Sam Low

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS - The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific

 

Directed by Sam Low and Boyd Estus, this documentary explores the heritage of Polynesian wayfinding, and how indigenous Pacific societies sustained their navigational practices and practitioners. The film features Mau Piailug, who was at that point the last known navigator to be ceremonially initiated on Satawal, an atoll in Micronesia’s remote Caroline Islands.

 

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PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Voyage of the Hōkūle‘a

 

Witness Hōkūle‘a’s inaugural 1976 journey from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, the preparations leading up to it, and the behind-the-scenes turmoil that threatened to derail the voyage. Rifts are seen among leadership, between leadership and the crew, and among crewmembers. The film by Dale Bell was co-produced by the National Geographic Society and WQED Pittsburgh.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Low: Raising Islands

 

As a crewmember on the Hōkūle‘a, waterman Sam Low experienced the chicken skin moments when, as the canoe would approach a Pacific island, the island itself would appear to be raised out of the distant horizon as the canoe sailed closer.  As a documentarian, author Sam Low heard the vision, fears and dreams of master navigator Nainoa Thompson and those involved with sailing the canoe. On this episode, Sam Low shares his stories of sailing on Hōkūle‘a.

 

Sam Low Audio

 

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Nainoa has said that early on he’s been hindered by a fear of failure. Do you know how he resolved that? Because he certainly succeeded.

 

Courage. He resolved it by being courageous, I think. It was Nainoa’s job to be the first Hawaiian in perhaps a thousand years, after that devastating accident, devastating loss of Eddie Aikau, to take the canoe as navigator on the first voyage in a thousand years that a Hawaiian has navigated. So, naturally, he was fearful. He was fearful for his own ability, but he was fearful for his people. Because if he failed, that would have been, Oh, Hawaiians, yeah. I have the feeling that his father helped him understand that there’s a deeper mission. That everything is based on helping your community, helping your people, and that your fear or your immediate reluctance is nowhere near as important as pushing through it to get that mission accomplished.

 

In researching his book, Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low spent hours interviewing his cousin, Nainoa Thompson, talking to him about the double-hulled canoe Hōkūle‘a, and what drove his dream to voyage in the wake of his ancestors. Sam Low, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sam Low was born and raised in Connecticut. His Hawaiian father left the Big Island to attend prep school on the Continent, where he got married, never to return home again. Their son Sam inherited his father’s love of the ocean and of boats, and grew up spending summers at the beach on Martha’s Vineyard, where he still lives at the time of our conversation in 2014. Sam Low made his first trip to Hawai‘i as a young naval officer, and has been coming here ever since, connecting with his family that includes Nainoa Thompson. Sam’s background as a documentary filmmaker, his ocean skills, and his family connections eventually led him to become a crewmember on Hōkūle‘a, where his role on the voyaging canoe was that of the documentarian. His job was to observe, and through that, he got to experience what life is like sailing on a canoe in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles away from land.

 

My role on Hōkūle‘a has always been as a writer, as a documenter. Usually, on Hōkūle‘a, you’re a crewmember, and so that’s basic. You know, you stand your watch, and you do all that. But you have another role as well, which is, you could be a cook, you could be a watch captain, you could be a carpenter, or you could whatever. And my role was as documenter. And so, that fit, you know, what I had been doing for so many years prior to that, going out and documenting, either filming or writing about, or doing a thesis at Harvard about a way of life that I wanted to bring back and I wanted to give you, wanted you to have this gift. I have seen this, I have been there. And now, I want you to have it. And that was a perfect blend of what the job was. As a documenter, the kuleana, or actually as any crewmember, the kuleana on Hōkūle‘a.

 

Isn’t it interesting that all your interests sometimes come together and inform each other into one wonderful culmination?

