of miles and visting over 150 ports.

Lehua Kamalu, of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, said preparations for the historic trip were unprecedented.

"We had so many meetings with meteorologists, NOAA, many folks at the university -- what kind of weather can we anticipate," she said.

"All those years were constantly trying to think through the different scenarios -- what were the crew going to look like, how should they be trained, what kind of weather situations would we be approaching?"

Apprentice Navigator Jenna Ishii said research also touched on security issues, including piracy and regional violence.

"We actually flew to places like Australia, South Africa, and place we had no connections with to make sure that the first time Hokulea arrived was not the first time they heard about us," she said.

Added Miki Tomita, the society's Learning Center director: "We had this two-tiered plan of canoe safety and exploring the stories around the world. We generated a number of different contingency plans and best possible plans and also along the way gave ourselves some flexibility."

There were 31 legs to the global voyage, each lasting anywhere from three to eight weeks with more than 250 crew members taking part.

Crews for the Hokulea and partner vessel Hikianalia rotated out 12 at a time at each major port of call.

The voyaging canoes are wind-powered and Hokulea was being guided strictly by ancient Polynesian wayfinding.

But one of the biggest challenges of the trip was feeding the crew.

"Everyone kind of brings their own little secret snacks," Kamalu said. "I think I've seen li hing mui on every single leg of the voyage no matter what country we went to. It was always a challenge to make sure everyone was going to have a good diet, not something too crazy because out on the ocean you want something that's you can digest nicely."

And not everything went as expected. "There have been a couple of incidences where we had a man overboard, some damage to the canoes, but those were all things we practiced for," Tomita said.

Also unexpected were intense weather systems that sometimes arose unexpectedly, like the time a major weather disturbance tested crew members and the support staff in Hawaii who were monitoring every nautical mile of the trip.

"A big storm came and I get a call like at 2 a.m., from the canoe, saying we can't go in to Madagascar they shut the port down," Ishii said.

The crew had to go into Mozambique instead.

Fortunately, the crew overcame all the adversity a worldwide voyage could throw at them and were able to embrace the importance of their journey.

"The most emotional part of navigating voyaging is when you're on Hokulea at night time and your looking up, it's a clear sky, and those stars are your friends, and you know that the navigators of the past used them to find their way and they're the same stars we use to find our way as well." Ishii said.

Tomita added: "I think that with every step, with every mile that we've sailed, with every place that we visited we have brought with us the sense of exploration and innovation and pride in culture and practice that have been carried and echoed throughout the Pacific on the decks of Hokule'a."

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