Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Daily Living Aboard Hokule'a

Elisa Yadao, crew member on the voyage from Rangiroa to Hawai'i in 1987

[Photo below: Cooking on an Open Deck at a Gas Stove in a Cooking Box]

"Once you go on the canoe, because it's so small, you try to make it like one family."--That is the sailing philosophy of Snake Ah Hee, a 16-year veteran crew member of the Hokule'a. For a dozen plus people to live happily and harmoniously in tight living quarters and over thousands of miles, he and other crew members know the right mental a nd emotional attitude is key.

Living space is tight--the deck is about 40 feet long and 10 feet wide, totaling 400 square feet.

Sleeping quarters (photo left) are even more cramped and less than comfortable. The sleeping compartments run the length of both sides of the deck and are covered with canvas. Individual spa ces measure about 6 feet in length and 3 feet across, usually with two crew members assigned to each space. One person sleeps while the other stands watch. Personal belongings are stowed here, with each crew member allowed one 48 quart cooler. Beds consist of a board placed over the coolers, covered by a sleeping pad.

Bathroom facilities, located on either side of the canoe, take things right down to basics. Going to the bathroom involves strapping a safety harness on, hooking the harness to a railing or safety line, and then relieving yourself overboard while standing or sitting on the running board on the outside of the hull. The flushing action depends on how fast the canoe is going. (Click here for a close-up of the flushing action.)

Bathing is done either forward or aft on the canoe. Forward, you sit in a net slung between the two canoe hulls. Aft, you bathe in an open compartment, pulling salt water up in a 5 gallon bucket. You use a special sea soap, which makes bathing in salt wat er actually refreshing.

Because the canoe is so small, privacy is limited at best, but all crew members respect the needs of others. Generally, when someone is bathing or going to the bathroom, the rest of the crew moves away out of courtesy. When women are sailing, certain acco mmodations are made, such as hanging a curtain over the aft bathing area.

Cooking is done in the center of the canoe. The galley, or kitchen, is a two burner propane gas stove housed in a metal box. By necessity, most of the food on board comes out of a box or can, supplemented by whatever fresh fish the crew can catch. Each vo yage has a designated fisherman, who puts his trolling lines out off the back of the canoe every morning.

On long trips, food is much more than a source of nutrition and sustenance. Mealtime is one of the few times during the day that the entire crew is together on deck. On long monotonous days, meals are a highlight. When the weather is cold and rainy, a hot meal can do wonders for morale.

The canoe carries bottled fresh water for cooking and drinking. On an estimated 30 day voyage the canoe will carry enough water for 40 days at sea. If water supplies become too low, the captain can order that water be rationed. Crew members also store rai n water for cooking and bathing.

It takes a lot of work to sail Hokule'a and everyone is assigned a job. Crew members are divided into watches, teams of people who work specific shifts. On the normal three-team watch system, each person works a four hour shift twice a day, with eight hou rs off in between. If you are on the 2 to 6 watch, you'll work from 2 to 6 in the morning and the again from 2 to 6 in the afternoon. In bad weather, the crew may go to a two-team watch system.

The watch on duty is responsible for maintaining the canoe, working the steering paddles, handling the sails and keeping water out of the compartments. At the start of watch the crew runs through a safety checklist to ensure that Hokule'a is in optimum sa iling condition. Each watch has a captain responsible for supervising the others on his or her team.

When crew members are off watch, they rest, read, write in their journals, wash laundry, make music or simply relax and enjoy being out at sea. Time can pass slowly although this is the exception rather than the rule. Being away from home for extended per iods of time, the crew does experience ups and downs and homesickness is not uncommon, especially for the new crew members. Older crew members have the responsibility to make sure that everyone gets through these low points.