Kahuku teacher joins ‘Ohana Wa‘a


Kahuku High & Intermediate School teacher Matthew Kanemoto shares his experiences as a crewmember of the Worldwide Voyage. In 2013, Kanemoto had sailed on the Hōkūle‘ā during the first Mālama Honua statewide tours. He then became one of the 15-person crew that sailed Hikianalia back to Hawai‘i from Tahiti Nui, which lasted 27 days, covering more than 1,800 nautical miles on the open ocean.

​The voyage from Tahiti to Hawai‘i

I was part of the crew assigned to the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. watches. For the first few days, we had a full moon rising on our right starboard side, but as she rose 45 minutes later each evening, soon the moon was rising well into and then well after our shift ended and we could enjoy the many stars above us in near total darkness. We steered by keeping the star Keoe of the Navigator’s Triangle along our right starboard rail and the observed the rest of the Triangle; Humu and his two sons Humu Ma rising at +9 degrees North, then Piraetea and the three stars making up Cygnus and Giennah, and the diamond shaped Nai‘a rising shortly thereafter.

Master navigator Bruce Blankenfeld taught the crew that besides our wa‘a kuleana (canoe responsibilities) of being a navigator, quartermaster, cook, fisherman, and such, we have one job on the wa‘a - our four hour watch periods. We punch in and we punch out. There's no bathing, napping, excessive talking, reading, studying or listening to music while on watch. It is our kuleana to stand watch for eight hours during each 24-hour period and keep a constant vigil with every eye on the lookout for any ship hazards in the water or vessels on the horizon.

I also learned from other legendary navigators like Snake Ah Hee. He is always aware of what is happening aboard and around Hikianalia such as the winds, waves and skies. Once Snake set the hoe uli, or central steering sweep so that Hikianalia was on an automatic cruise mode, we would make the subtle adjustments to keep the wa‘a straight. As crew, we must stay on course and keep up the maximum speeds that the winds would allow us. Snake taught me to listen for the constant rushing sounds coming off the steering hoe uli, which indicates a steady course and speeds. I learned so much by watching, listening to and following the commands of Snake, my watch captain and mentor.

Guided by the stars

The star Keoe was among many that helped us guide us at night on the open ocean. We used Na Kuhikuhi, the Pointers (Kamaile Mua and Kamaile Hope), and Hanaikamalama (the Southern Cross) to stay on course. When the distance between Kaulia and Ka Mole Honua reached about 6 degrees and the distance of Ka Mole Honua and the horizon reached the same amount, we knew we were at the latitude of Hawai‘i, about 19 to 21 degrees north.

We could also use the four stars in Me‘e or Corvus as southern pointers. We used Na Hiku, the Seven (also called the Big Dipper) to point north until we crossed the equator and could see Hōkūpa‘a, Polaris or North Star rise above the horizon. Our course was two houses (each house is 11¼ degrees wide) east of north (Na Leo, Ko‘olau) so that we would be east of the Hawaiian Islands. When Hōkūpa‘a or the North Star was about 19 degrees above the horizon we steered left to find Hawai‘i. Cat Fuller was our lead navigator, with Jason Patterson, Kekai Lee and Austin Kino as her assistants. Our navigators were all extremely helpful and taught us about how they were navigating to get us back home.

Bringing Hikianalia back from Tahiti was my first open ocean voyage. Before this leg, I was an interisland sailor. Now, I guess I qualify as a voyager.

Sharing lessons with students

I am the Agriculture/Natural Resources teacher at Kahuku High and Intermediate School, in the moku or district of Ko‘olauloa on the island of O‘ahu. We teach our keiki to cherish, care for, and protect our beautiful land and ocean natural resources, especially along the 26 miles of our Ko‘olauloa coastline from Kualoa Point to Waimea Bay. Our school farm is called Koko‘ula, meaning a reddish spreading rainbow, because our students are expected to teach and spread what knowledge and skills they learn in class to their families and communities.

I share what I learned when sailing on Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia with my students. I want to plant the seeds of voyaging in their hearts and minds so that one day some of them will sail on wa‘a kaulua with the ‘Ohana Wa‘a.


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