Hokulea, Hikianalia reach land in French Polynesia

Hawai’i bid farewell for now to Hokule’a and Hikianalia on May 30th in Hilo.

Many of the young crew had never sailed deep sea or navigated long distance and none of the several young navigators ever pulled the islands of the South Pacific out of the sea.

Their destination is Tahiti more than 2,000 miles south. Their target is the Tuamotu Archipelago to its east.

On Hokule’a young navigators worked in pairs on two-day rotations.

Rare were the skies blanketed in clouds, except when going through squalls. They had strong wind throughout, no doldrums, the strong southeasterly winds generated.

A large southeasterly swell that did its best to shove the canoe west. Then on Saturday, they spotted the manu o ku, a bird that flies back to land in the evening, then that large southeast wave stopped, land was near.

“The big southeast wave was gone because it was blocked by the atoll it was so huge, and the water got very calm, good wind and then the birds just increased a hundred fold. There were all kinds of seabirds, so we knew the island was close,” said Thompson.

All hands on deck on both canoes, searching for an island and one hour before sunset Sunday.

Just 15 days after leaving Hawaii, traditional voyaging canoes Hokulea and Hikianalia have reached land.

Crews were overjoyed when they got their first glimpse of Arutua, an atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago in French Polynesia, Sunday.

Kala Baybayan and Saki Uchida on Hikianalia spotted the atoll just east of Rangiroa. Uchida had been studying under Hikianalia captain and Pwo navigator Bruce Blankenfeld and was one of the navigators on board.

Seven young navigators on board Hokulea were also excited.

“Right there, right in front of the jib, there it is, I see it,” said a young navigator.

Although Hokulea captain and master navigator Nainoa Thompson had a different reaction.

“I was very quiet, I was just contemplative,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever do this again, but for (the young navigators), it was a whole brand-new experience. They worked hard. It was a rough sail, even though it was fast and it was over.”

“Everybody was, it was so so exciting, running around, for a lot of people they never saw an atoll in their lives. Jenna of the crew saw it first. I had seen it probably half an hour before then but I didn’t say anything, I didn’t say anything,” said Thompson.

The teacher who is more trained in finding the island, let his pupils find it themselves.

For Nainoa Thompson, he proved to himself that even at age 61 he could hold his strength with very little sleep. But this was his fifth voyage to Tahiti, and he says it may be his last.

“Makes me want to cry because you know I’ve changed, different priorities in my life. I’m going to do what I said I was going to do and that’s teach another generation, and that’s my final job,” shared Thompson. “In the end we did our job so this crew should be proud of themselves and they’re behaving in a humble way so they’re there. They’re voyaging. They’re doing a good job.”

From Arutua, they sailed immediately to Rangiroa where they had to go through customs, then had a beautiful welcome from the locals there.

A larger, more formal ceremony is scheduled Tuesday.

The canoes will likely leave Rangiroa Wednesday for Tahiti.

Photos provided by Oiwi TV.

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