 

Yeah. I probably never would have gotten on the canoe if it hadn’t have been that I did have this skill of being able to write. And of course, it didn’t hurt that Nainoa was my cousin, and I had a relationship with him. I was invited on the voyage to Rapa Nui. And that was actually my first trip on the canoe. The voyage to Rapa Nui was supposed to be the hardest voyage, because the prevailing winds are against you. And so, Nainoa had predicted that it would have to be tacking into the wind. So, this would be a zig-zag all the way. So, what was maybe, I think about seventeen hundred miles could easily become three thousand miles, if you had to tack. So, he chose a veteran crew. He had on board those folks like Tava Taupu, and Michael Tongg, and Snake Ah Hee, and Bruce Blankenfeld, and you know, Kalepa Baybayan. The best of the best. They set off. Now, I should say that this was the first voyage that I was actually invited to go on. But Nainoa wasn’t quite sure about me. I had made one voyage on the escort boat, and that went fine. So, he just wasn’t sure, and he put me on the escort boat and he said, You’re gonna be on the escort boat for four or five days, we’re gonna see how it goes, and if everything’s going okay on the canoe, then we’ll bring you over.

 

Why was Nainoa unsure about whether to have you on the Hōkūle‘a? ‘Cause you’re a waterman, you’ve been around water all your life in different kinds of craft.

 

Right; but you have to remember that on that voyage, there were the tested men, they were the best of the best. These men had probably voyaged thirty thousand, forty thousand miles. Not only that, they’re surfers, and they’re athletes.

 

And did Nainoa figure you could document it just as well from the escort boat?

 

I think he knew I couldn’t do that. But I think he wanted to just be sure. I think he wanted to go out and to see, and if it was a slog, and it was what he expected it to be, the most severe test of endurance, then maybe I would have stayed on the escort boat. But it didn’t turn out that way; it turned out to be easier. And so, I think that’s why he invited me.

 

So, it had to do with physical conditions?

 

Physical training.

 

Not fit?

 

Not fit. Not like those guys. No; uh-uh. Those guys, well, look at them. I mean, look at Tava. You know, look at Snake. All of those guys are watermen, all the time. You have to remember, New England, it’s the winter, so I get to swim four or five months out of the year. I was not in the kind of shape that those guys were, so I think that’s what his reservation might have been. So, I think on the fifth day, we got word that they wanted me to go over. And I’m like, Yes! And it was one of those rainy, kind of drizzly days, not a lot of wind, and I was rowed over by one of the crew on the escort boat. And Hōkūle‘a is up here, and I kind of crawled in. You crawl over the hulls, and then you crawl up over this canvas kind of space shield. And I remember crawling out and looking up, and there was Mike Tongg. His appearance is like this gentle, loving Buddha, you know. He has that kind of loving appearance. And the rain was just dripping down off his face, like this. And he was looking down at me with this beneficent smile. He didn’t say a word; just … Welcome, good to see you. And so, I just immediately felt at home with Mike’s blessing. He’s such a veteran on that canoe. But Nainoa had felt that we had to be prepared for the slog of wind. But as it turned out, fortuitously, at that time of year, down in the roaring forties … I hope I’m right, but I think that we were probably up around twenty degrees south. And down around forty degrees south, there were a number of low pressure areas that were spinning storms up toward us, spinning wind up toward us. And so, they broke the trade winds, and they created following winds. So that Nainoa seeing that, set off basically in a storm, and sailed along with the wind coming from behind, spun up by these storms down in the roaring forties, until that storm went through, and then we were kind of the calm. And then the trades would fill in again, and we’d do a little tacking, and then another storm would come along. And we made the trip so much faster than what was predicted, that we got there a week before our welcoming party.

 

Nice when storms are your friends.

 

Yeah; yeah. So, it turned out to be a lot easier in terms of the crew, and in terms of the endurance than we thought it was gonna be. More difficult from the navigation point of view, because often you would have cloudy skies. In fact, on that voyage to Rapa Nui, two or three days before Nainoa found the island, we started to have cloudy skies, and he had no real sight of his guiding star. He was steering pretty much by swells, and he was navigating by dead reckoning. So for three days, he was navigating by instinct, trained instinct. And on the day that we sighted Rapa Nui, the winds shifted. He was going to do a zig, and instead of doing a zig, the wind shifted and kind of pushed us in the direction that he thought we wanted to go. And he said, We’ll follow the wind; we’ll just stay, we’ll follow the wind. Hōkūle‘a knows where she wants to go.

 

Now, when you can’t navigate by stars, does he sleep at all? I mean, because he’s always watching current conditions.

