Watching the televised launching of the Hokule`a and the Hikianalia on a worldwide voyage that will take three years, something began vibrating deep within me, although I am a sworn landlubber. While a heavy Wailua rain woke me, thrumming loudly, I lay wondering what it might be like to be soaked and tossed in the slosh of high waves and weather on deep, open ocean. Without modern navigational instruments, what would happen when stars, moon and sun were blotted out? Since watching the launch, it seems the idea of exploration has been working subconsciously.
The first idea of navigation was planted in me by my Scots heritage dad, knowing he’d served as navigator on a Royal Indian Navy minesweeper in the Arabian Sea. When I was a tot and he’d come home on a rare leave, I’d watch him lather up and shave, and listen to him, sing, “A life on the ocean wave, a home on the rolling sea …”
Much later, I learned he’d used a sextant to make his calculations. I used encyclopedias to ferret out more information on measuring instruments, such as astrolabes. I began to think about how the latitudes and longitudes of our globe were formulated and set in place.
Early on, I had a chance to watch the sea and wonder about its oppositional forces — extreme beauty and threat of terror — while traveling via ship with my family from Calcutta to Rangoon, and from Rangoon to Singapore. Before I was 6, I had also flown over huge expanses of ocean on a PanAm clipper ship, from Singapore through Darwin, to Sydney, Australia.
The underlining of the challenge and excitement of navigation came up when I became a transplanted second grader in Australia following the Great Diaspora from the Far East that followed World War II. In our Manley, N.S.W. classroom song class, I learned to belt out, Aussie style, “When Captain Cook from Albion sailed, to trace wide oceans’ gore …” The “true British courage” that came up in the next line wasn’t popular then in the land down under. However, credit was given where due to the renowned navigator for his first Voyage of Discovery that brought him to the continent’s shores at Botany Bay after his forays in Tahiti, the Cook Islands and New Zealand.
Little did I dream then that someday I’d “meet” the fabled captain again, on a Pacific island that I’ve long called home, and that Cook, in 1778, placed on the map at 22 degrees N. (Incidentally, don’t miss this last week of the National Botanical Garden’s “Voyage of Discovery Exhibition”– (808) 332-7324, ext. 227, for times and reservations ending Friday, May 30.)
At 9, leaving Brisbane, Australia, for America on the S.S. Alameda, the ship almost capsized the first night out due to a typhoon. We donned Mae Westsfand stared Davey Jones “in the teeth “as the ship listed toward 45 degrees, an unrecoverable angle. Next day, happily anchored in Townsville, farther north along the Great Barrier Reef, my island dream was seeded by an idyllic day trip to visit another Cook discovery, Magnetic Island, complete with sand, sunshine, blue waters and coconut palms. Then it was off across the Pacific. Our vessel, a freighter equipped for 12 passengers, rode lower and more safely with the hold now full of steel and onions. The voyage stretched to three weeks due to a dock strike in San Francisco and rerouted to make port in Vancouver, B.C.
So much for my own “sailoring” on the deep, and years of living and journeying solidly on land. When I eventually arrived on Kauai, years had passed since I was swept up in the excitement of “Kon-Tiki,” the film documenting the raft voyage across the Pacific. Thor Heyerdahl was still one of my heroes; I had immersed myself in his work that followed through “Aku-Aku” and “The RaVoyages.” On Kauai (and Kealakekua), I re-discoverd good, old Captain Cook, this time with the layering of history that brought him to his third Voyage of Discovery — and the mast-cracking storm that led him to his untimely demise.
How inspiring it was to discover for myself the true story of the Hokule`a Hawaiian voyaging canoe as it had evolved, and to meet people who had actually crewed its maiden or subsequent voyages. In the 1990s, I took the opportunity of boarding the canoe with other Kauai people as it gently rocked in its Nawiliwili mooring. We listened, fascinated, to learn about what life on the open ocean was like direct from Dennis Chun, a crew member and instructor of Hawaiian studies at Kauai Community College.
In 1999, an exact replica of the H.M. Bark Endeavour from Cook’s 1768-1771 voyage dropped anchor in our harbor, and back on board we went. How, indeed, could have that crew of 90-plus people have lived for three years in the confines of a vessel just 109 feet in length?
But then, the Hokule`a (Hawaiian name for Arcturus) and its sister escort canoe (named for Spica and equipped with solar power and technology tools and planned science projects) both measure far less. How clever that a number of captains and hundreds of crew members have committed to learning and preparation and will apply their knowledge during planned segments of the voyage around our globe. Malama Honua.
• Dawn Fraser Kawahara has been a Kauai writer for 30 years. Born in British India, brought up in Australia and California, she found her home on Kauai in 1984. A former writer and department editor for The Garden Island, she launched and continues to run her TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations–Kauai as part of DAWN Enterprises. Since 1998, she has been a Pacific Rim group leader and instructor for HPU-Pacific Island Institute’s visitors to Kauai.