Moloka’i voyage

SEPTEMBER 22 & 23, 2018



This past weekend, the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Voyaging Society (HOCVS) invited me to join them for a trip to circumnavigate Molokai. For years I had dreamed of one day having this opportunity. This news both excited me and filled me with dread. Would I be good enough? Could I handle this arduous journey? I was in awe of even being on this journey with them, after all this is the same organization that paddled the entire length of the Hawaiian island chain, over 1650 miles!
        The HOCVS seeks to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture through traditional long distance outrigger canoe voyaging and education; but most of all by experience. People from all walks of life and areas across the world come together to experience harmony with the elements, and by doing this, strengthen a spiritual connection to the Hawaiian Islands. The goal is to paddle together with one mind, one heart, and one life-force to wherever the destination may be. A dream embodied for many and also for me.
          My journey with them began before the dawn’s light with most of our HOCVS crew meeting up on the escort boat. Illuminated by the harbor lights, we loaded and stowed all of our gear in the boat’s hold. Crew member Kirk and our Captain, Brandon, tied the long line for towing the canoe behind the escort boat. Due to weather conditions and time constraints we had to tow from Kaunakakai harbor in the middle of southern Molokai to the eastern point of the island. Three men, Darren, Wendell and Kimokeo stayed with the canoe and the rest of us situated ourselves on the open deck of the escort boat. The diesel engine roared to life and we were off, slowly and carefully chugging through the small harbor to the east as the dawn slowly began to break through the dense clouds.

The tow seemed easy enough until we were about a mile offshore and well into the Kalohi Channel, where strong head winds and rolling swells made themselves felt. Waves were washing up over the bow of the escort boat as it plunged into deep troughs, then the water rolled across the top canvas cover, raining down onto those underneath. The canoe behind us flew up into the air and came down hard. Kimokeo our leader, steered to keep the canoe aligned with the escort boat; Wendell bounced on the I’ako, the wooden connection to the outrigger. He was keeping the canoe from huli (turning over) and Darrell bailed as often as possible when not holding down the rear I’ako.

Wet, yet undaunted, the chant began; E Ala E, greeting the rising sun:

E ala e, ka lā i ka hikina,
Awaken/Arise, the sun in the east,
I ka moana, ka moana hohonu,
From the ocean, the deep ocean,
Pi‘i ka lewa, ka lewa nu‘u,
Climbing to heaven, the highest heaven,
I ka hikina, aia ka lā, e ala e!
In the east, there is the sun, arise!

First a few, then the rest, joined in with the rhythmic clapping of our hands. Looking back to those in the canoe, we could see Kimokeo chanting, raising his paddle overhead in reply. As one we persevered.

Slower progress now due to the higher waves and deep swell troughs, we continued for an hour, then another, then almost four. We kept our course until we could release our tow rope and begin paddling. Just past the small islands of Kanaha and Mokuho’oiki, the call for the first crew rang out and they excitedly began to prepare. My excitement rose as well yet with it came the same anxious predawn questions I had of myself. Again I focused on what was happening around me instead.

I watched as the men and women put on hats and sunscreen, gloves for some, and paddle in hand they climbed into the canoe as it was pulled to our stern and the tow rope was untied. The tired men, soaked to the bone, returned to the escort boat, exhausted but elated for we were now actually voyaging! Our crew captain Anela had set us into five crews of three with each crew having a male paddler and two women to balance out our strength. During any crew change, the canoe would have two crews inside, so it would be very balanced and strong. This was very reassuring to me because now the sun was up with the wind coming from the East/Northeast at around 18 knots and the waves were 6 to 8 feet in my estimation. All of this went through my mind, mixing with excitement and anxiety.

 Excitement when thinking about how it will feel when I am in the canoe, rolling along the waters’ surface, filled with the joy it brings as I either paddle or steer. Fear and anxiety thinking: What if I can’t haul myself out of the rough water into the canoe? What if I tire out so much that I “bonk”, the term I have heard other, more experienced paddlers call it when someone just cannot paddle any longer and drops in exhaustion? What if I embarrass myself, or even worse, let my fellow paddlers down?

