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Hōkūle’a: Crew Training

Daniel Lin is a photographer, writer, and explorer whose love of the Pacific Islands and its many cultures has inspired him to share stories from around the region. Follow him as he partakes in the long-awaited and historic voyage of Hōkūle’a as it sails around the world, using only wayfindingor non-instrument navigationto guide it over pristine and perilous seas.

Although Hōkūle'a and Hikianalia are far from home, there are other canoes in Hawai'i for crewmembers to train on.
Although Hōkūle’a and Hikianalia are far from home, there are other canoes in Hawai’i for crewmembers to train on. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

With all the excitement of the Worldwide Voyage being highlighted, it’s easy to forget that 90 percent of a successful voyage happens not in the implementation, but rather, in the preparation. Before ever stepping onto Hōkūle’a and Hikianalia, prospective crew members must undergo intensive training to ensure that they are adequately prepared for sailing in the deep sea.

Swimming is one of the most important parts of the physical training.  A crew members are required to swim a mile and tread water for over an hour.  (Photo by Keli Takenaga)
Swimming is one of the most important parts of the physical training. All crew members are required to swim a mile and tread water for over an hour. (Photo by Keli Takenaga)

Personal Fitness and Health

At a foundational level, all crew members must be physically capable to handle the demands of voyaging. This involves getting medical clearances from doctors and passing a set of physical fitness requirements. Aside from passing the tests, crew members are asked to spend as much time in the ocean as possible. Whether it’s surfing, swimming, paddling, or sailing, spending more time in the ocean is a great way to understand and appreciate its power.

Crew member swimming with foul weather gear on to simulate a man-overboard scenario. (Photo by Keli Takenaga)
Crew member swimming with foul weather gear on to simulate a man-overboard scenario. (Photo by Keli Takenaga)

Additionally, the emphasis on health transcends the scope of the voyage itself. As individuals, many of us are guilty of not looking after our own bodily well-being (myself included). In order to honor the mission of the Worldwide Voyage—Mālama Honua: Caring for Island Earth—we must first be able to care for ourselves. In fact, the crew for the voyage to Tahiti demonstrated this commitment to personal wellness, losing a collective 250 lbs. of weight in preparation for their voyage!

Safety and Seamanship

Another crucial aspect of training is developing an understanding of sailing and everything that comes with being on the ocean. Not surprisingly, this is something that takes years, if not decades, to be comfortable with. As crew, we may not have that depth of experience but we are required to at least know the fundamental aspects of seamanship. From safety training to understanding weather patterns to catching fish, a great deal of learning happens both in the classroom and out at sea. When it comes to safety, the general philosophy is that we hope for the best weather but train for the worst.

Bob Perkins, one of the captains of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, looks on as crew undergoes sailing training.  (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Bob Perkins, one of the captains of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, looks on as crew members undergo sailing training. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Learning about all the different types of fishing lures for catching food at sea. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Learning about all the different types of fishing lures for catching food at sea. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

Mālama Hawai’i

In addition to physical fitness and seamanship, there is numerous other training that is required of crew members. However, one of the most critical aspects of preparation isn’t training at all. It’s about respect and care, specifically of the places we call home. Embedded deep within the DNA of the Polynesian Voyaging Society is the notion that when we sail, the people and places we love most sail with us in spirit. Otherwise we are un-centered, unbalanced, and as good as lost. Therefore, as part of the preparation process, crew members organize and participate in different service projects to ensure that before we leave home, we first do our part to take care of it.

The result of a beach cleanup at an island near the Marine Education Training Center in Honolulu, home to Hōkūle'a and Hikianalia.
The result of a beach cleanup at an island near the Marine Education Training Center in Honolulu, home to Hōkūle’a and Hikianalia. (Photo by Keli Takenaga)

The Learning Never Stops 

If you were to ask me today about how prepared I feel for going on my first deep-sea voyage on a traditional Hawaiian canoe, the only adequate answer I could give you is: “I feel more much more prepared than I did before the start of crew training several months ago!” Does this mean that I’m fully prepared for whatever happens out in the open ocean? Absolutely not. I am still learning, we are all learning, and we will never stop learning. Crew training is merely the portal that links us directly to the sources of the knowledge that we seek to learn. Moreover, this process not only forces us to get into better shape, but it empowers us to be better versions of ourselves.

Ultimately, there is only one thing that I can say with absolute certainty: no matter what happens out there, I fully trust my captains and fellow crew members to make it through. That is the final, and arguably most important, outcome of crew training—to come together as one unit, one family… to be ‘ohana wa’a.

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