On November 1, after our training sail to Moorea and a day spent provisioning, we departed for Hilo. We had a large crew of 15. Bob Perkins, our captain, is also the director of the Marine Education and Training Center where I have been taking boat fabrication and maintenance courses for the past 2 years. Chadd ‘Onohi Paishon is a pwo navigator and captain from the island of Hawaii and was along for mentoring and teaching of all things Hawaiian. We had 3 watch crews of 4-5 people each. My watch was 2-6 this leg, and I adore this watch as I am up for every sunrise and sunset as well as being able to watch the stars cross the sky in the early morning hours.
Our sail plan was to head north with as much east as possible at the beginning, allowing us a nice downwind run to Hilo as soon as we reached the latitude of Hilo. We did not have very favorable winds the entire trip and struggled a bit to make any progress to the east. The seas were not big, but since they hit the beam it made for a pretty rough trip. We luckily did not encounter the doldrums that you hear about, with no wind at all for days on end. We were able to make good progress every day, and towards the end of the trip were making better distances every day. We had lots of small squalls that tested the steering and sail handling of all the watches, and one very stormy night with nasty winds that caused us to drop all our sails and drift through the night.
Life on the canoe becomes a routine. Up for your watch, sleep when you are tired, and find things to help with when you are not on watch and not asleep. I took on the kuleana of helping Keli with prep for meals as she was the cook for our leg. I spent about 4 hours a day cutting up fruit for most of the voyage. Nice thing was that you get to snack while you are helping! Keala caught an amazing number of fish, and we had fresh fish most days. We actually had to ask him not to fish a few days when we were ready for a change!
We had a good bit of rain, and didn’t have any dry days for the middle half of the sail. We played a lot of ‘name that star’ while on watch at night as the heavy clouds would part just long enough for different constellations to be visible. It provided an amazing opportunity to learn the sky– it is pretty rare that I am up from 2-6 any morning, especially with time to look at the stars! We had GPS to use for navigation, but whenever possible we used stars, the wind direction, and the swell direction to keep our line when steering.
A big event for most of us was crossing the Equator via water for the first time. We had a nice crossing ceremony, observing both western and Hawaiian traditions. And Keli made a cake to commemorate!
A good portion of our crew were on their first voyage, and several had to get passports for the first time in order to go. We learned a lot from each other, and a lot about each other. After 6+ weeks away for a few of us, it was really good to get home to our families (feline and human!).