Report at 10/05/99 p.m.: Steering in Light Winds by Sam Low

October 4th, A crystalline night, heading S. Bruce Blankenfeld stands behind steersman Mel Paoa.

"Coming up," he says, directing him to turn upwind.

Hokule`a glides over gentle swells. The canoe's deck, open to the skies, provides intimate contact with the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds and the wheeling constellations. We see dark smudges, places where the stars are not. These are wispy clouds--cumulus, probably.

"Right on Mel," Bruce says, checking his course against the stars.

Except for Bruce, no one speaks. There is only the sound of wind, of wave slap on hull and the rush of flame from the propane galley stove. Bruce leans against the lee rail, humming softly.

"Coming up Mel.... Come up more.... Right on."

Mel Paoa's watch cap bends back off his head. He pushes down on the steering paddle to bring Hoku into the wind, pulls up to go down. In silhouette against the sky one can imagine a Druid performing a strange ritual. Stonehenge. Mesa Verde. Anakena. Paoa's silent vigil over the slender paddle transcends time and culture.

"Right on Mel," Bruce says.

Our familiar evening friends are all back after an extended absence--but, relative to the canoe, they are at new addresses. The Scorpion resides off the starboard quarter, Jupiter and Saturn rise off the port bow and the Porpoise rides a froth of stars behind us.

At a sunset meeting, Nainoa told us: "We are getting close to the box. Steering a good course is now extremely critical because we will begin searching soon." The "box" he refers to is our search area to the W of Rapa Nui.

Steering well is also critical because the winds are light and we need to maximize our speed in them.

"The key in light winds is don't lose momentum," Nainoa tells us, "go up in the gusts but come off the wind right away when it dies. The canoe weighs 24,000 lbs. If you lose momentum you have to fall off a lot to get it back and then we are zigzagging. Keep her fast, but keep her on course."

So we tune our senses to the erratic rhythm of a light breeze from the SE. When the wind accelerates, we turn up. When it fails we turn down. Bruce and Chad, standing port and starboard watches--4 hours on and 4 off--guide us.

"Steer up.... Come up more.... Right on."

Each steersman strains to feel the breeze's gentle stroke on his face, seeking an elusive harmony of human pressure on steering paddle and the natural forces of wind and ocean. We listen to the sharp lap of waves on the canoe's stern and the wash of ocean between her hulls for clues to speed. A puff of breeze--steer up. A slackening of wake sound--turn down.

"Come up, Mel," says Bruce. "Right on."

At sunrise, Hokule`a's jib arcs across a clear dome of sky. Ragged Cumulus clouds crenellate the horizon, where--through a slim crevice--the sun ascends directly between the canoe's twin manus. For a moment, we all imagined an island there. Perhaps soon.

During the evening Nainoa, Chad and Bruce obtained clear star sights. Averaging them, they calculate our latitude.

"We're getting close," Chad says.

"I think we're only about one state of Hawai`i away," says Nainoa, "the distance from Ni`ihau to Cape Kumukahi. If we steer this course and speed for the next 30 hours we will be in the box. That's when the hunt will really begin."

So we continue on in the rising heat of our 14th day at sea. The watches change in an orderly rhythm of 4-hour stints. The sun slants higher, crosses over our mast, then begins its descent. Bruce, leaning against the rail, continues to guide us toward our rendezvous with "the box."

"Come down," he says. "A little more....Right on."

For back reports on the leg to Rapa Nui, go to Rapa Nui Back Reports

For more information on the leg to Rapa Nui, go to The Mangareva-to-Rapa Nui Page

For more information on the quest for Rapa Nui, go to the PVS Homepage