Key Elements of Education
PVS education programs are based on elements that have been culled from successful experiences of learning of Nainoa Thompson, the navigators and crew members, and students in PVS education programs.
First and foremost, in any education program, success depends on caring teachers. Nainoa describes one of his favorite teachers this way: "It was really important to me that I could trust a teacher and feel the teacher cared for me; Mrs. Hefty, she was great! She was my fifth-grade teacher. She was so understanding and sincere; she cared for me. Intuitively, she knew how to reach out to me. With her, I had no fear of failing; I could learn anything from her."
In addition to selecting caring teachers, the educational programs of PVS incorporate the following key elements:
- Vision and Values: Before a navigator plans a voyage, he needs a clear vision of where he is going and why. His vision tells him where to go; his values tell him why he should go. In the 1990s the PVS leadership developed a vision called Malama Hawai‘i, which also embodied its core values. All its work and endeavors are based on this vision, which embodies a traditional view of the world by which native Hawaiians were able to sustain life in the islands for centuries.
- Exploration and Challenge: The projects of PVS have been a series of challenges of ever increasing difficulty to add to existing knowledge through exploration and discovery. The learning that takes place may be broken down into steps, but the ultimate goal should be a dream and a challenge, to achieve something big and significant.
- Observation and Experience: While the knowledge we teach includes reading and studying for preparation and orientation, observation and experience are an essential component of mastery. Navigators need to leave the classroom and planetarium to study the night sky under various conditions and in various seasons and locations in order to master navigational techniques. The navigator and crew need to have sea time in order to learn how to voyage.
- Application and Practice: We learn most efficiently and effectively by acquiring and applying knowledge to a project or a goal that is meaningful to us, rather than by being asked to memorize knowledge with little or no application. We test what we know through applications and master what we do through practice, solving problems that arise as we work to complete our projects or reach our goals.
- Outcomes: Real and meaningful outcomes help motivate learning. For the navigator and voyager, landfall at one’s destination and returning home bring joy and celebration, marking success as well as serving as rites of passage.
- Culture: Pride in one’s ancestral culture serves as a powerful motivation to acquire and master knowledge. While the knowledge in navigation and crew training includes Western knowledge, the PVS mission has been to recover and perpetuate indigenous knowledge and wisdom and apply it, through practice, in the modern world.
- Home – Place and Community: The most relevant, meaningful, and significant context in which learners apply knowledge is the place and community that they are most directly connected to, where their homes are located, where they have ancestral, family, geographical knowledge and roots. The key question is always "How will this effort benefit the community and contribute to the health, well-being, and vitality of the land, sea, people and cultures of the islands?
- Life-Long Learning: While PVS training emphasizes the particulars of navigation and voyaging, students are also developing life-long learning such as the following:
Accessing, Analyzing, and Evaluating Information: Each voyage entails acquiring volumes of information on climate, weather, geography, communities, places, protocols, and so on. All this information is analyzed in planning for a voyage. During a voyage the leadership and crew continually access information through observations and reports in order to make critical decisions and solve problems.
Critical thinking and problem solving with imagination and creativity: At each step of the way, from deciding on a destination, to planning a voyage, to determining how to get there, to carrying out the voyage, hundreds of critical decisions are made and problems solved in order to achieve success.
Teamwork and the ability to communicate clearly and to get along with people of diverse backgrounds: Teamwork is required in all aspects of voyaging, not just sailing the canoe, but working with founders, training the crew, preparing and provisioning the canoe, contacting communities where the canoe will land, setting up protocols, developing education programs, educating students and the public about the voyage, etc. It takes a community to successfully launch a canoe, care for a canoe, voyage and return, and have a significant impact.
Agility and Adaptability: In planning and carrying out a voyage, numerous changes are made to improve the probability of success, in a constantly changing context. New information is collected daily and plans are modified at each step of the way based on new information.
Each of these skill sets prepare voyagers to succeed beyond voyaging, in a changing world. They learn to apply what they learn in a multitude of contexts, rather than merely memorizing a specific set of knowledge, which may become irrelevant or obsolete to a person during his or her life.
