Hokulea and Hikianalia are on their way to Tahiti.
Hundreds gathered along the shore at Hilo Bay Friday to see the voyaging canoes embark on the first leg of their three-year, worldwide voyage.
The morning began with heavy rains, but crew members didn’t let Mother Nature dampen their spirits as they loaded their belongings and fresh food onto the canoes.
After several delays this past week, winds were finally favorable for voyage.
“We’re in the good window. We have the right window, it’s cleaning up. It’s predictable and it’s time to go,” said Polynesian Voyaging Society president and master navigator Nainoa Thompson.
Friday’s departure was filled with music, prayer and hugs as 29 crewmembers, ranging in age from 20 to 72, said farewell to loved ones.
“I’m excited, but contained,” said Chad Baybayan, Hokulea’s second-in-command. “We have a long journey ahead of us. Nainoa and I really have to be on our game.”
Apprentice navigator Austin Kino couldn’t wait for the open ocean.
“Land just has its distractions and that’s okay, but on the ocean is where we can kind of be quiet again and enjoy nature,” he said.
In the crowd was Eddie Aikau’s brother, Sol, who wished Thompson a fond Aloha.
As crew members said their goodbyes, the rain stopped. Mother Nature took a break and the skies cleared beautifully, as they embarked on this historic journey.
Although Thompson has sailed many times in the past, this is his first leaving two little ones behind.
“On one hand, it’s a difficult time. I’ll be away from them,” he said. “They are everything to me. They are my source of strength and source of fundamental beliefs, but on the other hand, that’s why I’m going. It is my job as a dad to make sure I do everything within my power to make sure their future is going to be one that is worth it for them. That’s why I sail.”
Over the next three years, Hokulea will travel to 26 countries, a total of 47,000 miles.
Hikianalia, the escort voyaging canoe, will follow about a mile behind — a safety vessel that will also serve as the science and communications hub.
Watch Kathy Muneno’s report from Hilo the morning before Hokulea and Hikianalia depart for Tahiti: