Hōkūleʻa is Finally Home After Three Years of Voyaging Around the World

The celebration on Saturday, June 17, marked a journey of three years, 150 international ports, 250 crew members and 40,300 nautical miles.
Hokulea and Diamond Head.
Photo: David Croxford


In 1976, a maiden voyage to Tahiti seemed like a moonshot. But, on Saturday, when Hōkūleʻa glided into port alongside Magic Island, the Hawaiian voyaging canoe had completed what once seemed impossible: circling the globe.


SEE ALSO: This is What It’s Really Like to Sail on the Hōkūleʻa Voyaging Canoe


A kilihune rain—considered a Hawaiian blessing—misted the crowd, and then, as if to signal the boat’s arrival, the clouds parted. Hōkūleʻa and its flotilla of wa‘a came home to tens of thousands of people lining docks at Ala Moana Beach Park, cheering and chanting.


Video: Diane Lee 


It took six years of preparation and two years of intensive training to make the worldwide voyage a reality.  


“Training was at least six days a week every afternoon, sailing to Diamond Head and back,” says Jason Patterson, Polynesian Voyaging Society apprentice navigator and ʻŌiwi TV videographer. “Some days it was twice a day on multiple vessels. We went as much as we could to get confident.”


Decades earlier, in the 1970s, some doubted that Hōkūleʻa could navigate by the stars without a motor or compass.


And when the idea of an odyssey around the world arose, many thought it was too ambitious and dangerous.


To ensure unanimity, the voyaging society board voted several times, according to society president and pwo (master) navigator Nainoa Thompson.


“[The worldwide voyage] was a scary proposition,” he says. “We had no idea what we would encounter. But what is more dangerous—a pirate, or staying tied to the dock because you don’t believe you can go?”


Video: David Croxford 


Since Hōkūleʻa launched on its worldwide voyage in 2014, thousands of people have learned about the science and art of celestial navigation.


Hōkūleʻa was a “needle” that strung the lei ka‘apuni honua, or lei around the world, Thompson says. It traveled 40,300 nautical miles and stopped in more than 150 international ports. Nearly 250 crew members participated in teams of a dozen at a time.


Crew members shared their mission, mālama honua, and the importance of protecting the earth and its oceans. They danced and shared pahu drums with South African youth. They scrubbed Hōkūleʻa’s hulls for three days to enter the pristine Galapagos Islands. And they sailed across the once forbidden Havana Bay in Cuba.


“We connected on a human level,” says Jenna Ishii, PVS education coordinator and apprentice navigator. “It’s not just about the stuff we brought into port, the deliveries or service projects, but it was talking to people who are just like us.”


Video: Hōkūleʻa Crew Facebook 


Gov. David Ige congratulated the crew on the “longest voyage recorded in history,” declaring June 17, 2017 as Hōkūleʻa Homecoming Day.


Other dignitaries in attendance at the celebration included United Nations General Assembly President Peter Thomson of Fiji; Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of ocean explorer Jacques Costeau; oceanographer and former submarine captain Don Walsh; Sesario Sewralur, the son of Mau Piailug, the Micronesian navigator who helped Hawaiians recover their traditional wayfinding skills; and the Rev. Mpho Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They sipped ‘awa alongside the pwo navigators and Hawai‘i politicians.

  Hokulea homecoming.



While the worldwide voyage is over, the Hōkūleʻa is not done sailing. It will travel across the Hawaiian Island chain to serve as a living classroom. And as a continuation of the mission, the society has launched “Promise to Pae ‘Āina,” a collection of sustainability, education and health commitments from public and private organizations. The organization will also conduct an impact statement to quantify connections forged around the world.


“The beauty of the voyage was that we made connections with strangers around the world that  are now our friends and partners,” Thompson says. “Those relationships would never have happened if it weren’t for trust. I want to know how many voyages were created because of who we left.”

  Hokulea homecoming spear throwing.

Men pelted spears, performed a war dance and presented the crew with a banana plant as part of Hale Mua’s Hawaiian Kāli‘i Rite. It was the first ceremony to include eight spears since the days of King Kamehameha I, according to Sam Kapoi, PVS crewmember and documentation specialist. He dodged the spears and even caught a few.