Nainoa Thompson: On Learning
In November of 1979, Mau and I went to observe the sky at Lana'i Lookout. We would leave for Tahiti soon. I was concerned-more like a little bit afraid. It was an awesome challenge.
Then he asked, "Can you point to the direction of Tahiti?" I pointed. Then he asked, "Can you see the island?"
I was puzzled by the question. Of course I could not actually see the island; it was over 2,200 miles away. But the question was a serious one. I had to consider it carefully. Finally, I said, "I cannot see the island but I can see an image of the island in my mind."
Mau said, "Good. Don't ever lose that image or you will be lost." Then he turned to me and said, "Let's get in the car, let's go home."
On Pwo, Learning and Love. From an Interview by Sam Low with navigator Lambert Lokopwe of Pollap, a comrade of Mau (2007 Voyage to Satawal).
“Pwo is very deep and there are yet two more levels,” Lambert explains. “When you have attained those other two degrees, the light and love that god shows wherever you go will reflect on your home islands. Pwo is a process of learning that never stops. It continues until you die.”
When a navigator becomes pwo, he takes on responsibilities for his island community. “You use your knowledge of navigation to serve the people,” Lambert says. “If you go away, you must be brave enough to face the elements. You are not expected to be unafraid but you must be courageous to overcome the fear and do your sacred duty as a navigator for your people. You will go and bring not only food and goods but also prestige to your people and your community and your island.”
On Interest and Cultural Learning
It was the first year I was paddling for the Hui Nalu Canoe Club, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Herb Kane was living across the canal from the club at Maunalua Bay. It was 1974, and Herb, Tommy Holmes, and Ben Finney were designing Hokule'a. The canoe hadn't been built yet, but they had a smaller canoe then, and they'd ask us to paddle it out of the canal over the reef into the open ocean. That was great! I was at the club every day so I could take the canoe out.
Then one day, Herb invited two of the paddling coaches and me over to his house. Herb's house was filled with paintings and pictures of canoes, nautical charts, star charts, and books everywhere! Over dinner Herb told us how he, Ben and Tommy were going to build a canoe and sail it 2,500 miles without instruments-the old way. "We're going to follow the stars, and the canoe is going to be named after that star," Herb said, pointing to Hokule'a. This voyage would help to show that the Polynesians came here to Hawai'i by sailing and navigating their canoes-not just drifting by accident here on ocean currents or driven off course by storms. The voyage would demonstrate something very important for the Hawaiian people and for the rest of the world.
In that moment, all the parts of my life that had seemed disconnected came together in me. I was 20 and looking for something challenging and meaningful to do with my life. I had a hard time finding that inside the four walls of a classroom. But now here it was – the history, the heritage, the charts, the stars, the ocean, and the dream ... there was so much relevance in that dream. I wanted to follow Herb; I wanted to be a part of that dream.
Herb told us what the requirements would be to become a crew member on the first voyage. We would have to go through a training program to learn about the canoe and how to sail her; there would also be physical training and training in teamwork. The best thirty would be selected from the several hundred candidates in the program.
When Hokule'a was completed in the spring of 1975, I participated in the training and was assigned to the return crew. My dream was coming true.
On Cultural Pride
In 1976, Hokule'a sailed on its historic voyage to Tahiti. Kawika Kapahulehua skippered the canoe, and Mau Piailug was the navigator. Never before had Mau been on such a long journey, never before had he been south of the equator where he could not see the North Star, a key guide for his travels. Nevertheless, sensing his way over 2,500 miles, using clues from the ocean world and the heavens, clues often unnoticed to the untrained eye, he found, after 30 days of sailing, the island of Mataiva, an atoll in the Tuamotu island group.
At the arrival into Papeete Harbor, over half the island was there, more than 17,000 people. The canoe came in, touched the beach.
There was an immediate response of excitement by everybody, including the children. So many children got onto the canoe it sunk the stern. We were politely trying to get them off the rigging and everything else, just for the safety of the canoe. None of us were prepared for that kind of cultural response -- something very important was happening. These people have great traditions and they have great genealogies of canoes and great navigators. What they didn't have was a canoe. And when Hokule'a arrived at the beach, there was a spontaneous renewal, I think, of both the affirmation of what a great heritage we come from, but also a renewal of the spirit of who we are as a people today.
