Canoe Crew Glimpses Easter Island

Friday, October 15, 1999
The crew of a replica of an ancient Hawaiian canoe reached their final destination - Easter Island - traveling some 15,000 miles (24,000 km) and using only the stars and weather patterns to navigate. The Polynesian Voyaging Society said the Hokulea, which left Hawaii on June 15 on a voyage that first took them to the Marquesas Islands and Mangareva, was set to land on the remote Chilean island early on Oct. 9. Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson relied on the stars and currents to steer the double-hulled canoe, a wood and fiberglass replica of the type used by ancient Polynesians to settle the Pacific some 2,000 years ago. "They're just very, happy, very excited, very much in awe right now of everything that the ancient Polynesians were able to do," said Elisa Yadao, a spokeswoman for the society. "They're feeling very connected to each other. They worked very hard for this." Because Easter Island is only 45 square miles (116 sq km), there was a concern that the 13-member crew could sail past it, especially at night. The voyaging society, a nonprofit Honolulu-based educational group that owns the canoe, called this trip the most difficult in the canoe's 25-year history. Conditions in the last three days of the journey were difficult, with near constant rain reducing visibility to less than five miles (eight km), Yadao said. She added that Thompson could not see the stars at night and relied on direction of the swells to navigate. But at dawn on Oct. 8, crewmember Max Yarawamai saw a flat black line on the horizon. Thompson then determined it was the top of Easter Island's Mount Terevaka, which was partially hidden by clouds. The Hokulea has been a potent symbol for Hawaiians since the mid-1970s, when its crews proved that ancient Hawaiians could use the stars to navigate the Pacific. Its journeys to Tahiti, New Zealand and the Marquesas Islands revived the ancient art of star navigation and pride in Hawaiian culture. Polynesian voyaging was nearly lost in Hawaii before the Hokulea was built. At the time, there were no Polynesian voyaging canoes and only one deep-sea navigator known to the voyaging society. Today, there are six voyaging canoes -- with more under construction -- and nine navigators. Courses in celestial navigation are taught at schools in Hawaii including the state's university system.

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