It was dusk, after school, when a couple dozen students from Punahou School gathered at Sand Island on Oahu to tour the famous voyaging canoe Hokulea. For all her reputation and cultural significance, the canoe isn’t very big. Just 400 square feet of deck space--40' x 10'--and sleeping berths even more cramped at 3' x 6'. That was especially apparent this night, one of the last school visits that wrapped up the Malama Hawaii leg of Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Worldwide Voyage. For nearly the past year, Hokulea has sailed 1,000 miles within the archipelago of Hawaii and welcomed thousands of students—and parents and teachers and curious others like myself—on board.
On the evening of my visit, Ka`iulani Murphy—with whom I chatted on Waikiki Beach
—fielded questions from students. And, since I found the kids’ questions fascinating and insightful, I’m going to share them—and Ka`iiulani’s answers—here.
Has Hokulea ever gotten lost?
Hokulea has sailed to every corner of the Polynesian triangle--and then some—and has never gotten lost.
Do people get seasick?
Yes. That’s why we train--to find out who gets sick. Some people take medications or wear a special patch.
What are the solar panels for?
They power batteries for things like running lights and the radio.
How long does the voyage [to Tahiti] take?
It varies from two to three weeks, but on average it takes 27 days.
Is it scary?
It can be. But, again, that’s why training is important. You’ve got to trust your captain and navigator.
What do you eat?
Well, there’s no refrigeration. We’ll start with chicken hekka, chicken long rice, eggs, salmon patties, eggs, bananas and dried fish. The fresh stuff only lasts about a week, so we take pre-packaged meals, too. On this upcoming voyage, we’ll try growing vegetables—via hydroponics. But it’s best to get fresh stuff straight from the ocean. I tend to crave root beer floats and salads by the end of the voyage.
Will you take water or get it along the way?
We generally take one gallon per person per day. This time, our sister boat Hikianalia will carry a water maker.
What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you on board?
It’s really a mix of scary and awesome. Leaving Tahiti on my first long-distance voyage, our canoe got struck by lightning. We looked at each other, like, “Did you feel that?” There were bolts of lightning all around on the horizon. It was as if nature was asking, ‘Are you ready for this voyage?’ It was scary and awesome.”
What do you do during the voyage?
We have different kuleana [responsibilities] on board. There is the navigator and the apprentice navigators who watch the rise and setting of the sun, note where on the canoe—what house—it rises and sets. There are watch captains who, among other things, check to see if the hulls are dry at the beginning of every four-hour watch. There’s a cook. Someone rides the steering sweep.
How many sleeping spots are there?
Five each side. There are 12 to 15 people on each crew, so people share bunks.
How do you go to the bathroom?
You wear a safety harness and attach it to the railing and lean over the side of the canoe.