On Vision, Exploration, and Returning Home (2000 Voyage to Rapanui)
One of the important themes of this voyage to Rapa Nui is why we explore, and the process of exploring, envisioning something that's important in our lives, recognizing that we need to do research and plan out the details; that we need to build a community to support this kind of effort, that we have to prepare and train, that we need to take risk somewhere along the line to achieve things that are of great importance. We hope that this process of exploring we engage in inspires young people to visualize and pursue their own dreams.
We've been exploring physically outward in the last 25 years into the Pacific, and certain themes have emerged as important to us-education and protecting and preserving our beautiful environment, our rich heritage and culture, and our kinship with other Pacific Island nations who are really our ancestral families.
When we add all these themes up, we find they are really about relationships – among all of us as members of this community and between all of us and this beautiful place in which we live. Our work may be in history and culture, but it's really about finding ways in which we can all participate in trying to envision and shape the kind of future that we want not just for us, but for future generations.
The Voyage Home from Rapa Nui is in many ways for us more important than getting to Rapa Nui. The Voyage Home will allow us to articulate what home is and how we want to envision it. There are a million people here and they could choose to live elsewhere; but for most of us, we choose to live here because Hawai'i is an incredibly special, rare, unique place on earth. Its beauty, its mana, its relatively peaceful multi-ethnic community-we all have our definition of why it's special. During the Voyage Home from Rapa Nui, we hope to start a dialogue in the community about what makes Hawai'i special and how can we protect that which is so special.
During this voyage, Hokule'a is carrying the hopes, aspirations, and dreams of the many people who cared for her and touched her. We hope that this voyage inspires us and creates opportunities for us to be a community that's defined not by geographical or racial issues, but by the values which make it special.
On Home and the Challenge and Motivation for Learning (2000 Voyage to Rapanui)
In the last few days, I have just tried to get quiet, calm and to study--that is how I prepare. I am thinking all the time about home, about the voyage, the weather, the crew, about what we have to do to make this work.
I think about home a lot because that's why we do this. We love our homes, we love our people, we love our culture and our history, and we want to strengthen them--this is our opportunity, our chance to do something to support all those who care about these things. I want to thank all the people who gave so much to allow this voyage to take place, but who are not here now. They allowed us to take the risk, to do all of this.
I want to thank all the families and children involved for giving us the chance to go. This voyage is about people--it's about all our people.
When I think back on my life, it's clear that I had no way of knowing that I would be here now doing what I am doing. When I began studying in school and gaining knowledge, sometimes I doubted the importance of that effort. But it's the knowledge that I gained with the help of so many teachers that is allowing me to do what we are about to do.
So I just hope that all our children will keep on pursuing knowledge because none of us know where we are going, but at some point in our lives, that knowledge will allow us to jump off into the unknown, to take on new challenges, and that's what I consider before every one of these voyage...the challenge. Learning is all about taking on a challenge, no matter what the outcome may be. When we accept the challenge we open ourselves to new insight and knowledge.
When we voyage, and I mean voyage anywhere, not just in canoes, but in our mind, new doors of knowledge will open. and that's what this voyage is all about..it's about taking on a challenge to learn. If we inspire even one of our children to do the same, then we will have succeeded.
On Observation and Continuous Orientation
A Navigator always looks for signs of weather at sunset and sunrise. Generally, at sunrise and sunset you try to predict the weather for the next 12 hours. Today I see strong evidence in the clouds of a change in the weather from what we have experienced in the last 2 to 3 days. Looking to the east--off the beam of the canoe, I see various complicated towering high cloud masses, which are the remnants of the squalls that we went through last night. Yesterday and the day before I looked out and saw actual squalls there--today there are no squalls evident. You can't really predict the weather, as Mau taught me, from a single snapshot like this. You have to observe changes over time. In this case, I see a change from seeing squalls off the starboard yesterday to this view today where there are no active squalls. The wind definitely feels stronger today and I can see wind wavelets on the surface of the ocean. The wind is also coming from the normal direction of the SE trades, so I can presume that the trades are reasserting themselves. (From an interview with Nainoa by Sam Low, 2000 Voyage to Hawai‘i)
“Wayfinding is continuous orientation, the wayfinder using all the available clues all the time. Nature provides clues, and the wayfinder integrates them into cognitive structures of compass and reference course. The picture created enables the navigator to know the way.” Kyselka, Ocean in Mind. p. 98.
