This year, Hokule‘a celebrates her thirtieth birthday, and at thirty, she is very much alive. Tethered to the dock, she appears eager to break free. Her noble presence is the result of the pride and great workmanship that went into building her. The core of her physical strength comes from two strong hulls made of plywood and fiberglass. Ten miles of rigging ropes wind their way up and down her two masts, their job to secure or release the sails that let her fly. The spirit of ancient Polynesia is sewn into her red, crab-claw sails, and when those sails are opened, they flap proudly with the collective soul of her past and present crews. In 2006, Hokule‘a has a full schedule: She will travel to Mau Piailug’s home island of Satawal, to Guam, to nineteen prefectures in Japan, Tahiti, the Cook Islands and New Zealand.
Penny Martin says that becoming a crewmember requires more than just being in the right place at the right time. “The canoe finds us,” she believes. “All of us have a purpose. Nainoa—he realized early on that he was meant to be a navigator. Everyone contributes something.
“We must be able to take all the things we learned from living on the canoe and apply them to living on the island,” she says, listing the common traits: being surrounded by water, having limited resources, living in close quarters. “Life is so simple on the canoe. You know exactly what you’re going to do. And if you do everything right, then it’s smooth sailing. You wish everything on land could be so simple.”
Penny brings up one of the most poignant moments of her adventure: Hokule‘a’s arrival in Tahiti in 1976. Standing waist-high in water, waving, she was part of a 17,000-person welcome. “When she came around the corner, I was standing there in the multitude of people and hearing them call out to the canoe, saying, ‘Welcome home, we’ve been waiting for you, what took you so long?’” she recalls. “And I realized this is a part of me. This is where I’m from. This is who I am.”
“Now I think, ‘Oh my God, I’m the kupuna!’” she laughs. “That was a revelation. Some of the kids weren’t even born at the time I went. That’s the incredible thing—what I saw as the end of our journey was just
the beginning.” HH