Only a month ago I was so weak that I could barely walk up a dozen stairs. Stubbornly thinking it was just a cold, and only after weeks of not getting any better, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with water on my lungs and bronchitis. Only with strong antibiotics did I begin to heal and recover. Was I ready for this; was it too early, would I have enough strength and energy to last? I had remained silent about all of this, not wanting to miss this opportunity I had dreamed of for years. It was too late, here I am, here I go, I have to do my best and give it my all. Not giving in to the anxiety, conserving my energy, I intently observed the ocean, the canoe and paddlers inside. I focused on taking in the gorgeous scenery of Molokai.  
          Molokai is unique in many ways. The island is orientated directly east to west with the length being four times the width. It was formed by two shield volcanoes like all of the other Hawaiian Islands but with one major difference. Our gorgeous backdrop of cliffs which we paddled underneath was formed by a massive landslide almost 1.5 million years ago when the whole northern side of Molokai collapsed into the sea. The ensuing tsunami from this collapse carried debris over forty miles northward from the cliffs we paddled past, creating underwater seamounts like large steps in the slope below. We would later pass three remainders of the fallen mass, the offshore islands of ‘ōkala, Mōkapu, and Huelo in their stark beauty, rising from the waves. The sharply rising cliffs we were to paddle by that day were three thousand feet from the ocean’s surface. We marveled and even started to count the cascading waterfalls from the deep and narrow streams that cut deeply into Wailau coast.  

The large expanse of rolling waves of deep lapis blue flowed along like a magic carpet, carrying the yellow and red canoe westward. The vast expanse of the tall cliffs, ruggedly formed by the tremendous collapse was like shoulders of strong warriors rising above the sea, so strong and immovable. The cliffs were delicately etched with long thin waterfalls that cut their groove in them. These falls held an incredibly feminine form- falling, cascading, cleaving their line, finally dispersing as a mist after tumbling into the sea. We all fell into a reverent silence, taking it all in, and to me it was like breathing in life itself.

How small we humans are, I thought. None of us alone could have done this, yet we together could navigate these strong elements, combining the masculinity and femininity of the aina (land), the sea and our human frailty, to journey onward. 


Aloha Voyagers,

First of all I want to thank all of you for allowing me to accompany you on this voyage.  It's been in my heart to do something like this, but I've felt unworthy and ill equipped to be an asset for any journey of this magnitude.

Mahalo Kimokeo, Ryn, Anela, Li, Vanessa and everyone else for welcoming, encouraging, supporting, and caring for me through this weekend.  It is beyond words to truly describe this awakening within me and my personal experience.  Aloha was the current and it was strong and alive.

Today was a day of deep reflection looking inward and these past few days gifted me insight which I owe much gratitude.............

On our paddle I was in seat four more often then not.  I've never really known what responsibility this seat means and it was an overwhelming realization on Sunday as my body and mind tired.  As waters continued to penetrate our canoe I needed to bail time and time again and still stay vigilant on the ama.  Not being extremely experienced in a canoe I wasn't sure when to do it, how often or how much and also didn't want to huli.  However, it seemed like the bailing was never ending.  At one point on Sunday tears started streaming down my face as I felt I was loosing the battle with the incoming waters.  My tears were filling up the canoe as much as the waves.  I was super frustrated and felt like I was loosing the battle.  Suddenly I thought, "Why am I always bailing?"  Bailing for my family, myself, and our business.  The feeling that I have been bailing my entire life was so intense and startling it overcame me like a rogue always seems like my canoe is still sinking no matter how much I bail.....

At that moment I had an epiphany that I will carry for the rest of my life.  I realized that bailing is to keep those you love, your family, safe.  And Sunday you were my family in the canoe.  That my family and friends are my canoe every day and by bailing and keeping the ama stable is keeping my ohana safe.

With that said, my take away from this weekend is that I LOVE bailing!  I want to be a stronger and quicker bailer for the rest of my life and that there are others that will do the same for me.

Li and Vanessa bailed me out of my lack of confidence to do this journey.  Others bailed me out of my weaknesses during this journey giving me guidance and loving instruction on paddling.  Meanwhile on land Vanessa bailed me out realizing I was tent building challenged (among my many other challenges) look up and see her hands helping construct my tent on Saturday night brought tears to my eyes, relief and joy to my heart.  Thank you all from the deep blue depths of my soul.

This email cannot articulate everything embraced, what I learned, how I feel or how I'm forever changed.  But I did want to convey my sincere gratitude to all of you.

The stars were aligned and I'm now learning how to anticipate!

Mahalo, mahalo, mahalo,