In May 2014, when Paula and I were closing on our North Kohala parcel, a 62-foot double-hulled voyaging canoe set off from Hilo on a three-year journey around the world. She’d already spent a year circumnavigating Hawaii, and now the open ocean was at her bow. Built in 1975 and named Hōkūle’a—Hawaiian for “star of gladness,” another name for Arcturus, the star which Polynesian navigators once used to mark the course from Tahiti to the Big Island—she’s a combination of traditional and modern materials: fiberglass hull, twin triangular canvas sails, and synthetic lashings. Her mission: to voyage across our oceans, covering more than 60,000 nautical miles—more than two and half times the circumference of the earth—reaching 100 ports in 27 countries, before returning to Hawaii in June 2017. Launched by the Honolulu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, the trip is named Mālama Honua, or “caring for our earth.” Unlike other ships, this crew would sail using traditional “wayfinding” methods, relying on the stars, winds, waves, water temperatures, birds, and other patterns of nature to navigate the entire way.
On June 4, Hōkūle’a reached New York City, sailing up the Hudson River, and pulling into Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina, just minutes by foot from the 9/11 Memorial and those two other bodies of water, the North and South Pools, that were once the World Trade Center’s footprints. The following morning I attended the arrival ceremony, which was equal parts a welcome to Hōkūle’a and a formal request by its crew to the local Native American chiefs for permission to land. Oahu’s, Kauai’s and the Big Island’s mayors came, as did the Hawaii governor’s chief of staff, the president of the University of Hawaii, hula and outrigger groups from Hawaii, the pilots of Solar Impulse, the Swiss long-range solar-powered aircraft on its own journey around the world, and even Miss New York (naturally, the one representing the Miss Earth pageant). And among the assembled crew, Nainoa Thompson, navigator and Polynesian Voyaging Society president, spoke, reminding everyone that while we can’t be in charge of which way the wind blows, we can be the navigators of our own spirits. Which always includes taking care of one another—and of the earth.
Chiefs from those Native American nations—Lenape, Unkechaug, Mohegan, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (the Mohawks, Oneidas, Cayugas, Onondagas and Senecas), and Shinnecock—came as the most-honored guests. Some Shinnecock even paddled to lower Manhattan from Long Island. They wore headdresses of feathers, antlers, deerskin, beads, shells and fur. They welcomed the Hawaiians with gifts of wampum, baskets of corn to nourish the spirit, and herbal remedies for the body and soul. (A Taíno chief from Puerto Rico also brought CDs.) In turn, the Hawaiians welcomed the chiefs with gifts of ti leis, the same ones we’d worn at our land blessing last September, when our house was still an idea and hope. The Polynesian Voyaging Society also made gifts of kāhili, the feathered standards that once were symbols of Hawaiian chiefs.
The following week, Hōkūle’a traveled to the United Nations on the East River—12 to 14 sailors crew the ship for four- to six-week shifts at any time—making a presentation there alongside Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for World Oceans Day on June 8 about the ever-growing, ever-more-obvious need to protect our seas. This weekend, the voyaging canoe leaves New York and continues north, to Block Island; Mystic, Connecticut; and Martha’s Vineyard, before continuing to Maine and Nova Scotia, where it will then turn around and take the Panama Canal to the Galápagos, Easter Island and Tahiti, before reaching home. You can follow the route on Hōkūle’a’s Worldwide Voyage page.
What does this have to do with our house in Hawaii? We’re not building anything that can travel the seas, but somehow being part of the ceremony, if even just from the sides, reminded me that I’m on a voyage too, one that’s also about reaching home.
And the life that follows once we arrive.