 

Yeah; he is. Well, when you’re not navigating by the stars, you’re navigating pretty much by the swells and the wind. Of course, the wind was gyrating around and changing, so he was using the swells to navigate. Normally, if he’s alone on a voyage, then he will sleep in catnaps. He’ll sleep for maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and then jump up and be awake for, say, eight hours, and then lie down for twenty or thirty minutes, and jump up. And he’ll do this for thirty days at a time. One of his great fears on that first voyage in 1980 was he wouldn’t be able to stay awake. That’s Mau’s secret, not mine; I can’t do that. But it was one of those first, as he calls them, the doors of perception had opened. One of those first doors that opened was that when they set sail out of Hilo and started on the voyage, after about fourteen hours, he decided he was really tired, he was gonna take a little nap. And he lay down, and he lay down for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and he jumped up and he was refreshed. And he said that was the first kind of sense that there is something in navigation, there is something in accepting the challenge and the risk that comes from another level, and that he was able to that, on that first voyage. And that’s what he normally does. On this voyage, the Rapa Nui voyage, he had Kalepa Baybayan on board, he had Bruce Blankenfeld on board; he had trained navigators with him. So, he could sleep.

 

If you don’t have enough sleep for enough time, I mean, I would think your judgment becomes impaired. So, I guess you have to have a limited goal in terms of time? How do you do that?

 

He does it for a month at a time.

 

Amazing.

 

I have no idea; I couldn’t do it.

 

So, maybe because you have a goal and you’re trained, and you’re generally in good shape, you can manage your mind and your brain cells for that amount of time.

 

Yeah; it’s a mystery to me, how he can do it. You know, it’s always chicken skin if you’re crew, and/or a documenter particularly, my job being to watch everybody, and to record. But you know, I’ve watched Nainoa pretty intently, and it’s always that moment when he says, Post lookouts, land is near. And then, I would get to go ask him, Well, what’s going on? He’d say, Well, I think Rapa Nui is there. And he put Max Yarawamai, who is Carolinian, who has great eyesight, he put him on watch. And about five hours later, there it was, Rapa Nui. And it was pretty much where he said it was. And Rapa Nui is tiny. And so, he found this island after seventeen hundred miles.

 

After sailing to Rapa Nui, Hōkūle‘a navigator Nainoa Thompson invited Sam Low aboard the canoe for the trip home. This second experience gave Sam even more insights into how Nainoa used nature and his intuition based on experience to guide him to exactly where he wanted to go.

 

The second voyage I got to make was from Tahiti to Hawai‘i. And we’d been at sea for, I think, about twenty-four, twenty-five days. Had lots of storm on that particular voyage, lots of squalls. I’m going to say it was the twenty-fifth day, I forget exactly, Nainoa turned the canoe downwind. We’d been headed into the wind all the time to get to the east of the Hawaiian Islands, and he turned downwind. So, we knew something was up. And steering downwind on Hōkūle‘a, the sails are on either side, wing-on-wing, ‘cause the wind is directly from behind. And we were steering that way for a while. We couldn’t see anything; there was this gentle mist wafting over the canoe. You could feel the sun, but you couldn’t see it. Visibility ahead was maybe oh, I don’t know, half a mile.

 

And during this time, do you say, Hey, Nainoa, what’s going on? Or do people not talk about what’s up?

 

Well, I got to be bratty, because I was the documenter. So, I didn’t say anything for a while, but we went wing-on-wing, and then the wind changed slightly, and so one of the sails came over. So, now, we’re sailing like this. We felt that. And around six o’clock, I saw Nainoa was just back there on the navigator’s platform, just peering intently ahead. Again, this mist was coming over. We couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t see anything. So, being a documenter, I get to go back and say, you know, What’s going on? He said, Well, Hilo is right there. After twenty-five hundred miles, twenty-five days, Hilo is right there? So, I said, How do you know? And he said, Well, do you remember when the sail, when we couldn’t sail wing-on-wing? Well, that’s because we got into that place where the winds are coming and being broken by Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and churning around the island. And so, that wind shift, that gentle wind shift told me that we’ve gotten into that zone where the winds are breaking. You know, these mountains are fourteen thousand feet high. And he said, Look ahead, you see that mist seems to stall, it seems to slow down. So, I looked. Yeah; okay. Keep going. I know I couldn’t see it. And he said, If you look—the sun was starting to go down. If you look on either side, you can see it’s kind of dark ahead of us, and it’s a little bit lighter there.

