Hōkūle’a, a traditional Hawaiian deep-sea canoe, has completed round-the-world trip

Hokulea
via Polynesian Voyaging Society

It took three years, but Hōkūle’a made the impressive journey using only ancient Polynesian navigational methods.

Last month, a magnificent vessel pulled into the port at Magic Island, Oahu, Hawaii. With her beautiful red sails and double hull, this boat stood apart from the others. She looked like something from another world, another time – and she is, in a way. The boat is Hōkūle’a, a deep-sea voyaging canoe that has just completed an incredible three-year, round-the-world trip, using only traditional navigational instruments and skills, while spreading a message of hope and love for the Earth.

Hōkūle’a’s voyage has been a long time in the making. The idea was first dreamed up by a group of Hawaiians in the 1970s who were concerned about cultural extinction and the loss of ancient sea navigation techniques. They decided to build a voyaging canoe like the ones their ancestors would have sailed, except that 600 years had gone by since the last of these boats was seen, which made it no small task. A traditional navigator was brought from Micronesia to Hawaii to lead shorter voyages and to educate the next generation of captains, which included a man named Nainoa Thompson.

Boston Globe described Hōkūle’a’s very first trip from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976:

“Hokule’a’s crew would forgo up-to-date technology, using celestial navigation to prove that ancient Polynesians used only the stars, sun, moon, wind, and waves to travel to the islands in the Pacific. It would prove that the crew’s ancestors were not simply blown off course to Hawaii — that they were expert voyagers, who sailed with a purpose.”

This is precisely what Thompson has continued to do over the past three years, as he guided Hōkūle’a on her biggest trip of all. The name of the trip’s mission was “Mālama Honua,” or “Care for the Earth.” Its goal was to reach environmentalists, scientists, concerned citizens, and children around the world, finding common ground in their desire to protect the planet. Hōkūle’a would “connect with communities who care for the health of the oceans and our shared island, Earth.”

Over the next three years, the boat traveled 60,000 miles and visited 150 ports in 23 countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Bali, South Africa, Brazil, Cuba, Galapagos, and Tahiti. Now she’s back in Hawaii and preparing to do a lengthy tour of the Hawaiian islands, thanking and talking to the public about the journey that has just been completed.

It’s a fascinating story from so many different perspectives. Reclaiming the ancient, once-vital art of navigation excites historical and cultural curiosities, while proving that it’s possible to circumnavigate the globe without the aid of fossil fuels (a.k.a. slow travel) is inspiring to environmentalists and scientists alike.

If you’re interested in learning more about the epic journey, there will be a book released in September by Patagonia, called “Mālama Honua: Hōkūle’a – A Voyage of Hope,” written by Jennifer Allen, with photos by John Bilderback. It’s available for preorder here.

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