On New Knowledge from Observations and Experience
We saw two birds after the 29th day [1980 Voyage to Tahiti] and I was extremely relieved. At least we were in the ball park. The birds rose up high and flew away, and we sailed in that direction; at night we couldn't see the island so we took the sails down and waited.
The next morning, we looked for the birds to see what direction they were coming from and that would be the direction of the island. We waited for the first bird. All hands on deck. Not a single bird. I began to worry – it was my first voyage, and I was unsure of myself. Mau Piailug was very calm and didn't say anything. We waited and we waited. The canoe was just sitting in the water, facing south.
One of the canoe members was at the back of the canoe and a bird flies right over his head. The night before that we saw the birds flying south so how come late in the morning with the sun very high was this bird coming out of the north? That would suggest that we passed the island during the night. In my panic, I thought we had better start sailing back in that direction to find the island before the sun goes down again. We turned the canoe around.
But when I started to sail north Mau, who has always said that his greatest honor would not be as a navigator but as a teacher, came to me and said, "No." It was the first time that he interrupted the trip. He said, "turn the canoe around and follow the bird." I was really puzzled. I didn't know why. He didn't tell me why. But we turned the canoe around and now we see other birds flying also. Mau said, "you wait one hour and you will find the island you are looking for." And after about an hour, Mau, who is about twenty years older than me – my eyes are physically much more powerful than his – he gets up on the rail of the canoe and says: "The island is right there." And we all stood up and we climbed the mast and everything and we just couldn't see it.
Vision is not so much about what you do, but how you do it. It's experience. Mau had seen in the beak of the bird a little fish and he knew that the birds were nesting. They had flown out to sea before sunrise and were taking food back at mid-morning to feed their young, before they flew out to sea again to feed themselves.
On Problem Solving
In 1980, not only would I have to get down to Tahiti but also return home. To find Hawai'i without instruments, we sail to the east of it by dead reckoning. When we determine we are at the latitude of the islands, we turn west to look for them. But how do you know when you are at the right latitude? How do you know when to turn?
Mau didn't have the answer. How could he? In Micronesia, he uses the height of the North Star to determine latitude. The North Star over Satawal is only 7 degrees above the horizon. It's easy to measure that with the naked eye. But it's 22 degrees over Hawai'i – and that's not easy to measure without instruments. I needed to find some other way to determine the latitude of Hawai'i.
When a voyager sees the star Hokule'a [Arcturus] passing through the zenith-the point directly overhead-he knows he is at the latitude of Hawai'i. Not a problem on land. But how can you tell where the zenith is while standing on a rocking canoe? The point above your head keeps moving. We [Nainoa, Will, and Bruce Blankenfeld] spent a lot of time in the planetarium distracted by figuring out how to use zenith stars to determine latitude. But the closer I got to the voyage, the more I recognized that zenith stars were not going to work.
There were other patterns going across the planetarium sky over and over again, and the answers were all there, right in front of us all the time, but we didn't see them. And, as we got closer to the trip, the anxiety made it even more difficult to see them.
At the time, I was still living in an old one-bedroom house in Kuliouou. I had been studying this latitude problem and not finding any answers. One night I was asleep, and suddenly I sat up in my bed and said to myself, "That's it." In a dream, I saw the Southern Cross moving above the southern horizon-top star to bottom star, bottom star to the horizon, it was absolutely clear. It was so clear that I jumped up, ran down the hallway, jumped over my friend who was sleeping over, ran out the door, and sprinted down the road-because I knew that not only was the solution clear in my mind but this was the right time of the night to see it in the sky.