 

You couldn’t see it?

 

I couldn’t see it. And so, I wrote it all dutifully down. And then we sailed on for a while, and then he tacked. And I said, Well, why’d you tack? He said, We’re on the Hamakua Coast, and I don’t want to get too close. Of course, none of us can see this. This is after twenty-five days. I don’t want to get too close, and Hilo is right over there. And so, I said, Okay; write it down. And then, we all felt it. And we all went over to the rail, and the whole crew is standing there looking, and Nainoa said Hilo is there, and they know Hamakua must be there. And we waited for about fifteen minutes, and then fortuitously, that low cloud layer lifted; just lifted. And there it was, the twinkle of the coast, Hilo over here, the lighthouse. And at that moment, Nainoa just said, We’re home.

 

Wow.

 

After twenty-five days. So, that’s the chicken skin, that when you’re navigating with someone like Nainoa or Kalepa Baybayan, or Bruce Blankenfeld, or Chad Paishon, or Shorty Bertelmann, any of these great navigators who have dedicated their life to merging with the signs of the sea, and you have the privilege to be on a canoe after that much time, and to see land is there, exactly where they say it is.

 

What happens over the twenty-five days, say, of a voyage? Is there a lot of talk? Is there a lot of laughter? What do people do, day-by-day?

 

I think it depends a lot on the crew and on the chemistry of the crew. And I think it’s all of that. But if I think back on it, I think more of a kind of … quietness, actually. I don’t think so much of laughter; there’s that. I don’t think so much of talk; there’s that. I don’t think so much of music, although there’s that. I think of the quietness of being at sea, and the feeling of being out in an immense ocean, completely alone, and you don’t see another ship, you don’t see another person, you don’t see land, and you get into kind of a rhythm of watch-standing, of being alert, and being relaxed, and being alert, and being relaxed, of the stars turning, and the moon and the sun. And there’s a blending with that diurnal rhythm so that it’s a meditation you get into. I think it’s a meditational state. I think it’s a very relaxed state. I think that even in storm aboard a vessel like Hōkūle‘a, which is so staunch and so seaworthy, and so sea kindly, that you’re not afraid. You know that if you do everything right, if you follow the instructions of your captain, if you bring the sails down, if you stand your watch properly, you’ll be fine. So that’s not it. It’s not anxiety, it’s not fear; it’s contemplation, it’s meditation. And actually, I think for most of us, say after five or six days, you’re just in the rhythm, and then when the canoe turns down and the navigator says, We’re there, we’re almost sort of like saying, Well, that’s good, we can have a hamburger, we can have a beer, but you know, why don’t we just keep going. ‘Cause you’re in this world. You’re with your crew, you’re with the weather, you’re with the canoe, you’re in this meditational almost Buddhist, Hawaiian meditational state, and you don’t want it to stop.

 

Sam Low started working on a book about Hōkūle‘a after he returned home from the Rapa Nui voyage in the year 2000. At first, he didn’t know what would be in the book, but it finally came together, and Hawaiki Rising was published in 2013. It tells the story of Hōkūle‘a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

 

