An ambitious journey by canoe gets underway in Hawaii on Saturday when two double-hulled vessels set sail on a three-year trip around the world.
The 62-foot double-hulled Hokulea is not your average sea vessel. A couple sails, a wooden oar to steer and about five miles of rope to hold the canoe together. Captain Bob Perkins says what you won't find on board is any type of navigational instrument. No GPS, no compass — not even a watch.
"The watch and hours really don't mean much once you're at sea. Natural wayfinding is when we have no instruments, much like what the ancient Polynesians and Hawaiians did," Perkins says.
Hokulea's sister canoe, Hikianalia, does pack technical gear. It'll trail the Hokulea for safety. Perkins says they'll travel to 26 countries over the course of 50,000 miles "to try and prove the idea that Polynesians and Hawaiians actually did purposely transit the oceans."
Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, famously navigated the Hokulea across the Pacific 40 years ago.
"For me it's ancestral," he says. "It's a science, and it's an art that's traditional that's about 3,000 years old. It's part of human migration throughout the Pacific. It allows me to be here and be who I am as a Native Hawaiian — because without it, we couldn't make it to Hawaii."
Thompson learned the ancient tradition from Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug, who passed away in 2010. This trip is different from the voyage of the Kon-Tiki in the 1940s. It's about more than proving that traditional wayfinding is possible. Thompson says it's about passing on a cultural legacy to a new generation.
"The way that you do that is to explore, and the way that you do that is to challenge them," Thompson says. "This voyage is not going to be easy. That's why it's powerful."
Both the Hokulea and the Hikianalia set sail from Oahu to Tahiti at sunset on Saturday, using the stars to guide them on the first leg of their voyage.