Aboard Hōkūle‘a a crescendo of sound, movement, light and energy engulfed us as we made our way into the Ala Wai Harbor. To our port, a huge crowd had gathered onshore to witness the homecoming; to our starboard, thousands of people on every manner of floating object, from power boat to outrigger canoe, kayak to surfboard. Amid this mighty throng my attention was drawn to one young man. He’d abandoned his surfboard to scramble up a small rock to the side of the channel. He stood atop it waving a Hawaiian flag and yelling encouragement. This told me all I needed to know: That Hōkūle‘a’s circumnavigation of our planet had met the promises made to Hawai‘i and the world when she set sail three years ago.
My immense good fortune to join Hōkūle‘a on the final leg of her voyage had started three days earlier. Hōkūle‘a’s crew, along with those of the other Polynesian wa‘a (canoes) that were to accompany her home, assembled on the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa on Moloka‘i’s north shore. The following afternoon Hōkūle‘a left Kalaupapa accompanied by six other voyaging canoes: Sister vessel Hikianalia, Tahiti’s Fa‘afaite, Aotearoa/New Zealand’s Okeanos, Hawai‘i Island’s Makali‘i and Maui’s Mo‘okiha o Pi‘ilani. We sailed downwind along the coast of Moloka‘i to the serene and sheltered anchorage of Kawākiu bay. That night the stars were out, giving us one last glimpse of the firmament Oceanic navigators looked to as they first steered themselves across vast expanses of the Pacific almost a thousand years before Western mariners had equaled that feat. Hōkūle‘a, the constellation after which the canoe is named, stood guard above us, much as it had every night during the thousands of hard miles sailed.
At dawn, anchors were raised and we headed for O‘ahu. As a new and inept crew member, I was struck by the easy routine taking place around me. The confidence of the young and the elders’ generous sharing of their experience was impressive: I watched as knowledge passed from one generation to another in the manner of kindling being carefully tended so a fire can take hold. O‘ahu grew larger with each passing mile and, inevitably, our thoughts were drawn to the following day.
The next morning we were under way by six a.m. for the short approach to Honolulu. Boats joined the fleet of wa‘a off the southeastern coast of O‘ahu, and by the time we rounded Diamond Head, outrigger canoes were also traveling with us, their paddlers striving to stay in formation. By the last nautical mile of more than forty thousand sailed, Hōkūle‘a was surrounded by hundreds of paddlers, kayakers, surfers and boats. Seeing the spectators’ faces full of joy and excitement, I felt like an imposter among Hōkūle‘a’s crew—those who over the three years of the voyage and the decades preceding it had made this extraordinary day come to pass.
Hōkūle‘a embarked on Mālama Honua, the worldwide voyage, to educate us all—but most particularly the young—about the preciousness of our small island planet. Along the way she shared aloha and the culture of Polynesia with the broader world. Closer to home, she gave those of Polynesian descent cause to understand how meaningful their culture is in the modern age. The young man waving the Hawaiian flag from the rock epitomized for me the restoration of pride and confidence that this sixty-foot vessel and her intrepid navigators and crew had, on this day, brought home at last.
From our ‘ohana to yours, enjoy your ﬂight and mahalo for your business.