There was a period of time, and I think it was uh, 2010. See, I’d been working on this book for ten years. I mean, I didn’t really know that I’d been working on it for ten years. I was just recording, and I was writing articles. The first idea for a book would be a picture book, and then I went off and did my grandpa’s book. And I got partway there, and then I came back onto this. But there was a time, I think it was 2010, when I did have a chance to interview Nainoa very extensively. I was living in the family compound, and the guest house is, you know, a hundred yards from his house. And I would sit and wait, and every time he came out, I’d say, Hey, Nainoa, how you doing? You know, and he’d say, Not today, Sam, not today. Okay, okay. And then, How you doing? Yeah; okay, come. And so, we’d sit and spend two or three hours with a tape recorder, and I think the exchange did help him bring together all his experiences. Well, it was certainly great for me, because I was able to get this raw material for Hawaiki Rising. But I think it also helped him bring together his own experiences and correlate that, and put it together into kind of a set of values and a philosophy. It’s his philosophy, but I think in being able to exchange with another person who he was fairly intimate with, that it did help him in that. And at that time, about three years ago, the concept of moolelo became very important. And he expressed that; he said, You know, we stand on the shoulders of heroes, and it’s very important that as we move forward around the world, that we look back, and that we celebrate and bring with us the spirit of those people who made all of this possible, and the lessons that we learned from them, from his father Myron Pinky Thompson, from Mau Piailug, from Wally Froiseth, from Ben Finney, from Herb Kane, from all of those who had built the canoe, who had the vision of the canoe, who had sailed the canoe, and that evolving vision, that gift that they gave to all of us who’ve sailed on the canoe. He wanted that to be celebrated, and part of that was the book, Hawaiki Rising. It is a celebration of those heroes whose shoulders we stand on today. He expresses in Hawaiki Rising very clearly how fearful he was of that time of his first voyage. You have to understand that everything depended on it, that the canoe had capsized, that they had lost Eddie Aikau, and that Hawaiians were on the cusp of being able to, through voyaging, and all the other arts as well, not just voyaging, but Hōkūle‘a was the symbol of the Renaissance. Through voyaging, to recapture this great pride of ancestry. And the canoe had capsized. There was a great deal of anxiety, which he expresses in the book. And he pushed through, and he discovered deeper reserves, I think, of courage and of a sense of connection to his ancestors that allowed him to enter a world of understanding and of comprehension that was deep and that was powerful.

 

You went back and talked to a number of the people we associate with Hōkūle‘a over the years. What did some of those conversations yield in terms of insight about the voyages?

 

Well, they were key. The book is made up of what I like to think of as a chorus of voices. See, I’m not in it. It’s not my story. I’m the person that’s behind the camera, if you like, or that’s writing the story, singing the song, I hope. And I had this opportunity to interview dozens and dozens of crewmembers, and I wanted the book to be a chorus of voices. I wanted it to be told in the voices of the people that experienced it, not an impersonal narrator, a personal narrator. And I didn’t know that that would work. It’s like an oral history. And I’ve been very interested in oral histories, something told directly, authentically from the person who experienced it. So, the opportunity—and of course, I was very kind of shy and bashful. I mean, Tava Taupu, and Snake Ah Hee, and Herb Kane, and Nainoa and Pinky, and Marion Lyman-Merserau, and Dave Lyman. I mean, these are heroic figures to me. So, to have the honor that they would sit down and talk with me was terrific. And I didn’t want that to end. You know, so writing the book, you have to eventually do that; right? But the great pleasure was to have those moments, those intimate moments with people on whose shoulders we all stand on, and to have them tell me their story. That in itself, was the process, is sometimes more important than the product.

 

Through the eyes and ears of Sam Low, we all get to experience what it’s like to sail aboard Hōkūle‘a as she makes her way across vast oceans, guided by the stars and other natural elements, to faraway destinations. Mahalo to Sam Low for sharing his stories with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Pinky evolved a philosophy that came out of voyaging. He said, You first have to have a vision, and you have to have a vision of an island over the horizon. And once you have that vision, then you have to formulate a plan to raise that island from the sea, Hawaiki Rising. And then, you need to have discipline to train, to achieve that plan. And then, you need to have the courage to cast off the lines, and then you need to have the aloha to bind your crew together to find the island. So, those are values that were inherent in Pinky’s view in voyaging, and also in the world, and also all cultures of the world. So, he brought this philosophy from the past, brought it to the present, and made it a possible future. And Hōkūle‘a is voyaging around the world with that philosophy in mind.

 

[END]

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Next Journey

 

INSIGHTS convenes Polynesian Voyaging Society leadership and several crewmembers of the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe for a live discussion about their Next Journey. Scheduled to appear are the voyaging society’s President Nainoa Thompson, Hōkūle‘a crewmembers Miki Tomita and Eric Co, and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa President David Lassner, who was a crewmember on Hōkūle‘a’s U.S. East Coast leg.

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 


Hōkūle‘a Programming

By Liberty Peralta

I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope.
In the past, lies the future.

Hawaiian Proverb

Hōkūle‘a - I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope. In the past, lies the future.

©2015 Polynesian Voyaging Society | Photo: ‘Ōiwi TV – Photographer: Bryson Hoe

 

For three years, Hōkūle‘a and its sister vessel, Hikianalia, journeyed 42,000 miles around the world, stopping at more than 150 ports to share the message of “Mālama Honua” (caring for Island Earth). Rigorously trained navigators led the way with traditional Polynesian wayfinding methods, using nature – including wind, water and stars – as their guide.

