Sunday | April 19, 2015
About Us | Contact | Subscribe

Voyaging canoe stops in Hilo


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Two examples of Hawaii’s living history are currently moored in Hilo’s Radio Bay as their crews prepare to continue a voyage around the state that will expand to a worldwide trip next year.

After a short delay in Kawaihae due to rough weather, Hokule‘a, the 38-year-old replica of traditional, double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoes, arrived Thursday in Hilo in its current voyage across the Hawaiian Islands. The voyaging canoe, or wa‘a, will be joined by her younger sister, Hikianalia, when she leaves for Kalae on Friday, and then on to Maui.

The trip is an effort by the Polynesian Voyaging Society to “generate excitement, and to engage the community,” before the canoe’s crew head out of state in their worldwide voyage, which is planned for next year, said mission captain Bruce Blankenfeld.

“We’re trying to garner community support, to go around and spread the word, gather stories, and to educate,” he said. “We also want to restore the health of the environment. It’s a broad message, but Hokule‘a has been at this for quite a while.”

Hokule‘a is the older and more traditional of the two boats, while Hikianalia houses several modern amenities that will come in handy in the event of an emergency during an around-the-world trip, such as global positioning equipment, Blankenfeld said. Hikianalia also boasts green technologies including solar and wind power. When the canoes leave Hilo together this week, it will be the first time they have traveled together.

“The two will stay within line of sight of each other, sometimes a mile or more, but Hokule‘a will remain in front, with Hikianalia following behind,” he said.

Founded in 1973, the Polynesian Voyaging Society works to perpetuate the legacy of Pacific Ocean exploration using the traditional Polynesian methods of wayfinding — through the observation of ocean swells and currents, as well as the positioning of the stars.

When Hokule‘a launched on March 8, 1975, it helped to spur a resurgence of interest in Hawaiian language and culture that continues today, Blankenfeld said.

“You know, it seemed like people would always talk about the ‘ancient Hawaiians,’ but we’re only talking a couple hundred years. They weren’t that ancient. … And they would talk about Hawaiian culture like it was done, like it didn’t exist anymore,” he said. “But we’re showing that it isn’t. … And we’re preparing the next generation to carry the torch.”

On Monday afternoon, about 30 students were in the bay to explore the canoes and to learn about the history of Polynesian wayfinding. Hailing from around the state and the mainland, they were taking part in a weeklong summer program hosted by Kamehameha Schools known as Kulia I Ka Pono.

“They learn about leadership, about being part of a community, through voyaging,” said program director Kaimanaonalani Barcarse.

This week, the students are staying in and working in a pair of portable classrooms that have been situated to resemble being onboard the voyaging canoes. They will sleep and eat there, learning about how to work together, he said.

“So many people nowadays, when they talk about being successful in this life, they talk about independence. But what we teach is interdependence. On the canoe, everyone has a job to do, a responsibility. There are no passengers. Everyone depends on each other, and everyone needs to work as a team,” Barcarse said.

This week marked a lucky opportunity for the program participants to see the voyaging canoes and speak with their crews, he added. The students also help to wash the boats and clean up the bay area as they learned about navigation.

As for the crews of the two canoes, they are excited to continue their travel around Hawaii, before heading out on their around-the-world voyage in 2014, Blankenfeld said.

“I’ve been doing this since 1977,” he said of his sailing onboard Hokule‘a. “… But, out there, you realize that no matter how many voyages you’ve done, every time is new, with new challenges. I’ve never seen the same sunrise, or the same cloud patterns.”

In almost a year from now, on April 29, 2014, the canoes will return to Hilo before embarking on the 2,500-mile journey to the south to Rangiroa, on the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Through 2017, the boats will take on various crew members, totaling 400 from 16 different countries over the course of the trip. There will be 89 stops in 26 nations, and those stops will involve up to 1,500 educators. It’s going to be a long ride, but Blankenfeld and his crew are up to it, he said.

“Sure, it takes a special kind of person to do this, it’s true,” he said. “But, you know, you learn about yourself when you’re out here. You learn what you can do. It’s about working through the problems, and getting past them together.”

To follow the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Worldwide Voyage, visit

Email Colin M. Stewart at


Rules for posting comments