Hokulea’s apprentice navigators spot tiny, isolated Rapa Nui after 17-day journey

Photo courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society/Oiwi TV

Hokulea’s young apprentice navigators on Sunday found the tiny island they’ve been aiming for, Rapa Nui, or Easter Island.

The 17-day journey from the Galapagos Islands was a first in many respects, including their first time navigating there, their first time without a master navigator on board and it was the first time for legendary Hawaii waterman Archie Kalepa to captain the canoe.

Sailing nearly 2,000 nautical miles to the isolated island without modern instruments is tough enough, but unexpectedly, just a few days before departure from the Galapagos, the navigator’s mentor and crewmembers’ captain Nainoa Thompson couldn’t go.

He made Maui’s Archie Kalepa, legendary lifeguard, waterman, surfer of Jaws and 20-year veteran crewmember of Hokulea, captain.

“You know it’s like I told Nainoa, I’m scared but I’m not afraid,” Kalepa told us by phone.

Scared of the unknown, having never sailed to Rapa Nui and never been captain.

“The fear was being asked to step into this role, the fear, was more than anything was of failure,” Kalepa added. “The other part of the fear was knowing that we could get into a situation that could turn into life or death.”

He says it makes you analyze each move and decision and keeps you alert and aware. He did have veterans on board, including original 1976 crewmember Billy Richards, plus four young apprentice navigators who worked as a team.

“The conditions have been pretty challenging, we’ve had everything from perfect ideal conditions with the consistent southeast swell to steer by day and and clear skies at night as well as we’ve had wind shifts, during the middle of the night to slight shifts in swell and nearly complete cloud coverage,” said apprentice navigator Haunani Kane.
“One of the things that’s been really enjoyable to see is the navigators, their attention to detail, and their ability to start being able to pick up and read the wind swell versus the predominant swell that’s been going really good, besides them using the stars to navigate by,” Kalepa said.

And spotting that island in their mind, Rapa Nui, after 17 days.

“You don’t know what to do but there was a point today that I know I broke down, tears of joy, just the hard work that everybody’s put in,” explained Kalepa. “Brought a sense of pride, not just for me, but for the crew and for the people of Hawai’i that we can if we set our mind to things and if we do the work and we put in the time there’s not much that we can’t do.”

That includes bringing Hokulea back home to Polynesia.

“You know what there’s nothing wrong with being afraid or scared it’s just when you commit to doing something, give it your all give it your best and put your heart and soul into it and we found Rapa Nui.”

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