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Voyage for the sea

2024 January 9

For 2,800 nautical miles, the sailors aboard the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūle’a have spread a message of unity and restoration to thousands along the North American Pacific Coast. 

Hōkūle’a joins the Star of India on a sail celebrating the tall ship’s 160th birthday.
Mark Albertazzi photo 
The double-hulled traditional-style vessel embarked from Juneau, Alaska, in mid-June on the first leg of a planned 43,000 nautical mile, four-year expedition. Over five months the voyagers visited 35 cities, connecting with indigenous people and communities who share Hōkūle’a’s vision of healing and protecting the planet. In November, the boat landed in Southern California.

The Moananuiākea Voyage for Earth 2023-2027 takes its name from the Hawaiian word moananuiākea, which refers to the vast Pacific Ocean and the domain of the god Kanaloa, saying, “It is the greatest body of water on earth, and what connects us all.”

It is the most recent outreach of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which first set sail nearly 50 years ago. In the past the focus was to learn and re-establish the ancient ways of navigation, explore and reconnect. Those associations prompted this new endeavor. 

“During the Mālama Honua voyage in 2014 to 2017 we met a lot of indigenous people all around the world, from Australia and South Africa to the First Nations here,” said Capt. Tamika Fernelius, who skippered Hōkūle’a from Ventura to San Diego. “We realize we have more similarities than differences and felt really connected with what we are doing and what they are doing to take care of this planet earth, the land and ocean water.”

Tamiko Fernelius, skipper of Hōkūle’a, welcomes guests.
Betsy Senescu photo 
Hōkūle’a was built in Honolulu and launched in early 1975, the first vessel in modern history to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti using ancient methods of reading the stars, wind and natural signs to navigate. Since that time the 62-foot-long, 20-foot-wide vessel has sailed roughly 140,000 nautical miles. Displacing 16,000 pounds, it carries another 11,000 pounds of gear, supplies and crew. Sailors hot bunk in narrow cuddy cabins along the amas and steer the vessel with a massive paddle which, at 200 pounds, takes two sailors to maneuver. Hōkūle’a has no engine but is powered by crab claw sails on 41-foot-high spars, and made a decent clip of 12 to 20 knots down the West Coast on this most recent voyage.

Arriving at Dana Point’s Ocean Institute, Fernelius explained she was born and raised in Okinawa but did not have any boating experience until she joined the Japanese Coast Guard. 

“Okinawa is a beautiful place and had beautiful coral reefs when I was a kid, but as I got older the coral was becoming like a desert, bleached, with few fish living along the reef. So I joined the coast guard right after high school, thinking I wanted to do something for the ocean,” she said. “I was working on a big 3,000-ton ship. I was on the ocean, but not doing anything for the ocean. So I was searching for a way to help the people pay attention to the ocean when I saw a article about Hōkūle’a and thought ‘I need this canoe and this experience to reconnect the people and the ocean.’” 

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