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Hokule’a Log: Voyage to Rapa Nui Part 3

by vrecinto on April 15th, 2014


In preparation for the start of the Worldwide Voyage in May 2014, we are pleased to re-post Sam Low’s stories about the Hokulea’a.

Hokule’a Log: Voyage to Rapa Nui – Part Three
By Sam Low

In 1999 Hokule’a – a replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe – set out from Mangareva to voyage to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  Her Navigator, Nainoa Thompson, would find his way as his ancestors once did – without charts, compass or instruments of any kind. This is part three of a multipart series. Please feel free to share this. Aloha.

The Weather Guru

The navigators are getting to know Guy Raoulx pretty well. He is French/Tahitian, short (about five foot six) and wiry – a man of intense energy. Guy is the Chef Meterologiste of the weather station and as such is entitled to a home overlooking the lagoon and a limitless expanse of ocean. Today we can only imagine his view because the front continues stalled over Mangareva and where the lagoon should be we can see only rain and cloud. Guy has served in the meteorological service (the French call it the Meteo) for about 25 years, spending time, to his great delight, at almost every station in French Polynesia. Thinking about Guy’s travels and his rent-free house overlooking the lagoon causes Chad Baybayan to proclaim, “I could do this.”

Every day, at about 11 AM, Guy launches a weather balloon from a hanger the size of a one-car garage perched above the harbor on the slopes of Mount Duff. Today we watch him as he squats in the hanger’s open door, the balloon in his left hand tugging for release. “I am waiting for a lull in the wind,” he explains. A few moments later he sprints out the open door and – with a ballet dancer’s pirouette – launches his balloon. He returns to the hanger, grinning, apparently as delighted with his performance as we are.

“That was a good one,” he announces, “but you should see what happens when the wind comes from there (pointing out toward the sea). No matter how far I run before launching – bam – it goes into the trees. And sometimes it takes off quite unpredictably. I have had it crash into the instrument tower more than once, wrapping itself around all the antennas. What a mess.” Guy’s monologue is accompanied by expansive pumping and waving of arms, a repertoire of gestures expressive of his Gaelic genes.

The news posted by radio signals from Guy’s balloon as it ascends though the atmosphere at 200 meters a minute, is not good. Just as Nainoa feared, the weak low pressure system forming to the northeast of Mangareva has, if anything, intensified – stalling the passage of the front – pushing it back even. The forecast is for continued unsettled weather. By Saturday, the front may pass to the east bringing favorable winds from the northeast but also continued clouds and rain. Nainoa, staring out the door of the Meteo says, “I look out here and I can’t even see the islands a mile away. There is no way we can navigate in this stuff.”

Guy’s weather maps show a trough of low pressure pushing down across the island like the impression of a giant thumb. The thumb is predicted to move east by mid-day on Saturday, allowing the winds to begin to haul around to the west, southwest, and south – all favorable for a direct run across to Pitcairn Island. But will the prediction hold? And, if it does, how long will the winds remain in a favorable direction before continuing to round about and begin to blow in our face?

Sunday, September 19, Rikitea

On Friday, the town had a party for the crew to say goodbye so that we would be free to depart at short notice. On Saturday night the crew and our hosts enjoyed a special dinner at a local restaurant.

The crew has been working aboard Hokule’a for the last few days. Sails are rigged, the gear stowed away, emergency drills have been performed and the new crewmembers have blended with those already here. Kama Hele is provisioned and fueled.

Sunday dawns with a partly cloudy sky and a light wind from the northeast. The crews of Kama Hele and Hokule’a have moved their personal gear aboard to be ready to sail at short notice. At about four PM, we receive word that we should be ready to depart for Rapa Nui tomorrow at first light. All of us are excited by the prospect ahead – to participate in one of the most important of voyages in Hokule’a’s nearly twenty-five years of sailing.

Monday, September 20, Rikitea

Monday dawns with slack winds. The surface of the ocean is like a lake. The sky is almost totally overcast. The hoped-for favorable winds and clear skies do not materialize and so departure is cancelled. The crew stands down and, after breakfast at the beach house, go about various chores. On Hokule’a, Bruce Blankenfeld briefs the crew on procedures for safety at sea.

Ever since the unfortunate loss of Eddy Aikau during the 1978 voyage, safety has been paramount aboard both Hokule’a and her escort. Each crewmember is issued their own personal flotation device, safety harness, whistle and strobe light. If anyone falls overboard, the waterproof strobe will assist in finding them at night. Both Hokule’a and Kama Hele are also equipped with a man overboard device that contains a life ring for flotation, an extra whistle, and two strobe lights – one on top and one on the bottom of a long pole designed to float upright. Should anyone fall overboard, the device is tossed into the water. The strobe on the bottom will begin blinking automatically to assist in spotting it. The person in the water will swim to the light, grab the life ring and flip a switch to illuminate the top strobe. The ring is attached to the canoe by a long line which a crewmember will pull in when they see the top light illuminated. In the meantime, the crew of the canoe will maneuver to stop the vessel.

“Safety is our most important consideration at sea,” Bruce tells the crew. “We must always be on guard against any kind of accident. Always watch out for everyone on the canoe. Overlook nothing. Be vigilant at all times.”

Both Hokule’a and Kama Hele are now ready for sea, waiting only for favorable winds and clear skies. The first leg of the journey to Rapa Nui will be to Pitcairn Island, a little over 300 miles away. Once having found Pitcairn, the navigators will begin the voyage to Rapa Nui from a known point in the ocean.

“Getting to Pitcairn is very important,” Nainoa told us in a recent crew briefing, “so I want to leave Mangareva with both favorable winds and a clear sky so that we can navigate. We will just have to be patient and wait until the conditions are right. But, as soon as they are, we will jump off.”

Author Sam Low has recently published a book about Hokule’a called Hawaiki Rising – Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

This is a logbook and Sam takes all responsibility for errors in spelling and any other kind.

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