Hokulea: Students to get first real test during voyage

Hokulea is less than two weeks away from voyaging to Tahiti for the first time in about 15 years.

Her crew of 13 will include four experienced navigators and six from the youngest group of navigators. Those six have been studying hard in the classroom, but they’ve also been up late and out early, getting to know the heavens, the atmosphere and the ocean.

Last year, in preparation for the trip to Tahiti, the students tried to find their way from Niihau to Nihoa, the next Hawaiian island to our northwest.

Twenty-six year old Austin Kino said “we got to watch the sun rise in the morning, go through a whole night, and see the sun rise again, and without any distractions through the day, other than focusing on navigation.

“It gave me a lot of clarity,” he said.

“That was a great experience,” said Jason Patterson, also 26. “It was awesome because it revealed to me many problems, challenges that I hadn’t foreseen beforehand, like the physical and mental effects of sleep deprivation.”

It was their first open-sea test, but Tahiti will be their first long distance voyage.

“I’ve had a wide range of emotions this last week,” Patterson said, “and every time I think about leaving for Tahiti and setting out on that first voyage, (I get) very anxious, definitely a little bit scared. This is a very risky undertaking.”

“I’m feeling so many things,” said Haunani Kane, 26. “I’m feeling anxious. We’ve been prepping for I don’t know how many years.

“I’m excited. I just want to go, and then at the same time, I’m scared,” she said with a laugh.

Seven years ago, the students and a handful of other high schoolers paddled one-man canoes with navigator Nainoa Thompson across the state, raising money for abused children. Their group was called Kapu Na Keiki, or Hold Sacred the Child. They learned about the ocean, the land, Hokule’a and the traditional navigation method of wayfinding.

“I remember when we first started, Nainoa always gave us bits and pieces about navigation,” Kane said, “and I think that was his way of keeping us interested.”

Now, the students watch the sunrises and sunsets, considered the most important times for a navigator. It sets direction, where you can reference wave and wind direction for nightfall, or when the sun’s too high, observing the sky for the weather that will follow at night.

Thompson will be on the voyage to Tahiti. He said the young navigators will rotate in two- or three-day shifts, long enough to practice their skills and feel the exhaustion, which they experienced on their one-day voyage to Nihoa.

And, yes, they did find the island.

“We were just like so happy and so tired at the same time,” Kane said. “I think once we knew for sure we found the island, everyone just kind of laid down.”

“We were pretty exhausted, said Kino. “We crashed out on the deck.”

“Oh yeah, we were totally exhausted,” added Patterson with a laugh. “Yeah, 23-and-a-half hours!”

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