U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paul D. Honnick/Released
110122-N-6674H-001 HONOLULU (Jan. 22, 2011) Sailors sand down pieces of a Polynesian canoe for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, who plans on sailing the canoe around the world using ancient techniques without any electronics or navigation equipment. Sailors assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 31, the guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) and Navy Information Operations Command Hawaii spent the day restoring the canoe, support vessels and work areas while learning about ancient Hawaiian culture in the process. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paul D. Honnick/Released)
Sailors Share, Preserve Polynesian Culture

Hawaii Sailors volunteered at the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Honolulu Jan. 22, to restore a canoe in preparation for a voyage around the world.

Twelve Sailors assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 31, USS Chafee (DDG 90) and Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Hawaii, spent the day sanding and painting pieces of a traditional Polynesian canoe named "Hokule'a", along with their support craft and work areas at the dry dock.

"It was an opportunity for the Navy family to get to know the local community and a bit of Hawaiian culture in a way that they wouldn't necessarily have; and it was also an opportunity for the society to get to know the Navy as more than just a bumper sticker and get a more personal feeling of appreciation for us," said Lt. Alapaki Gomes, DESRON 31 assistant air operations officer and event coordinator.

The society is planning to sail the canoe around the world using techniques their Polynesian ancestors used hundreds of years ago, without the use of any electronic or navigation equipment.

"We share a common bond to the sea," said Capt. Dave Welch, DESRON 31 commodore. "Hokule'a sails the open ocean; it's a small canoe with 12 crewmembers and they go thousands of miles without any modern navigation systems and that's an amazing achievement, so this is an opportunity for our Sailors to work with the community, this is an opportunity for them to learn an important part of Hawaii and Polynesian history, and really an important part of the history of mankind in navigating the seas."

Gomes, a native of Hawaii, shared his knowledge of how traditional Polynesian navigation differs from the high tech instrumentation the Navy uses to patrol the oceans around the globe.

"Polynesian navigation is done without instruments, without use of a sexton, without knowledge of the concept of latitude and longitude necessarily," said Gomes. "It's learning the position of places on the earth in relation to star position, sun and moon position, looking at clouds, feeling the ocean swells, feeling the wind, looking for seabirds and the like. It's a very time intensive process and as you might guess it takes years of training."

Gomes said ancient Polynesian cultures once sailed from island to island in the Pacific using these techniques, but the art was nearly lost.

"For centuries, the art of navigation was lost; the tradition of navigation was lost here in Hawaii," he said. "There was a period when Polynesians were transiting to and from Tahiti and Hawaii on a fairly regular basis, but that hasn't been done for several hundred years and [the] Polynesian Voyaging Society began the revitalization, really the rediscovering of navigation by traditional means in the mid seventies."

Welch described the work he was tasked with by the society staff.

"I was doing some of what they called light sanding; it felt a little more like heavy sanding for me, but we're taking varnish off of the mast and the other fittings for Hokule'a and some of their other voyaging canoes," said Welch.

Other Sailors were tasked with different jobs. Cryptologic Technician (Networks) 2nd Class Cathryne Wilson, USS Chafee (DDG 90), spent the day painting the inside of a work shed alongside her husband, Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 2nd Class J. Wilson, assigned to NIOC Hawaii.

"We don't get a chance to volunteer together too much because we have conflicting schedules, and so this time it just happened to line up and it was something that we were both interested in; so we figured why not," said Cathryne Wilson.

In addition to being able to spend time with her husband, she said she valued the opportunity to experience a piece of local culture.

"I have a passion for archeology, so to see a living reenactment of how they used to do it is fascinating, and it's really important to keep doing that kind of stuff because then you have an understanding of where your roots came from," she said.

Another volunteer, Engineman Fireman Ross McCray, said he was encouraged to attend by his mentor from USS Chafee, Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Elisha Louis.

"I'm here with my mentor and she said it would be good for me to come out here and volunteer," said McCray. "She's actually helping me out by getting me out there as far as volunteering and doing good things working within the command and outside of the command."

"I asked him if he would like to have this special opportunity," said Louis. "Only a select few get to come out and have the opportunity, and I jumped right on it."

Also joining in on the experience was Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific.

"I love it," said Smith. "I've played in boats since I was a little boy, and to be able to learn more about the Hawaiian culture and their seafaring culture is very important."

Despite spending a Saturday working, rather than being on the beach, J. Wilson said it was all worthwhile.

I'm really enjoying it because we're not in the hot sun, we're getting to give back to the community and we're having fun doing it," he said.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society is planning to sail Hokule'a around the world in 2013. In the meantime, they will continue to work on their vessels and train their crew for the voyage.

Gomes says he hopes that volunteers from the Navy will support their efforts in the future.

"This will be the first of several volunteer opportunities we're looking to establish on a more regular basis," he said. "That cultural piece is an important part of the identity, and the spirit of Aloha that is shared here, so being able to partake in that is important."

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