Voyagers Chart the World’s Rising Seas
Far below the planes flying overhead en route to Samoa this August, two small vessels will cross the open waters of the Pacific to dock in Apia for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. But for the crew of these particular boats Samoa is just one stop in a three year, 47,000 nautical mile voyage around the World, using only traditional methods of navigation. The Polynesian Voyaging Society, a group of cross generational crew members, educators, and navigators, has done what many thought were impossible – revived the lost and ancient art of voyaging.
“We feel like we are travelling on the same routes as our ancestors,” says Haunani Kane, 27, from Hawaii, who joined the two canoes Hōkūle’a and Hikianalia for 17 days of voyaging to Tahiti. “We say that being on a canoe is like sailing on a small island around the oceans, you have to work together as a team against challenges and trust one another.” Ten years ago a school field trip introduced Haunani to the history of voyaging from her native Hawaii. “I have learnt so much about navigating the sea, reading the stars, the wind and the swell of the water” she says, adding that ‘there are some hardships like a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and having only salt water showers, but I feel extremely lucky to be experiencing and enjoying something so unique.”
Haunani is one of the new generation of voyagers. Thousands of years ago her Polynesian ancestors journeyed beyond the shores of home to explore the vast Pacific Ocean discovering and settling distant islands. Carrying in open canoes all the provisions needed for the voyage and the prospect of a new life, these intrepid seafarers used the stars, the currents, and wave patterns to chart their course. Navigators created ocean highways that were then used for ongoing exchange and exploration. The settlement of many thousands of Pacific islands, some less than a mile in diameter, stands as one of their great achievements. “Being out in the ocean is an extremely intimate experience, sometimes you stand before the water and have to make instant decisions about whether to race with a swell or slow down and let it pass,” says Haunani.”, there is no room for doubts, you have to keep mentally strong.” The skills learnt by Haunani and her crew had been lost completely in Hawaii before the 1970s when the Polynesian Voyaging Society looked beyond their shores to a remote island and traditional navigator Mau
Piailug, who agreed to share his knowledge of navigation. Over six hundred years since the traditional double-hulled sailing canoes had been seen on the waters of the Pacific, a massive rebuild effort, spearheaded by artist Herb Kane, saw the maiden voyage of Hōkūle‘a canoe to Tahiti, where over half the island’s population came to greet the vessel as it arrived in port.
“Voyaging is an integral part of our culture. Now that we are facing shared challenges due to climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and overfishing, we need to develop a shared story of hope, and turn our history of exchange into one of trading positive stories,”says Mawae Morton another crew member due to join the voyage in November 2014 for a 6 month stint on the waves of the Pacific. Sailing into the Samoa onference is an important part of the sail plan for the voyagers and marks the moment that they begin to introduce the oceans campaign and agenda that they will carry with them throughout the Worldwide Voyage.
The Voyagers will arrive at the OHRLLS Private Partnerships Development Forum held before the conference. “It is our view that we need to be guided by an understanding that Earth is an island in space, infinitely precious and more fragile and finite than we understood in past generations,” says Mawae Morton. “Pacific voyaging leadership in general can hopefully impart to small island states that we may be small geographically but once united we can have a large contribution toward the health of our world’s oceans. What we decide in these supposedly small islands can have a tremendously large impact’.
As a travelling research resource the crew of the canoes have also partnered up with a number of research institutes and organizations including MIT, Stanford, and the University of Hawaii. They will be collecting and analyzing marine debris, conducting research on fish DNA, looking into marine acoustics, and other research that is relevant to large environmental questions. For now Haunani is back in Hawaii, starting her PHD in sea-level rise. She’s hoping to return to the voyage in the coming months, but in the meantime charts their progress on www.hokulea.com – where an interactive sail plan and updates are provided with assistance from a supporting technical boat that sails with the canoes.
Throughout the next three years the voyage will leave the Pacific and cross the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans before arriving back in Hawaii. For Haunani, three years of sailing might only be the start of her voyaging experience “Before it was just fun’ she says ‘but now I realise it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life.
By Louise Stoddard