The ancient Polynesians were the astronauts of their time, exploring the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean in voyaging canoes. They had no maps, compasses or global positioning systems to guide them to tiny dots of islands.
Today, the stars, the wind and waves guide a new generation of voyagers aboard the Hōkūle’a, a 19-meter voyaging canoe on a trip around the world of more than 110,000 kilometers.
The aim is to boost awareness of “Mālama Honua,” which means “Care for the Earth.”
The team arrived in Washington in late May, after logging some 80,000 kilometers since leaving the island of Oahu in Hawaii in 2014.
“This is the dream,” Lehua Kamalu, 29, a crewmember from Honolulu, said as the canoe was docked on the riverbanks of the Potomac River, not far from the Washington Monument.
The crew aims to draw worldwide attention to challenges facing the ocean: overfishing, pollution, global warming and coral bleaching.
“Like the amazing voyage of the Hōkūle’a, the ocean inspires us and connects us,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a message presented to the crew. “Together, we can change the world and save our ocean.”
The Hōkūle’a will present letters from around the world to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on World Oceans Day, June 8.
Kamalu is joined by her 31-year-old sister, Noe, on the journey. Both became fascinated with the Hōkūle’a since going aboard on a primary school field trip.
The canoe is “a symbol of Hawaiian strength and pride,” Noe said, and one that sparked a renaissance of traditional Hawaiian studies.
The canoe first set sail in 1975, the first of its kind on the water since the 1400s.
The two sisters have joined crews of around a dozen for four weeks at a time. The Hōkūle’a’s worldwide voyage will visit more than 100 ports by the time it returns to Hawaii in 2017.