I ran past all the streetlights to Kuliouou Park where it was dark. There it was. The Southern Cross upright on the horizon-the top star to the bottom star, and the bottom star to the horizon, at the latitude of Hawai'i, are equidistant, 6 degrees apart.
I called Will early in the morning. We met at the planetarium, and there it was – we confirmed my observation from the night before. The answer was always there – the Southern Cross was constantly going by on the planetarium dome, but we were always looking at the zenith star instead. The solution just emerged in my dream and now the solution is taught to everyone who studies navigation with us.
On Intellect and Instinct
The difference between the second voyage [in 1980] and the first one [in 1976] was that on the second voyage, the canoe was guided by, captained by, and crewed by people from Hawai'i. For our culture to really be alive, we recognized that we had to practice it ourselves.
Before we left I was panicking. I had the safety of the entire crew in my hands. There was intense media pressure. I had to appear confident, but inside I was very much afraid. The part of the trip I dreaded the most was the doldrums. I had no confidence that I could get through it. I thought that I could only accurately navigate if I had visual celestial clues and that when I got into the doldrums there would be a hundred percent cloud cover, and I would be blind.
And that's what happened. When we arrived in the doldrums, the sky was black. It was solid rain. The wind was switching around. The wind was blowing at about twenty-five knots, and we were moving fast. That's the worst thing that can happen – you are going fast and you don't know where you're going. The guys steering the canoe were looking for direction and that increased the pressure, especially because it was my first voyage as navigator. I couldn't tell the steersmen where to steer. I was very, very tense. To prevent fatigue, you cannot allow yourself to get physically tense, but I couldn't stop feeling tense. I was so exhausted that I backed up against the rail to rest.
Then something happened that allowed me to understand where the moon was, without seeing it. When I gave up fighting to find the moon with my eyes, I settled down. I suddenly felt this warmth come over me and I knew where the moon was. The sky was so black, I couldn't see the moon, but I could feel where it was. From the feeling of warmth and the image of the moon came a strong sense of confidence. I knew where to go. I directed the canoe on a new course and then, just for a moment, there was a hole in the clouds and the light of the moon shone through – just where I expected it to be.
I can't explain it, but that was one of the most precious moments in all my sailing experience. I realized there was some deep connection I was making, something very deep inside my abilities and my senses that goes beyond the analytical, beyond seeing with my eyes. I cannot explain what this is from a scientific point of view. But it happened. And now I seek out these experiences. I don't always have them. I have to be in the right frame of mind and beyond that, internally, I have to be able to enter into a kind of spiritual realm. I don't want to analyze these experiences too much. I just want to make them happen more often. I don't think there's an explanation for them.
There are certain levels of navigation that are realms of the spirit. Before that happened, I tended to rely on math and science because it was so much easier to explain things that way. I didn't know how to trust my instincts. They were not trained enough to be trusted. Hawaiians call it na'au – your instincts, your feelings, rather than your mind, your intellect.
On Adaptability (Changing Course Lines Mid-Voyage from Tahiti to Hawai‘i , 2000; from an interview with Nainoa by Sam Low)
Just before sunset yesterday Nainoa called a meeting with senior crew and navigators and later, after dinner, with the entire crew to discuss a new sail plan. For the last three days we have been struggling to sail the canoe hard into a wind that blows from the ENE and in spite of our best efforts, we find ourselves being forced to the west of our ideal course line. On February 13th we were 35 miles west.
During the next four days the numbers mounted 58, 60, 75 and 110 miles. To make up the distance would require us to continually pinch into the wind, or perhaps even begin to tack.
During last night's meeting Nainoa described a way out of this dilemma. "We are west of our course line and getting more so every day. That is not the result of bad steering on our part, everyone of you has done an awesome job of holding a course. It's the northerly wind component that is driving us west. The canoe wants to sail free and we have been driving her hard to get back to our course line. We're not going to do that anymore. What we are going to so is target South Point rather than a point in the ocean 250 miles to the east of the Big Island. That will be difficult and it will require discipline from all of us--but it's a new challenge. It's exciting.
