Standing in a doorway with your morning coffee, looking at 10 more days of gray cloud deluge hunkered over town like the butt of destiny, it’s easy to imagine sailing for Polynesia on your own small sailboat and anchoring off a white sand beach.
Woodshed Kings: Boats for Island Earth 071217 AE 1 For the Capital City Weekly Standing in a doorway with your morning coffee, looking at 10 more days of gray cloud deluge hunkered over town like the butt of destiny, it’s easy to imagine sailing for Polynesia on your own small sailboat and anchoring off a white sand beach.

The Hokulea sailing. Image courtesy of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Photo by Sam Kapoi.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Story last updated at 7/11/2017 - 5:47 pm

Woodshed Kings: Boats for Island Earth

In 1950 Ray Bradbury wrote ‘Death By Rain’ about a spaceship crew that crashes on a planet where it never stops raining. For a few weeks last month they could have filmed it in Douglas. Rain, rain, rain. And cold, too. The mountains got fresh snow on June 16. That sort of thing lends itself to dreams of giant sailing canoes gliding across oceans sun-kissed and trackless. Standing in a doorway with your morning coffee, looking at 10 more days of gray cloud deluge hunkered over town like the butt of destiny, it’s easy to imagine sailing for Polynesia on your own small sailboat and anchoring off a white sand beach. Imagine getting a tan. Imagine doing it without petroleum, without a motor as they do in the race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan. By the miracle of modern technology we can follow the progress of people living the dream through pictures, videos, and trackers 24/7. It’s addictive. Brothers and sisters I confess (shame) that I’ve spent far more time watching rowing and sailing this spring than is wholesome.


Voyage of the Hokulea

Hokulea means ‘star of gladness’ (aka Arcturus: one of the guiding stars of ancient navigators) in Hawaiian. The Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) brought the legendary double hull sailing vessel Hokulea home to Oahu on June 17, 2017 to rest after a three-year, 40,000 mile round the world voyage using sail, muscle, nerve, and only traditional Polynesian navigation techniques: stars, clouds, wave direction and birds to make the trip which they called the “Malama Honua” voyage —“To Care For Our Island Earth.”

Hokulea is the same vessel that caught the world’s attention, especially indigenous peoples’, 40 years ago when one of earth’s last Polynesian navigators, the great Mau Pilug navigated the Hokulea from Hawaii to Tahiti — 2,600 miles — with no modern navigational instruments — not even map or compass. Mau lived on a tiny island in Micronesia about as far from Hawaii as Hawaii is from Seattle but since all the Hawaiian and Tahitian navigators were gone, Mau came to Hawaii to show the young people how their ancestors were able to roam across the wide Pacific.

Most of us know a few stars and constellations. Mau knew the paths of all major stars and constellations across the night sky, year round, at such a deep level he could navigate where he’d never sailed before. Even when the Hokulea got into a storm in 1976, and he was only able to steer by the angle of waves on the boat for three days, Mau was never more than 40 miles off course. Today’s motivational speakers can only dream of the inspiration Hokulea’s crew ignited when they sailed into Papeete, Tahiti. One of the best ever documentaries to watch on a rainy day is that journey called, ‘The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific.

PVS’s blog entry on the 2017 run from Rapa Nui to Tahiti is written by Tlingit crewmember Joey Mallott. This was Joey’s third voyage on ocean going canoes with the Polynesian Voyaging Society. His family connection with the Polynesians goes back to when his father, now Alaska’s Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, and navigator Nainoa Thompson, worked out the logistics for getting two massive Sitka spruce logs to Hawaii in 1990. Those logs transformed into the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hawai’iloa which became part of the Hawaiian Renaissance. Southeast Alaskan’s remember how the Hawaiians, to say thanks for the logs, sailed Hawai’iloa from Seattle to Haines in 1995. Governor Bill Walker declared June 17, 2017, ‘Malama Honua Day’ in Alaska. Lt. Governor Mallott, who is on the Board of Directors of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, flew to Hawaii (relax, it was on his own dime) to deliver the proclamation to Hawaii’s Governor Ige and to participate in Hokule’s homecoming ceremonies.

Voyage of the Minimus in French Polynesia

If you itch to simplify and live closer to the earth, if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, downsize, own your stuff instead of the other way around, if you dream about heading out for the south seas in a sailboat, meet David Omick and Pearl Mast—but be warned: all your excuses for not making the changes may evaporate.

Our family met David and Pearl when they passed through Juneau in 2015. This couple has lived in tiny houses for more than 20 years. They grow a lot of their own food. They compost. They are competent do-it-yourselfers. Even better, they can explain exactly, with no fluff, how they make things work. Their web page ‘Living Outside the Box’ is a guide to everything from building a wood-fired cooker to a do-it-yourself composting toilet system that’s inexpensive and doesn’t smell bad. They have the lights on, as the saying goes, and the lights are solar powered.

Decades ago David told Pearl about his dream to sail the South Seas. They decided to do more rigorous wilderness exploring while they were young and strong. Tahiti could wait. As they transitioned into their 60s Pearl pointed out that if they were ever going to get that sailboat and go they should do it soon. Being minimalists means living on minimal expenses so sleek, state-of-the-art tri-hulls and catamarans were out of the question.

On the back 40 of a Eugene boatyard they found a forlorn, 25 foot 1974 Cape Dory. Covered as it was with black fungus, and with moss and lichen growing out of its woodwork, the boat was no looker but she was strong, being from the days of thick, hand applied layers of mat, roving and resin. David said that newer boats in the lot would flex when he pressed the hull but not the Cape Dory 25. They bought it for $2,500. A $100 a foot is a good deal for a craft that can get to French Polynesia.

Over the next six months they not only revived the boat but made her into something “…stronger, safer and better equipped than she’d ever been before.”

To see what they did, and how they did it, this would be a good time to look at David and Pearl’s web page, ‘Offshore Sailing on a Micro-Budget’ Even if you’d never in a million years sail offshore there may be something you can use. For example how to make: an electrical system run off solar panels, flotation bags with 550 pounds of floatation, a series drogue, and a do-it-yourself pendulum self-steering system. There are also notes on the best way to strip layers of bottom paint, where to get a good price on PVC coated polyester for awnings, hatch covers, sail covers, and a whole lot more.

What’s conspicuously absent is anything about fixing motors and carrying fuel. David and Pearl conceived the trip without a motor because motors change our relationship with the ocean.

As I write this the Minimus has recently left the Island of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. Herman Melville lived among Natives of Nuku Hiva’s Taipivai valley after he jumped ship from a whaler. Eventually he wrote ‘Typee’ based on his time there. From the link above you can get to David and Pearl’s blog to read about the ups and downs of ocean cruising on a shoestring and see amazing pictures of the places and people that drew Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Paul Gauguin and many others. Next stop for the Minimus is the Tuamotu Archipelligo about 500 miles to the southwest.

Back here at Woodshed Nation we’re following along with a geography book and we got a few sunny days which is all it takes to make everybody forget about rain, get off the computer trackers, get in the boat and go. High summer is the season of spiritual renewal on the water and in that spirit, let’s close this week with heartfelt thanks to the Tlingit and Haida Central Council and the Juneau Assembly for their upright action of Malama Honua in joining indigenous people world-wide and over 300 American cities and mayors in supporting the Paris Climate Accord.