 

In June, the vessels and their crew returned safely to Hawaiian waters, marking an unprecedented accomplishment in Polynesian voyaging.

 

With the completion of this worldwide voyage, a new chapter is set to begin for Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia: an eight-month sail to 30 ports throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The Polynesian Voyaging Society calls this leg the most important part of the voyage.

 

“We will go to as many as 70 communities and 100 schools to thank Hawai‘i’s people and share what we have learned with the children,” said Nainoa Thompson, Polynesian Voyaging Society President, and one of the organization’s master navigators.

 

PBS Hawai‘i celebrates this next phase with a collection of interviews and documentaries that revisit the people and events that helped shape the modern resurgence of Polynesian voyaging, and simultaneously, our Pacific Island cultures. Discover how Hōkūle‘a became a revered icon for so many – for Hawai‘i, Polynesia and our Island Earth.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: SAM LOW: RAISING ISLANDS (2014)

Tuesday, August 8, 7:30 pm

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX:
SAM LOW: RAISING ISLANDS (2014)

In this conversation, Sam Low reveals chickenskin moments onboard as Hōkūle‘a’s documentarian, including the optical illusion he’d see when the vessel approached land – an island rising out of the water. For his book, Hawaiki Rising, Low spent hours interviewing his cousin, master navigator Nainoa Thompson. In these moments, Low came to know Thompson’s fears, dreams and vision.

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I: The Next Journey

Thursday, August 10, 8:00 pm

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I:
The Next Journey

INSIGHTS convenes Polynesian Voyaging Society leadership and several crewmembers of the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe for a live discussion about their Next Journey. Scheduled to appear are the voyaging society’s President Nainoa Thompson, Hōkūle‘a crewmembers Miki Tomita and Eric Co, and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa President David Lassner, who was a crewmember on Hōkūle‘a’s U.S. East Coast leg.

 

THE NAVIGATORS: PATHFINDERS OF THE PACIFIC

Thursday, August 10, 9:00 pm

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS:
THE NAVIGATORS: PATHFINDERS OF THE PACIFIC (1983)

Directed by Sam Low and Boyd Estus, this documentary explores the heritage of Polynesian wayfinding, and how indigenous Pacific societies sustained their navigational practices and practitioners. The film features Mau Piailug, who was at that point the last known navigator to be ceremonially initiated on Satawal, an atoll in Micronesia’s remote Caroline Islands.

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS: VOYAGE OF THE HŌKŪLE‘A (1977)

Thursday, August 17, 9:00 pm

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS:
VOYAGE OF THE HŌKŪLE‘A (1977)

Witness Hōkūle‘a’s inaugural 1976 journey from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, the preparations leading up to it, and the behind-the-scenes turmoil that threatened to derail the voyage. Rifts are seen among leadership, between leadership and the crew and among crew members. Co-produced by the National Geographic Society and WQED Pittsburgh.

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS: PAPA MAU: THE WAYFINDER (2013)

Thursday, August 24, 9:00 pm

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS:
PAPA MAU: THE WAYFINDER (2013)

Shortly after Hōkūle‘a was built in the 1970s, a search began for someone who could teach the art of navigation without modern instruments – native knowledge that had been all but lost. Master navigator Mau Piailug of Micronesia agreed to share what he knew. He played a critical role in Hōkūle‘a’s maiden voyage to Tahiti, and the rebirth of Polynesian unity and pride that followed. Produced by Palikū Documentary Films.

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT: VISIONS IN THE DARK: THE LIFE OF PINKY THOMPSON (2016)

Thursday, August 31, 9:00 pm

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT:
VISIONS IN THE DARK: THE LIFE OF PINKY THOMPSON (2016)

A serious eye wound sustained in Normandy during World War II left Myron “Pinky” Thompson in the dark for two years. From this, he emerged with a clear vision of his life’s purpose. Thompson left a palpable legacy as a social worker, mentor and leader in the Native Hawaiian community. In the late 1970s, Thompson served as Polynesian Voyaging Society’s President. Presented by Pacific Islanders in Communications.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Low: A Hawaiian Yankee

 

In 1921, a young Sandy Low was sent away from his home in Kohala to attend school in Connecticut. He never returned to Hawaii. But he gave his aloha spirit, his appreciation of Hawaiian music, and most importantly, his love of the sea, to his son, Sam Low, who was raised on Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod. Sam Low took all that his father had given him to heart, and returned to Hawaii to become an ocean voyager.

