Ever since our first voyage in 1976, we have known that Hōkūleʻa has the power to connect and inspire people. During this 40 year, 150,000 nautical mile journey, we have sailed the Pacific Ocean without the guidance of modern instruments – using stars, winds, and waves to guide us in the way of our ancestors.

We have reconnected with our ancestry, our history and our family of the Pacific – bringing about a revival not just in voyaging and exploration, but in culture, language, values, and pride in our way of life and living.  We revived the art and science of celestial navigation and deep-ocean voyaging that lay dormant for 600 years – bringing the technology, wisdom and values of our ancestors into the present and calling upon them to help us navigate to a better, more hopeful destination for our island Earth.   

After sailing the seas of Polynesia for the past 40 years, we left our home waters to bring Hōkūleʻa on her Worldwide Voyage – venturing into the Tasman Sea, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Just as Hōkūleʻa is a beacon of hope born out of a place of unrest and controversy, we embarked on this worldwide voyage to share and find other stories of hope around the world during these challenging times – times when people all around the world are struggling to find solutions to issues related to our ocean and water, our land and air, our people, our history and our future.  

Living as islanders teaches us that our natural world is a gift with limits, and that caring for this gift (and each other), can help us survive the urgent environmental and social challenges we are facing. As voyagers, we are blending tradition and technology to map a new course for the future, exploring our world in search of lessons, values and practices that can sustain our planet. The Hawaiian name for our voyage is Mālama Honua, which means ‘to care for our earth’.

The thing about planning a 50,000-nautical mile open-ocean journey, in a traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe, is that you have to keep the safety of the canoe, and her crew, at the front and centre of everything you do and every decision you make. When we began planning the Worldwide Voyage almost a decade ago, with the Indian Ocean as the first and potentially most dangerous venture outside of the Pacific, the question started repeating in my head - ‘Is this worth the risk?’ Even now, after crossing the Indian and heading into the Atlantic, that question still keeps me up almost every night.

Image credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society

I knew we had to be bold to make a statement to the world, but the Indian Ocean is notoriously the most dangerous of waters to cross, whether in a large commercial vessel or in a tiny 62-foot double-hulled, sail-driven, star-guided voyaging canoe. Whether the risk is calculated through the hurricane and monsoon seasons, the human violence and unrest, the high commercial traffic on the waters - you name it and it had to be factored in to the Indian Ocean crossing.  

It's a powerful and heavy realisation that with each step you take, every footprint and every ripple, your movements have the potential to impact so much – in both good and not-so-good ways.

We researched and trained, trained and researched. We recruited help from experts on weather, port safety, local sailing and maritime traffic. We had to learn so much about this water, about how to cross the 7,500 nautical miles of ocean on our sail plan from Bali to Cape Town quickly to minimize risk and exposure to the elements. 

Image credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society

We crossed the ocean at a time when other boats - vessels that within days touched the same waters as we did - did not make it through and tragically lost lives. In all humility, we approached this unknown part of the ocean with a sense of urgency and we put everything we had into the safe passage of the canoe. There was nothing that happened to us that we didn’t at least imagine in the preparation - the lumpy seas, the erratic and extreme weather, the powerful currents - we were prepared. And yet, on the other side of the coin - what I will forever remember about the Indian is the experiences that you could never prepare for. Some of the most memorable moments for me include:

  • Sailing under a canopy of lightning outside of Mozambique, surrounded by 360 degrees of air and water filled with those brilliant white-hot burning stretches of light, sailing in fear and awe of the power and beauty of Nature.
  • Gliding through the night waters off Cape Agulhas – a sea so full of life that the bioluminescence lights up everything it touches, showing us the way of all ocean people who have travelled before us and those who will follow that glittering, magical pathway we leave in our wake.
  • Entering into the sacred caves at Mossel Bay, where the earliest record of human intelligence has been measured and found – where you can touch the stone walls and breathe the rich salty air of the birthplace that is common and connected to all Earth’s people.
  • Standing face-to-face, nose-to-nose with great leaders and great navigators who navigate our communities and societies towards a better, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Being surrounded by people who bring all of us out of the darkness and into the light of humanity, who welcome us home to the land that is the origin of us all, no matter our birthplace, our language or the colour of our skin.
  • Meeting people like Craig Foster, ambassador of the Sustainable Seas Trust and Mission Blue Hope Spot False Bay, who act as a portal to an ancient past, and who can pull us through a window in time and offer the gift of perspective – helping us to better understand what we need to be able to truly take care of our Earth in the 21st century. 

False Bay, for me, was one of those rare times when you step out onto the sand, and hesitate to even put your foot down, because you know you’ll leave a mark – you know that with every step you take, every shift you cause in the ground, and every ripple in the ocean, is leaving a mark. Sitting at the edge of a tide pool with Craig, listening to his intimate knowledge of place and practice, of cycles and systems, of exploring and stewarding this place, I began to gain my own perspective.  

Itʻs a powerful and heavy realisation that with each step you take, every footprint and every ripple, your movements have the potential to impact so much – in both good and not-so-good ways.

Image credit: Polynesian Voyaging Society

I believe we are all part of an amazing voyage to redesign a sail plan for humanity and celebrate our sacred home. We sailed across the Pacific and Indian Ocean in this tiny voyaging canoe, the symbol of hope for Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, to be greeted on the opposite side of the planet with “Welcome Home” - and knew it to be true.  We went halfway around the world, and never left home.  This is the only island we have, and it is up to each and every one of us to mālama this precious honua.

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This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.