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Jason Patterson and Haunani Kane strike a pose that many before them have taken when on the hunt for land. These young navigators will lead us into the future.

Waʻa Wednesday: Next generation of navigators take the helm

Mar. 1, 2017

The perpetuation of Polynesian wayfinding continues to be a source of pride for students, the organization and the entire Hawaiian community, adding strength to a collective sense of Native Hawaiian identity. Kamehameha Schools is proud to be the education sponsor of the Hōkūleʻa Worldwide Voyage.

At the start of the week, the crew of Hōkūleʻa arrived safely at Rapa Nui after sailing for about 16 days across approximately 1,900 nautical miles of deep ocean.

A group of four apprentice navigators (Haunani Kane, Jason Patterson, Lehua Kamalu and Noe Kamalu) formed the navigation team that directed Hōkūleʻa to its destination. All four are alumni of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama.

"Finding Rapa Nui was by far one of the biggest challenges our crew has faced," said Hokulea captain, Archie Kalepa. "With a few more months left in this journey, we're glad to be back in Polynesian waters and for the opportunity to reconnect with the Rapa Nui community."

Rapa Nui (Easter Island), is considered one of the most difficult islands to find due to its remote location and its tiny size, just thirteen miles wide and 1,600 feet high. 

"The leg to Rapa Nui presents a unique learning opportunity for the young navigators to test their wayfinding abilities and refine the skills needed to navigate aboard Hokulea," said Pwo navigator and captain Nainoa Thompson. "It's so important that we provide ample opportunities for our next generation of navigators to explore the ocean and the complexities of wayfinding."

The 1,900 nautical mile trek from the Galapagos Islands to Rapa Nui is characterized by direct headwinds that create difficult conditions to balance the canoe against wind and wave patterns.

"The big challenge is not just beating into the wind, the problem is you're trying to find the single-most isolated landmass on the Earth. It's smaller than Lanai and a little bigger than Kahoolawe," said Thompson.  "Even if you're extraordinarily precise, you could still miss it. And so it is one of the ultimate navigational challenges of all time."

The apprentice navigators have been team-navigating and turning studies into practice since departing the Galapagos Islands on Feb. 12. They have been using their knowledge of the stars and taking directional cues they derive from their observations of nature.  Learning from kūpuna, or elders, to raise the next generation of wayfinders, the crew is a multi-generational group combining science, wisdom, and instinct to form one of the most challenging trials for the young navigators.

This is the first time Hokulea has visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site since her last voyage to the island 18 years ago. The Rapa Nui arrival also marks the voyaging canoe's return to the Polynesian triangle since departing these waters three years ago on the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

Ten high school students from KS Kapālama and four from Ke Kula ʻo Samuel M. Kamakau Laboratory Public Charter School have been selected to represent the Hōkūleʻa and the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the Hawaiian community, and their respective schools on this unique cultural-educational travel experience. In preparation, students have been doing research and writing will be uploaded to a website ( so friends, family and teachers can follow their journey.

This group identifies itself as Nāhiku, the "Big Dipper" as this constellation is a key latitude marker for the apprentice navigators who will leave the Galapagos islands to head south, upon seeing Nāhiku at a certain height in the nights sky they will start turning west to pull the small island of Rapa Nui out of the sea. 

While in Rapa Nui, students will have the unique opportunity to study the early and contemporary environmental conditions of Rapa Nui and the socio-cultural issues connected to people and landscape. With famed archaeological sites including nearly 900 monumental statues called moai and an isolated environment rich with unique diversity, the small volcanic island of Rapa Nui represents an opportunity for the crew to learn more about the island's status as a World Heritage Site as well as the strong cultural history of its Polynesian ancestors.

Other activities will include meeting both the Governor and Mayor of Rapa Nui, a visit to the kupuna (elders) of Hare Koa Tiare Care Home, and a tour of Museo Rapa Nui. The crew and delegation will also connect with the Toki School of Music for a day of community service and voyaging outreach.

Following Rapa Nui, Hōkūleʻa will sail to French Polynesia before her return home to Magic Island on June 17, 2017.

Kamehameha Schools is proud to be the Education Sponsor of the Hōkūleʻa Worldwide Voyage. For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Worldwide Voyage, visit or find the society on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+. To see more Wa‘a Wednesday stories and much more about the Mālama Honua Voyage, go to the KS Online Mālama Honua page(if you are on a KS Network) or see related articles below.

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