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Resilience Through Voyaging

Lucy Lee

Voyaging is a part of our moʻokūauhau as kanaka maoli. It is an experience that brings you closer to connect with the language of nature. It is an opportunity to be immersed in the energy of the winds, waves, and currents. It can also be daunting. It will challenge you, and you will encounter quickly changing conditions that you will need to overcome. This is an opportunity to build resilience and adaptability in shifting situations. The voyager will be challenged, and her training will be put to the test. That is how you grow and develop.

The following is a narrative from one of our voyagers that brings some insight into her first experience in voyaging through the central Hawaiian islands.



“Nothing can be as bad as crossing the Kaʻiwi channel (TWICE), once while stuck in a thunderstorm.” This quote (and Instagram caption) has been my life mantra for the past year and a half. Right after my high school graduation, I had the amazing opportunity to sail through Maui County with Hōkūleʻa. Little did I know that this would end up being one of the most meaningful, challenging, and transformative experiences of my life.

We officially left for our sail from METC on June 5th, 2019. In my scrambling to get ready to leave, all I had eaten that morning was a small spam musubi. The evening of our first day, I started to feel really sick. We had been on the boat for about 8 hours, during which I was working and not taking the time to properly hydrate. This definitely had a negative impact on my physical well-being. By sunset, I was vomiting over the side of the boat. Worried that it would worsen my condition, I passed on dinner. I couldn’t see straight, my entire body ached, and to this day, I strongly feel that in that moment I was the closest to genuinely miserable as I’ve ever been.

Our original plan to anchor off the south shore of Molokaʻi was changed because we had left Maunalua, Oʻahu a couple hours later than initially planned. Because of this, we sailed through the night around the south shore of Lānaʻi and headed towards Maui. At 10:00 pm we were sailing eastward and saw a huge squall heading right towards us. I looked up from where I was laying down to rest, heard the loud clap of thunder and saw a bright flash of lightning. We scrambled to close and tie everything up, and took the cracks of the thunderstorm, while still heading towards Maui. Around 2:30 the next morning, we anchored in Lahaina. Through the pouring rain, we got our anchor lines down and secured the boat to sit in the harbor. Later that morning, Nainoa made the decision that all the girls would check in to the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina and stay the night. In all honesty, I was extremely relieved to get off the boat and on to solid land. While on land, I was able to finally eat a full meal for the first time in over 36 hours and get some much-needed electrolytes back in my body. I didn’t keep down the lunch I had, but I successfully downed about 8 bottles of Gatorade and Powerade and got some motion sickness medicine into my body.

Nainoa pulled me to the side, away from the group, and asked me a question so simple that it was complicated - “Can you keep going?” I was then faced with the decision of either staying and getting back on the boat the next morning or flying home from Kahului with Lehua (Lehua Kamalu - PVS Voyaging Director and Captain of this voyage). It was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make thus far in my life. I was in so much physical pain and under extreme emotional strain. I wanted to give up. At the same time, I wanted to prove that I had earned my spot on that sail and in the PVS group. I wanted to be a success story not only for Chris (my instructor), but for Lehua and Nainoa as well. I called my mom crying, asking her what I should do. In true motherly fashion, she consoled me as best as she could over the phone and then told me plainly that she knew I could do it, and that the worst of it was over. I texted two of my closest friends who had always been pillars of my journey of aloha ʻāina, Kaiakahinaliʻi and Kapulei. Both offered words of comfort and encouragement. Hina reminded me of my strength, but moreso of the strength of my kūpuna: “Think of all the amazing navigators who lived and died on those waters and the resilience of our people who have sailed from here to all over the honua.” She continued, “Do it for your babies and their babies so they know how much of a warrior their mama is. Let Kanaloa speak to you.” Heeding her advice, I ultimately decided that I was in a good enough place emotionally, mentally, and physically to continue on with the voyage.

In no way was this how I had imagined my first voyage going. I had thought that I was ready and prepared. I quite literally expected smooth sailing. Through this experience I learned a lot about myself, but even more about life in general. We have to be able to adapt in the middle of hard situations; to be okay with the course changing if it isn’t going the way we had planned it in our minds. Change is scary and uncomfortable, but it isn’t inherently bad. The ability to remain resilient and adapt to whatever we encounter is a trait our kūpuna so gracefully applied to all facets of their lives. Sometimes resisting the change does nothing more than keep us stuck in a spiral, getting our lines twisted. It’s so easy to cling to what we think should work and what we’ve always imagined our lives to look like, but the simple reality of life is that it almost never goes as planned. And actually, the place we end up is almost always better. Nothing worth having comes easy; every meaningful accomplishment comes after many (possibly gut-wrenching) hard times and great dedication. As I look at this experience retrospectively, I realize what an amazing analogy it is for life. There is so much strength in the ability to remain resilient and allow life to take its course. “ʻAʻohe mea nāna e hoʻopūhili, he moho no ka lā makani.” (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #189)