By Léo Azambuja
A few Sundays ago, I was having brunch following a photoshoot, just enjoying good food and company, when I received a text message from my friend Sy Shim, a regular crewmember at the sailing canoe Hikianalia.
“Léo, come visit the waa! Nawiliwili next to the coast guard!” Sy added if I could get there by 1 p.m. and if there was room, I could sail with them.
I knew Sy had arrived on Kaua‘i a couple days earlier, coming from O‘ahu in the Hikianalia. It’s not every day I get an invitation like that. So I finished my meal and off to Nawiliwili I went. Once there, I joined a group of children who were learning how to sail. I felt honored to be allowed onboard.
The Hikianalia and its sister sailing canoe, the Hōkūleʻa, belong to the Polynesian Voyaging Society. The society was founded in 1973 by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kāne, anthropologist Ben Finney and sailor Charles Tommy Holmes. The Hikianalia and the Hōkūleʻa are also the Hawaiian names of two sister stars, Spica and Arcturus, which rise together in Hawaiʻi.
Designed by Kāne and built in Honolulu, the 62-foot Hōkūleʻa was launched for the first time on March 8, 1975 from O‘ahu. The 72-foot Hikianalia is a lot younger than its sister; it was built in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and it touched the water for the first time in September 2012.
I had no idea of what to expect on a sailing trip aboard the Hikianalia. I was so stoked about sailing on this iconic canoe that I forgot to ask where we were going or how long it would last. But given that there were a bunch of visiting children, I felt pretty sure we weren’t sailing to another island. Or so I hoped as soon as we left the harbor.
Getting out of Nawiliwili Harbor wasn’t easy. The Hikianalia is moved by wind, but it does have two small solar-powered engines, one on each hull, that help it to navigate in and out of tight spots. However, one of the engines wasn’t working, so getting the canoe in an out of the harbor was a combination of expertise and critical thinking by Capt. Dennis Chun and the crewmembers’ quick and hard work on the boat’s giant oar. They also had help from a tiny dinghy that nudged the Hikianalia here and there.
As a side note, Dennis graced the cover of the very first For Kaua‘i back in January 2010.
Once in the open ocean, with all her sails up, the Hikianalia provided a smooth and stable ride. The crew was at work the entire time, manning either the sails or the oar. The trip lasted only a couple hours. I imagine that with smooth seas and good wind, travelling between islands in a sailing canoe like that can be quite a peaceful and pleasant experience.
Since then, I’ve been contemplating buying a sailboat. For now, I’m happy with my tandem kayak. I’m planning a three-day kayak trip through Na Pali Coast this summer, with stops at Kalalau and Miloli‘i. I already have my camping permits and almost everything I need. But I just found out I can add a small sail to my kayak, just saying.