As we continue our voyage around the world – guided by the stars and swells, powered by the winds and the wisdom of our ancestors – the crew and I often reflect on the wonder and magic of all the seemingly impossible things we have seen since we left our island home in 2014, on this journey to circumnavigate Earth.
For some of us this remembering stretches far back to 1976, when Hōkūleʻa became the first traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe built in more than 600 years, reviving the art and science of celestial navigation and deep ocean voyaging, which lay dormant for those six centuries. This rebirth was the first leg in our sail plan of accomplishing what others would call impossible.
When voyaging, we say a navigator has ‘pulled an island from the sea’ when he or she guides the canoe to land beyond the horizon. Our navigators are able to see further and in ways that others cannot – therefore inspiring their crew to find courage and venture into the unknown.
During her 40-years and 150,000 nautical-miles of voyaging, Hōkūleʻa and her crew 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, pulling islands out of the Pacific. Some of these islands were physical islands, like the three corners of the Polynesian Triangle – Hawaiʻi, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) – the largest country known to man over the largest expanse of ocean.
When voyaging, we say a navigator has ‘pulled an island from the sea’ when he or she guides the canoe to land beyond the horizon.
Other islands were metaphorical islands, pulling our ancestry and our pride as Polynesians out of the sea, bringing about a revival not just in voyaging and exploration, but in culture, language, values, and pride in our way of life and living, bringing the technology, wisdom, and values of our past into the present, to help us navigate to a better, more hopeful destination for our island Earth.
In 2014, we embarked on this Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage as voyagers blending tradition and technology to map a new course for the future, setting out to explore our world in search of lessons, values, and practices that can sustain our planet.
Hōkūleʻa and her crew are currently sailing the Atlantic, heading into the Caribbean (you can track our progress live via our tracking map on www.hokulea.com). The Atlantic is this amazing expanse of ocean, an almost impossible crossing from a traditional navigational point of view. Unlike the Pacific, where islands and seabirds are more bountiful, the Atlantic has far fewer wayfinding targets. This crossing from the western coast of Africa to the eastern coast of South America is the longest that Hōkūleʻa and her crew will have endeavored, with the most difficult wayfinding targets we have yet to find. To pull these tiny islands from the sea, our navigators must dedicate themselves in ways that others know not how to, but also must have a crew that can protect and support them as they accomplish the impossible.
So too, the great navigators of island Earth dedicate themselves to pulling these seemingly impossible islands out of the sea of possibilities.
This crossing from the western coast of Africa to the eastern coast of South America is the longest that Hōkūleʻa and her crew will have endeavored, with the most difficult wayfinding targets we have yet to find.
I am so humbled to work with great navigators, like my friends Dr. Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson and the other esteemed members of the hui (group) – the Ocean Elders. We work to protect our planet and our oceans against all odds, against the wave that humanity has set into motion through our negligence, but mostly through our passive inaction and willingness to let a small few do the hard work that they cannot accomplish by themselves.
One of those tiny islands our navigators and crew had to pull from the sea on this Atlantic crossing – there are three, in a 2,700-mile expanse of ocean – is Ascension Island. And just as Hōkūleʻa and her crew were able to find and pull Ascension from the sea, Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue, and the various communities they work with, were able to pull Ascension from the sea of (im)possibility and embrace Ascension in a 50-mile radius of security and advocacy through the establishment of the newest marine protected area of the world’s oceans.
When great navigators like Sylvia do this work of protecting places like Ascension and the surrounding seas, they are not just protecting it for the people and ecosystem of the Atlantic, they are protecting it for all of us. Simply put – to protect life on Earth, we have to protect the oceans. Everything that we need to sustain ourselves on this tiny little island we call Earth – our air, our food, all living things – everything is protected by the world’s oceans. Warriors for the ocean and planet like Sylvia guide us in our sail plan to a more sustainable future – but we all must join the effort to support and protect these great navigators.
Simply put – to protect life on Earth, we have to protect the oceans.
We, the crew of this vessel we call planet Earth, are between two sail plans. There is the one we have been on, where we continue on this trajectory of degradation and compromise, destroying the earth, leading to the collapse of our environment quickly followed by the collapse of our economies and the loss of our cultures and way of life. But there is another sail plan, one where our communities are knowledgeable and stand strong in our dedication to and connection with our oceans, lands and people, where we come together to be active and intentional, to make that shift for the benefit of our children and our future.
It may seem impossible, or at least unlikely, that the action of one person or one small community can make a difference. Take my home, Hawaiʻi, for example – when we take actions as individuals in a tiny place like Hawaiʻi, no matter what we do, we will not achieve the scale necessary to have meaningful impact and progress towards changing the course of planet Earth. But if we BELIEVE – believe in our ability to make lasting change, believe in the goodness of humanity, believe that there are thousands of efforts and stories of hope all over the world like ours – then we dedicate ourselves to making a difference where we can.
In planning for any voyage, there comes a time, a moment of judgment where we have to say – ‘we need to go’. We may not know all the answers, we may not have been able to plan for every detail, we may not have eliminated all the risk – but we know that although not everything is understood, we are doing the right thing, heading in the right direction. So we set sail for an island yet unseen, strengthened by our culture and our traditions, carried by our voyaging canoes beyond the horizon, in the belief that we are good enough to do it and we can make the impossible possible – whether it is to circumnavigate the globe in a traditional voyaging canoe in the way of the ancestors, or to help sail our planet Earth to a brighter future.
We do not know the measures of success for this journey, but we know failure is certain if we never leave the dock. So I say to you: Join us. We need to go. The Earth needs a new sail plan, and we are her crew.
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