Ever since the first voyage in 1976, Nainoa went on to explain, the reference course has allowed for a large 'cushion' of error by targeting a point in the ocean 275 miles east of the Big Island at the mid-latitude of Hawai'i (20.5 N) where the canoe would finally turn west down wind to find landfall. During the last 25 years, the ability of Hokule'a's navigators to use a combination of dead reckoning and celestial clues to find their way over long ocean passages has improved to the point where such an ample cushion might not be needed.
Taking that into consideration along with the fact that Hokule'a's present heading seems destined, it projected forward to bring her directly to the the island of Hawai'i--Nainoa decided to let the canoe find the most efficient way home by following a route that the winds allow. "When we sailed to Rapa Nui, Nainoa pointed out, "we thought that the canoe was our instrument which we would use to reach land but we found our that in reality we were the instrument for the canoe to reach landfall. It's something that is difficult to explain. It's the mana of this canoe. When Max said that he saw land ahead on the day we found Rapa Nui I was a little bit in shock and denial at first. We had been sailing in squalls even worse than we have experienced on this voyage. I stayed back at the navigator's platform. I didn't believe it. Bruce had to come back and tug me to go forward--"There it is--it's there he told me.”
I'm not saying that we had nothing to do with finding Rapa Nui--far from it. We trained hard for 2 and a half years for that voyage and we chose a crew of intense, dedicated professionals to make that voyage and we worked every inch of the way. Now I want to do the same thing on this voyage. This new sail plan will require more precision than any other previous voyage home from Tahiti and so Nainoa has asked Bruce and Chad to assume a more active role in the navigation as assistants to him as they did on the voyage to Rapa Nui.
Nainoa’s Learning Process
Will Kyselka’s An Ocean in Mind presents an account of Nainoa Thompson’s learning process. As Will writes in the introduction, the book is "intended for the person interested in the process, curious about what it's like to get an ocean of information in mind, transform it into knowledge, and then trust mind and senses to find the way to distant lands."
Will describes “a way of learning – the particular way in which Nainoa Thompson generated his own navigational knowledge in the Bishop Museum Planetarium, learned the ways of the sea from the master Carolinian navigator Mau Piailug, then integrated all into a cogent wayfinding system uniquely his own that enabled him to find tiny island over vast oceanic distances in the manner of the ancients, without instruments.”
This learning process is the foundation of the PVS crew and navigation training programs as well as its efforts to improve education in Hawai'i by integrating this learning process into the various education initiatives, such as the Exploration Learning Center (1995), Project Ho‘olokahi (1997), Center for Marine Sciences (1998), the Ocean Learning Academy (2001), Navigating Change (2004), Kapu Na Keiki (2006), and courses in Ho‘okele (traditional navigation) offered at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and the Marine Education and Training Center at Honolulu Community College.
The process involves, as Will delineates it:
... gathering data, searching for patterns, transforming information into knowledge, and putting it all into comprehensible form. (37)
Nainoa's heuristic process, his seeking to discover, continued and in hundreds of truly "dry runs" between Hawai‘i and Tahiti, we explored the sky widely. He compacted wide ranges of information into cogent form. And he searched for connectedness that might reveal less obvious features of reality. (53)
Nainoa's mind shaped a body of knowledge and, in turn, was shaped by it. He was continually adjusting to new information, moving from one base of understanding to a new level of knowledge. But knowledge alone is not wayfinding. How can you know the wind other than by sailing... [or w]ayfinding, other than by finding the way? To know, Nainoa must sail. (58)
It's important to remember, however, that Nainoa doesn't see his learning to navigate as starting with his quest to become a crew member on PVS or his studying under Mau. He developed a love of the ocean ever since Yoshio Kawano, a milkman, took him fishing in the streams around Niu Valley or on the reefs of Maunalua Bay when he was five years old. Later, he pursued this love of the sea through canoe paddling and fishing. He and his fishing buddy Bruce Blankenfeld laid fish traps in the bay. For him, all this early experience on the ocean was learning, acquired knowledge that he would later apply in voyaging and navigation.
