Raising Funds for Hokulea's Worldwide Voyage

Companies, nonprofits and individuals have provided millions in donations to support Hokulea’s four-year round-the-world journey. Much more is needed.

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“Raising funds in today’s economy is no easy task,” says Clyde Namuo, CEO of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Neither is travelling around the world in a traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe, but the voyaging society is simultaneously working on both challenges. The fundraising is well underway for Hokulea’s four-year, 47,000-mile voyage to 26 countries and about 60 ports of call. There will be a public canoe blessing in late April at Sand Island on Oahu and then Hokulea will leave for Hawaii Island, where the worldwide journey – called Malama Honua, which means caring for the Earth – will begin in May, weather permitting. The most well-known of the Hokulea navigators, Nainoa Thompson, describes the global journey by saying, “We will sail from Hawaii to Hawaii.”

Education is an integral part of the expedition, so an escort boat, Hikianalia, will use modern technology to immediately send photos, videos and stories of the voyage back home and around the world so students and others can stay fully engaged. The two double-hulled canoes will travel together around the globe, and changes in routes and timetables will be noted on the website and blog at hokulea.org.

When the two canoes reach the eastern coast of America, Hikianalia will cross the Atlantic and visit ports in the Mediterranean, while Hokulea continues up the Eastern Seaboard, visiting indigenous and native communities. Then the canoes will re-connect and voyage together back to Hawaii.

The estimated cost of the journey is at least $12 million, with about $5 million in cash and in-kind donations on the books as of January 2014.  The voyaging society needs support from a lot more companies, foundations and individuals, locally and nationally, so fundraising continues as the canoes are readied to sail.

Nainoa Thompson, has been a Hokulea crew member and navigator for almost 40 years. He says that at least 40 percent of the crewmembers during the worldwide journey will be under 30, ensuring the next generation of voyagers.

The first major sponsor to sign on was Hawaiian Airlines – an appropriate backer for a long-distance journey. As title sponsor, the airline is committed to providing up to 32 million miles of travel for the crew to any of Hawaiian’s destinations, which is especially useful since crewmembers will be rotating in and out during the four-year odyssey. Hawaiian is also providing air-supply support throughout the Pacific.

Hawaiian says the value of the sponsorship is estimated to be $1 million. The sponsorship also means the journey will be officially called “The Worldwide Voyage Sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines.”

When the sponsorship was announced in April, Hawaiian CEO Mark Dunkerley said, “The Worldwide Voyage honors a legacy of connecting islands throughout the Pacific that Polynesian navigators created centuries ago. It is our privilege as modern-day navigators and beneficiaries of that legacy to support this voyage and its message of sustainability and resource protection.”

In November, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts LP announced a five-year gift of $500,000 for the voyagers: $250,000 in cash and $250,000 of in-kind contributions.

Photos: Courtesy of Oiwi TV

“Tourism is strengthened through education and appreciation of local culture,” said Ernie Nishizaki, executive VP and COO of Kyo-ya.

“Hokulea’s journey represents this for us and the entire tourism industry.”

Soon afterward, Dr. Chuck Kelley, chairman of Outrigger Enterprises Group, announced that Outrigger Hotels and Resorts would provide more than $500,000 worth of support through fundraising efforts and cross marketing, and by providing accommodations at Outrigger hotels throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Namuo says the crew of 12 will always sleep on board the Hokulea, but after many days at sea, a hot shower in fresh water at a sponsor’s hotel will be a welcome respite.

Other contributions have come through, sometimes in unique ways, such as from the Hokulani Bake Shop. “They came to us and wanted to do something, offering a percentage of sales up to $2,000, resulting in the sale of 4,000 cupcakes,” Namuo says.

Matson Navigation will contribute shipping of necessary equipment throughout the Pacific.  Bank of Hawaii donated $100,000, Central Pacific Bank has promised $10,000 a year over the next five years and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has contributed  $300,000, Namuo says. “Many other companies and foundations have been approached and are also considering donations.”

Starting in May 2013, Hokulea sailed to 33 communities scattered around all the Hawaiian Islands to spread the word about the global voyage. During one stop last year, a volunteer put out a calabash bowl and, at the end of the day, handed more than a thousand dollars to the canoe team.

The legs of the voyage are segmented into sailing routes of a month in duration. Both Hokulea and Hikianalia will have 12-person crews, but they are all volunteers, many with families, full-time jobs and limited free time, so the crews will rotate. Safety is the No. 1 concern, so the crew will try to avoid all forms of danger, from pirates to storms.

Mau Piailug, right, preserved the skills of Polynesian voyaging and passed them onto to the first generation of Hokulea

Sam Low, left, who has participated in three Hokulea voyages, tells the story of Piailug and and many of other Polynesian explorers in his book “Hawaii Rising” and the documentary “The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific.”

Photo: Courtesy of Sam Low

Hokulea and its sister sailing canoes, Makalii and Hawaiiloa, have already completed dozens of voyages that have reached all the major Pacific islands, plus Japan, Canada and the U.S. West coast. Some 40 years of voyaging totaling about 140,000 miles. The upcoming journey will carry Hokulea and Hikianalia to Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and the U.S. East Coast. Part of the plan is to inspire and train the next generation of voyagers. “Without new crew dreaming of adventure, voyaging won’t continue,” Thompson says. That’s why Malama Honua includes a mandate that 40 percent of the crew will be under 30 years old.

Many of Hawaii’s education leaders provided their endorsement in May when they gathered at Hokulea’s dockside base, Honolulu Community College’s Marine Education and Training Center on Sand Island. Leaders of UH, the state Department of Education, Kamehameha Schools, Punahou School and many other charter and immersion schools signed a memorandum of understanding contained in a koa-bound book that will travel the world with the crew: “We believe that by inspiring children to explore, discover and learn about Island Earth, they will navigate the future of humanity toward vitality, renewal and compassion.”

“Curriculum is being implemented at every grade level via the PVS website, hokulea.org,” said Kathryn Matayoshi, state schools superintendent. “Students will be able to embark on a virtual educational journey and participate via various technology channels and the Internet.”

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