Visiting Hokule’a

Hokule'a docked in Koko Marina. Koko Crater in the distance.
Hokule’a docked in Koko Marina. Koko Crater in the distance.

Hokule’a. Ho-ku-lay-uh. That is how you say the name of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s sailing vessel currently on an educational tour around Hawaii as a precursor to its very ambitious sail around the world that begins in May 2014. When Hokule’a was scheduled to dock at Hawaii Kai Towne Center in Koko Marina on Friday, October 25, one of Kid2’s teachers arranged for her students to tour the vessel. She needed chaperones and drivers. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Crew members talk about life on the Hokule'a.
Crew members talk about life on the Hokule’a.

I drove three groups of very well-behaved students from Niu Valley Middle School to the shopping center and back. I toured the vessel with my first and third groups. I had only planned on going on board once, but after the first time I wanted to know more. I guess you could say I was one of the more excited ‘students’ there that day.

Mrs. Chang, the students’ teacher, had us all remove our shoes outside the dock before boarding. She calmed the excited kids (and adults) and turned to face the crew that was greeting us to chant an  ‘oli,’ a poem-prayer-plea-song-greeting to invoke our respect and desire to board. Representatives of the crew welcomed us with their response sung in Hawaiian.

Let the chicken skin begin.

Students learn about the Hokule'a.
Students learn about the Hokule’a.

Never in all my days did I ever think that I’d have a chance to board the Hokule’a. Many of us who live in Hawaii know of its background, the purpose of its first voyage in 1976 to Tahiti — to prove Hawaiians could have sailed great distances long ago using only the stars and ropes to navigate. And let’s face it, I’m not Hawaiian. I always felt that the Hokule’a, the Polynesian Voyaging Society, and all things native in the state of Hawaii were things I should keep at a respectful distance. I completely understand the desire for Native Hawaiians to protect, preserve and sustain their culture. I am eager to learn and to know, but I do not want to intrude. I, like many people, know that there was more to Hokule’a than the phrase, “Eddie Would Go.” I cannot stress enough how huge this opportunity was for someone like me. I may never get to sail on Hokule’a, but I know its importance to inspire future generations of explorers — on the ocean, around the globe and into space.

That’s why this tour of the Hokule’a is mostly for the keiki. While on board with the seventh graders, I asked a few questions to “pop the cork” and to tip the kids into asking questions of their own, from “Where do you go to the bathroom?” to “Is there a refrigerator?” to “How can I join a voyage?”

Solar panels to power the lights required for night sailing are a modern embellishment.
Solar panels to power the lights required for night sailing are a modern embellishment.

The Hokule’a is beautiful. Made of plywood, resin and fiberglass, the double-hulled, twin-mast vessel is 61.5-feet long and 15.6-feet at beam. It is steered by a long paddle and has no auxiliary motor. A modern embellishment is its solar panels used to power its lights required for night sailing, and to power a few high tech items, including a laptop used for journaling and updating the website. Ropes are everywhere. Knowing knots is a requirement among her crew.

Bruce Blankenfeld gives a captivating talk to the students.
Bruce Blankenfeld gives a captivating talk to the students.

Crew Training Navigator Bruce Blankenfeld of Niu Valley mesmerized the students as he held up his hands and showed them how to position the stern and the ropes to navigate by the stars. He showed them how to tie a basic bowline knot while discussing what kind of candidates make great crew members. He talked about how different birds were indicators of where they were, even if there was no land ho. Gently, Blankenfeld encouraged the students to aspire toward their dreams. Knowledge is power. Know math, astronomy, oceanography, geography, zoology. Know compassion. Be resilient. Be resourceful. Go with the flow. Deal with the unexpected. Rejoice in the accomplishments of the crew. Support those who struggle. Batten down the hatches when a storm rolls through. Secure your harness to the boat and ride it out. Survive. Accomplish. And always keep in mind those who’ve sailed on Hokule’a before. All eyes on deck were on Blankenfeld, inspiring storyteller, experienced sailor and fisherman.

And then it was time to explore. Down into the bunks where the crew sleeps. around the deck, taking pictures with their camera/phones, posing with the each other and the crew members. Finally, Blankenfeld had the keiki circle the mast and help him drop one of Hokule’a’s triangle sails. The ropes were untied, and hand over hand, the tanned sail filled with the breeze that at that moment launched a few dozen imaginations across the seas.

Please visit to learn so much more about the 2014 voyage, the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the history of Hokule’a and low-tech ocean navigation. You can also make a tax-deductable donation of $10 or more at the site. For $50 you will receive a member T-shirt.

Below are the videos of the oli to board the vessel and of the children helping with the sail.