School was another story. He struggled to find something of interest. Nainoa notes: "School should be relevant, exciting, and interesting. I used to ask 'Why are we reading this books? Why are we reading about dead people in faraway lands?'" Nainoa was the kind of student in school that some teachers might see as ”unmotivated”:
One grade-school teacher made him stand the whole period in the back of the classroom with his face against the wall. More than 30 years later, Nainoa remembers sharply his mortification; what he doesn't remember is what he did to deserve that punishment.
But such teachers were perhaps seeing his situation from the wrong perspective (i.e., their own). Teachers get frustrated when students don't want to learn what teachers want to teach, or do what teachers want them to do. But the question might have been framed from another perspective: “What would motivate Nainoa to learn?” In hind sight, it’s clear that he could be motivated, given the right context. (And there must be a right context for every child.) What Nainoa was looking to learn was something that was (1) relevant to his interests, his life, and his family and heritage; and (2) challenging.
His career as a navigator has been a series of challenges: first how to get Tahiti (1980) without instruments, how to determine latitude when sailing from north to south and back, how to get across the doldrums where there might be no wind, or the cloud cover is sometimes so complete, the navigator can't see any stars; then how to get to Aotearoa and sail back to Hawai‘i (1985-1987), sailing west to east against the normally prevailing trade winds from the Cooks Islands to Tahiti; then how to train a new generation to perpetuate voyaging (1992); then how to build a traditional voyaging canoe without koa logs (1991-1995), after PVS's discovery that the koa forests in Hawai‘i had been overlogged to the point where there were not trees large enough to make the hulls of a voyaging canoe; then how to get to islands even farther upwind than the the Cooks to Tahiti, from Hawai‘i to Nukuhiva, then Mangareva, then Rapanui (1999-2000), the most remote island in Polynesia with no screen of islands around it and no significant population of land-based seabirds to guide the canoe when it neared the island.
The voyage to Micronesia (2007) was a relatively straightforward downwind voyage, but Nainoa was committed to sailing Hokule‘a to Satawal to visit Mau, as he had promised, and to accompany Alingano Maisu the deep-sea voyaging canoe that Na Kalai Wa‘a Moku O Hawai‘i had built as a gift for Mau to help Mau establish a navigational school in Micronesia.
Japan (2007) was a new challenge in terms of crossing cultural and language barriers. There was opposition to the canoe crossing cultural boundaries. Why go to Japan? The people are not Polynesian. Nainoa sees opposition as challenge and every challenge as opening doors to new possibilities of discovery. After the successful voyage to Japan, a new possibility appeared on the horizon: crossing even more cultural and linguistic boundaries by sailing around the world, both to learn from other cultures and to share what Hawaiian culture has to offer the world. It’s a new challenge for someone who loves challenges.
Since 1976, his voyages as navigator have been successes, except for the first, in 1978. One critical decision on that voyage has weighed on him: the leadership's decision to give Eddie Aikau permission to seek help for Hokule‘a, which had capsized south of Moloka'i. The Coast Guard report says that not everyone agreed that Eddie should go – but the majority did. There was a strong concern for the survival of some of the crew members. Crew member Kikili Hugho recalls in an interview, “When [Eddie] paddled away, I really thought he was going to make it and we weren't. That's how bad it was, that we were doomed.”
Eddie paddled off to get help and was never seen again; the rest of the crew was rescued early the next morning. Reflecting back on the events of that voyage, Nainoa has said:
After Eddie's death, we could have quit. But Eddie had this dream about finding islands the way our ancestors did and if we quit, he wouldn't have his dream fulfilled. Whenever I feel down, I look at the photo of Eddie I have in my living room and I recall his dream. He was a lifeguard ... he guarded life, and he lost his own, trying to guard ours. Eddie cared about others and took care of others. He had great passions. He was my spirit.
He was saying to me, "Raise Hawaiki from the sea." But his tragedy also made us aware of how dangerous our adventure was, how unprepared we were in body, mind, and spirit.
The lessons of that tragedy and Eddie's dream are evident in the care, rigor, and challenge that Nainoa puts into preparing the canoes, the navigators, and the crew for voyages. It's the same kind of caring, rigor, and challenge that he wants to see in the education of our youth as we prepare them for the responsibility of caring for Hawai‘i in a future of uncertainties.