About Na Kaleikaumaka Outrigger Camps
The Last Hawaiian Mariner
(condensed version)
by Kawika Sands 1999

The Voyage Home

Chapter 4
On their first night, a family of dolphins swam about the canoes. Their tails lit up the water (with phosphorescent organisms) with every swish of their tails making them look like shooting stars and enchanting the voyagers. Over the next few days, everyone ate raw fish with handfuls of sour fermented breadfruit (which tastes like anything but bread!). Later, the rest of the easily perishable food was consumed. From then on, they had to rely on their provisions and what food they could claim from the sea.

As the days wore on, everyone was in good spirits and the voyage remained relatively uneventful. By night, Mo`ikeha's navigators used the stars and the movement of the ocean to steer while adding to what Mo`ikeha already knew of navigating the 2500 miles of ocean. Mo`ikeha marveled at his navigator's ability. All things in nature, birds and fish, clouds and sea, spoke to him. He knew the rhythm of the seasons and the dance of stars. He could see lands past the horizon, smell an approaching storm and understood the lightning that lay beneath the sea, far below the normal surface luminescence. He could also recognize the profile and personality of swells reflected by islands far away like old friends and judged their direction more by feel than by sight.

Mo`ikeha was trained since his youth as a navigator and was well prepared for this voyage from Kahiki. He recalled the lessons learned on his journey from Hawai`i and was now able to apply that knowledge masterfully. "What if you miss the island?" he asked one day. The navigator explained "You follow the signs until you are close enough to see land. The taller the land, the larger the target." "And if you land on the wrong island?" Mo`ikeha asked. The navigator continued "You need only to strike a group of trees, rather than a particular tree. Then you can find the island you want. Also, the sky may be dark or cloudy, but if you can read the ocean you will never be lost."

Occasionally, a ko`ae-`ula bird would keep a canoes company. Sitting on the surface with it's tail in the air as if to mock the vessels, or gliding above the canoes to exchange looks with members of the crew below. It fished with amazing acrobatic precision as it dove into the water. A white, twisting, turning blur of long tail feathers crashing into the sea, then flying away with its meal.

During the first two weeks, the canoes covered a little over half the distance to Hawai`i (about 130 miles a day) and caught fish every day. To do this, fishing lines were extended from each side of the canoe on bamboo poles to prevent the lines from tangling. With a kai anoa hook or omau hook at the end of each fishing line, the crew caught many open ocean fish including aku, `ahi and ono. Mo`ikeha's crew also caught a few a`u-ki each almost as big as a man. The struggle was a great source of excitement and entertainment that lasted well after the fight and landing of the fish was done.

Over the next five days, the canoes slowed to about half of their previous speed. The currents of wind and water became slack and troublesome while time also seemed to slow to a miserable pace. Mo`ikeha remembered this part of the journey well. Tempers were occasionally tested and everything from hauling lines to bailing seemed more tedious than before. A residue of salt always seemed to adhere to everything and everyone. The bright sunshine with the blue of sea and sky beat down on them and hurt the eyes at times making the muscles their faces tired from squinting.

It was hot and bothersome. A quick dip in the water brought some relief and refreshment as the navigators made the best of the elements while the others simply did their best to remain comfortable in the close and confining quarters. On these long monotonous days, meals were the highlight adding some diversion and satisfaction.

Aside from the occasional song to enliven the spirits of the voyagers and favor the winds, there was always something to do. The navigators felt the ocean move beneath them with eyes fixed on the horizon as they issued orders to paddle, steer or trim the sails. Cleaning the canoe, and bathing themselves with sea water kept some busy as some told stories and others gossiped. Fishing and preparing the meals was a constant chore. Sometimes, they collected the flying-fish that landed on the decks during the day and more often at night for bait. Whenever that happened, everyone looked forward to perhaps hooking a mahimahi for the next meal! The flying fish were actually marvelous to watch as they almost "swam" through the air by swishing their tails very quickly. Some glided as far as 200 yards and rose as high as 35 feet!

Even trimming each other's hair helped to pass the time. This was done with a nihoakolavoho (a stick with shark teeth fastened to it). Cutting was done by bending the hair over the edge and using a sawing motion. Relieving one's self while aboard was done by hanging over the side or stern. A piece of coconut cloth substituted for toilet paper. Although somewhat rough when dry, a little sea water made it soft enough to use.

One night, the navigators noted the rising of the star Hokupa`a just above the horizon before them. Giving everyone a much needed sense of progress. After the third week, everyone was tired and eagerly looking forward to sighting Hawai`i. Not because of any hardship of camaraderie, but because the voyagers had been confined to their canoe for nearly four weeks at sea with very little change in diet. Though the fleet was at their usual speed once again, there were no more sprouts of land or coral on which to rest and collect eggs or perhaps a catch a bird or even to break the monotony of the stark scenery all around them and cut in two by the flat horizon that separated them.

One evening, as the navigators observed the stars Hokule`a, Ukali ali`i, and Ka`awela, they told Mo`ikeha that they should now be nearing Hawai`i. Tired and gladdened by the news, Mo`ikeha (and the rest of the crew), slept well that night. Dreaming of the Kahiki they had left weeks before and the Hawai`i they had left years ago.

(to be continued;)

TLHM Writer's Notes:
MUCH of the detail in this tale lies within the pages of the book and screenplay versions of this story. Even so, more could have been said in this chapter! Particularly of life aboard the sailing canoes and of the wayfinding methods used. One thing that is not touched on here is the distinct possibility of the use of the bits of land and reef along the way that covers more than half the distance between Hawai`i and Kahiki.

It may be likely that the mariners of olde used these to rest, restock provisions or simply confirm their course. However, with today's sailing canoes, there is a noted avoidance of these shoals in the interest of safety and for good reason! Land/reefs, especially on the high seas, presents certain navigational hazards for the unwary. The master navigators of the past had far more experience and mastery of the seas and their ships than we do today. A glimpse of which we gain every time today's sailing canoes sets to sea.

Part 13<< -|- Index -|- >> Part 15

Hele on to Canoe Club News

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