Aotearoa to Samoa: 1986
One Memorable Stormy Night with Mau and a Song
[Carlos Andrade is a native of Kaua'i, a surfer, canoe-builder, and grandfather, as well as an accomplished musician and composer. He was a crew member of the 1986 voyage from Aotearoa to Tonga and Samoa and the 1992 voyage from Rarotonga to Hawai'i.]
Our navigator has told us that we should see land sometime this morning. No compass, sextant or any other kind of instrument has been used on this thousand-mile passage from Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, to the only surviving independent Polynesian kingdom, Tonga. The first four and a half days have been crisp, cold and clear. Well defined swell trains born in Antarctic waters have accompanied us, along with pelagic albatross and shearwater.
We left Waitangi to follow the ocean highways of our Polynesian ancestors and reestablish contact with our far-flung cousins. The stars, wind and swells speak to our navigators, who are the eyes of the wa'a. We, the crew, are the hands and sinews that move the wings to catch the lift and skim on the skin of the sea. On this, our ninth day, we have been through four and a half days of roiling clouds, whistling wind and mountainous seas that have charged at us from two quarters, drenching the steersmen, navigator and everyone else on deck. Below the flimsy canvas shelter the rest of the crew try to rest, but as our Tongan crewman says, "Inside same wet as outside!"
Two days into this storm, during the midnight-to-four a.m. watch, as the wa'a sizzled through dark rain under storm sails, lines of squalls began buffeting us. Suddenly, Mau Piailug emerged from his sleeping place under the tarp. Mau is a master navigator from Satawal in the Caroline Islands of Micronesia, who learned navigation from his grandfather. During this voyage, he has acted as mentor to Nainoa, our young Hawaiian navigator, but has stayed in the background, never saying much, allowing Nainoa to practice his newly acquired skills. However, on this occasion, he quickly ordered the crew on watch to take down all of the sails immediately.
The crew members obeyed without question, but they wondered what had prompted Mau to take command of the situation. For most of the voyage, he had only emerged for meals and to look at the sunrises and sunsets to gauge the weather; nothing seemed out of the ordinary at this time. The crew were looking at each other questioningly when suddenly, gusts of wind in the 40-to-60 mph range blasted the wa'a. The wind lasted for about twenty minutes. If the sails had been up, much damage would have been done, and we might even have capsized. Mau told them to put the sails up and went back to bed.
Some say that Mau's many nights at sea have given him senses so acute that he can feel the wind coming. Mau says that, on his island, the consummate navigator knows the ways of the sea and is a father to his crew, and also that he possesses magic.
Now, we strain to see in the little light left by stars that intermittently show themselves through the storm clouds. Orion died long hours ago in the west. The three stars in the handle of the Dipper stand vertically, beckoning like a bird's wing above the northern horizon. The Southern Cross sinks into the south as we plunge through the predawn. Nainoa tells us to look for land. There! Sione, our Tongan crew member, sees what he says is land. Forty-five minutes later, the rest of us finally see something. A darker shadow solidifies on the horizon right where he has been pointing, as the sun climbs up the back of the easterly winds. Low, ringed by coral fingers that reach out miles into the surrounding ocean, Tongatapu, sacred Tonga, spouts white with blow holes carved into her flanks by the ceaseless pummeling of the sea. At first we mistake the fountains of white for whales, then we laugh with relief knowing that dry beds and hot meals await us when we land. The navigator can rest now. Like Maui with his mighty hook, he has fished the land from the sea. He has raised the island.
Hokule'a Hula (Song)
This song, recorded on the Tape and CD Pacific Tunings by Na Pali, recounts the voyage of Hokule'a from Aotearoa to Samoa, May 1-25, 1986. The voyage was a rough one, with gale force winds gusting 40-50 knots. Sione Taupeamuhu, a Tongan sea captain and navigator, joined the crew to pilot the canoe through the maze of "reefs, shoals, and islands" that make up the Tongan Archipelago.