The Voyage to Rapa Nui / 1999-2000
Chad Baybayan's Journal / Leg 3: Mangareva to Rapa Nui
October 8 A window in the clouds that blanket the sun above us opens and sunlight floods a corner of the dark horizon ahead of us. It has been a long night of cold, biting wind stinging our faces. As I look around the canoe at the crew who are awake at this early hour, their red eyes tell a tale of the exhaustion and fatigue. Nainoa (Thompson), Bruce (Blankenfeld) and I met right after sunset and mentally fixed our positon within "The Box" (a rectangle of ocean surrounding Rapa Nui). We all agreed that based upon our estimates, the next 24 hours would be critical in making landfall. As this morning unfolds, Bruce and Max (Yarawamai) are stationed on the bow, Nainoa and I on the stern. We each search a section of the black horizon, looking for clues to the island that is eluding us. Bruce motions to Nainoa and I, and we move forward. Max stands with his arm outstretched, pointing to a thin black line under a grey cloud. Except for this one space on the ocean, the rest of the horizon is dark. The light continues to push its way through the clouds, enlarging the growing gap in the sky. We all see the dark line on the horizon. Nainoa and I return to the stern of the canoe. We scan the horizon behind us to make absolutely certain that the island is not to the rear of us. Max motions us to come forward once more. Nainoa climbs the mast for a better look.
Sensing that something important is unfolding above deck, the sleeping members of the crew now clamber out of their bunks. Soon, everyone is standing on the canoe's railing. I point to the dark shape on the horizon, for my friend Tava Taupu. He sees it and looks back at me with a smile. The dark shape is growing with the emerging day. The canoe continues to push along purposely. The wind and seas start to calm, matching the mood of the rising sun. Now you can clearly see the distinct shape of an island, cliffs falling sharply into the sea, the gentle slopes of a mountain behind it, reaching up into the sky. On the deck of the canoe, very few words are spoken. People reach out and drape arms over each others shoulders. Nainoa still clings to the mast, savoring the moment of a Rapa Nui landfall. I call our escort boat, the "second canoe," Kamahele, and congratulate them for making this landfall with us. They exchange similar wishes and I sense their excitement over the radio.
Now the quiet on the canoe has been replaced by hugs and "high fives." Nainoa, down from the mast, is smiling with deep satisfaction. We all exchange hugs one more time, a pattern that repeats itself throughout the day. In the back of the canoe, the navigators talk, each of us attempting to analyze the events of the past 24 hours. Our navigation is grounded in western sciences, navigator Mau Piailug's Micronesian traditions, and our personal experience of growing up in the Hawaii ocean. But in my past 24 years of voyaging I cannot help but recognize a deeper spirit, ancestral at the core, that has guided and led us to these many landfalls. So many times throughout the cloud-embedded evening of the previous night, the canoe slowed to a stop. If we had continued at our frantic pace we would easily have sailed by the tiny island of Rapa Nui. And why the clouds parted, showering the light of a rising sun on an island below it, I cannot explain.
As in past voyages, these "gifts" of nature happen at the most opportune times. Hokule'a has "mana" (spiritual power), Nainoa says, and I agreek. Hokule'a's mana is rooted in a deep connection to ancestral roots; to a proud and rich sea-faring history; and to a culture and heritage that has persisted through introduced disease that came close to killing us off. It is a mana that finds favorable winds to fill her sails. Mana that attracts people to believe in the power of exploration and discovery. And a mana created by the many communities of supporters who keep her sailing. Here at the last corner of Polynesia, Hokule'a will share that mana with a new fmaily, descendants of a common culture and sea, and close the triangle its peoples call home. Now as the day grows older and the sun sits high in the sky, its rays silhouette the dark shape of Rapa Nui. It warms my spirit and dries the tears on my cheeks. We have arrived.
To Other Entries in Chad's Journal: September 20, 1999--Thoughts on Departure; September 22, 1999--Decision to Depart; September 24, 1999--Pitcairn; September 27, 1999--Getting into a Rhythm; September 29, 1999--Life at Sea; October 01, 1999--The Crew; October 04, 1999--Cherishing the Spirit; October 06, 1999--Gray Skies; October 08, 1999--Landfall!