Sailing in Fog and Lightning, Canoe Reaches Saint Helena

By Zunin, Ira | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, January 16, 2016 | Go to article overview

Sailing in Fog and Lightning, Canoe Reaches Saint Helena


Zunin, Ira, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


After 16 days at sea, Saint Helena arose out of the mist. Our heading could not have been more perfect had we used GPS. Each member of the crew is in awe to be part of this historical leg of the around-the-world voyage where spirituality and ancient science join as one, where the mana of the Hokule'a, guidance by the ancestors and support from the community bring unity of purpose to the dedicated souls on board. Indeed, the sense of common destiny was articulated by one crew member during an awa ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa, the night before our departure: "May my bones be your bones. May my blood be your blood."

Kaleo Wong, our principal apprentice navigator, under the tutelage of Bruce Blankenfeld, captain and master navigator, began facilitating the 1,200-mile run from the waters off Walvis Bay, Namibia, to Saint Helena amid particularly challenging conditions. The large temperature gradient between the hot earth of the Kalahari Desert and the cold antarctic currents moving up Namibia's western coast are known for creating dense fog that can extend hundreds miles into the Atlantic. The combination of fog and low-lying clouds made it impossible much of the time to rely on celestial bodies for our bearings. The fog also cut the wind, which limited not only our speed, but also our ability to maintain the intended heading. During early morning on the day of arrival, a daunting lightning storm blocked our intended approach. This was taken as a sign. We jibed, and within hours the faint outline of the island emerged.

Saint Helena, like Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and our next two destinations -- Ascension Island and Isla San Fernando de Noronha -- are particularly challenging to find by noninstrument navigation, even in the best of conditions. This is because these islands make for geographic targets that are both small and extremely isolated. In contrast, Tahiti is part of a vast archipelago, as is to a lesser degree the Hawaiian Islands chain. While celestial navigation is the principal method employed to traverse long distances, it is ultimately the winds and waves that reveal the maritime road to be traveled. When the canoes are within a day or two of a destination, birds, marine life, specific cloud formations and water color can offer additional and more specific signs of land. Still, when one finally sights a speck of terra firma within the immense ocean, there is this chicken-skin sense that the miraculous has happened, that, guided by the ancestors and drawn in by the land, the navigator and crew have pulled an island up from the infinite depths. …

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