 

Sam Low Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Clorinda Lucas, who I guess you knew, ‘cause you lived in Niu, right?

 

Right; she’s your aunt.

 

She’s my aunt; she’s my father’s sister. After my dad graduated from art school, he had a studio in New York, I think it was on 23rd Street, little loft. And Clorinda showed up. And here’s a Stutz Bearcat parked in front of my father’s studio. A Stutz; it’s like a Ferrari. So, she goes up the winding staircase, gets into this studio, and they exchanged pleasantries. And she says, Oh, well, Sandy, whose beautiful car is that? And my father looked at her and said, Oh, it’s mine. Yours? You know, of course, that can’t be. He had no money at all. And he said, Oh, well, all right, my girlfriend loaned to me. Me, or somebody. And so, he was just popular. He just had that kind of magnetism, and I think he made his way that way.

 

Sam Low was born in New Britain, Connecticut to a half-Hawaiian father and Caucasian mother. He grew up in New England, and has spent most of his life there, yet identifies as a Native Hawaiian as strongly as he does with being a Connecticut Yankee. Sam Low, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sanford Low, Jr., or Sam as he’s called, may be best known in Hawaii as a sailor and documentarian aboard the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokulea, and more recently, the author of a book, Hawaiki Rising, about Hokulea, his cousin Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian renaissance. Although Sam’s father left Hawaii way back in 1920 as a sixteen- year-old boy and never returned, he stayed closely connected to Hawaiian ways throughout his life. This gave Sam his grounding in Hawaiian culture long before his first trip to Hawaii.

 

You are a quarter Hawaiian, three-quarters Caucasian.

 

Yup.

 

And how much do you pull Hawaiian?

 

How much do I pull it, or how much do I feel Hawaiian?

 

Yes.

 

How much do I feel Hawaiian. More and more, and more, and more. I grew up in a Yankee community, Connecticut Yankees. My grandfather was an Industrialist; he worked at Stanley Works. He was president of Stanley Tools. He lived in New Britain, Connecticut, and they had a summer place in Martha’s Vineyard. My father was kind of an oddball in that Yankee family. He was an artist, he was a Bohemian. He had run away from prep school. He was sent by his father, Eben Parker Rawhide Ben Low, to luna school.

 

From?

 

From Kohala. And he had a wonderful time on the Lurline, where he played guitar and formed a band. He had a great time going across on the Transcontinental Railroad. Really enjoyed his travel. And then, he got to this prep school, and everybody was in coats and ties, and formal, and he felt completely at sea, completely lost. So, he played football; he was a great athlete. Played football, halfback in bare feet.

 

In the cold?

 

Well, yeah. M-hm; yeah. Football is generally in the fall, and you might have a snowstorm. So, when football was over, he was so homesick, he was so bereft of that kind of aloha spirit that he’d gotten used to, that he jumped a train and went to Long Island, where his sister lived.

 

I thought you were gonna say he jumped a train to go back to Hawaii. But he actually never went back to Hawaii as long as he lived.

 

I know. And that’s always strange. He jumped a train; he went to his sister, who was married to a Haole guy. They had a farm; I don’t know too much about that. But his sister died very shortly thereafter, and it’s very hard to piece together all of that story. I didn’t sit at his knee and ask him, as I should. But what I know is, he was a stevedore for a while. He shipped out; he was quartermaster, went up and down from New York, Boston, to South America and back. He always had this dream of being a cartoonist, and he was always sketching. He was an artist from the beginning, and he had this dream of being an artist. So, somehow, without a high school education, with just three months of high school, he got accepted at the Museum School in Boston, which is one of the premier art schools. And he spent, I think, three years there, graduated, and then went to New York, became a commercial artist, and then met my mother. He was handsome, he was Hawaiian, he was athletic, he was beautiful to look at.

 

Was it a plus to be Hawaiian in that society then?

 

In those days, definitely. I mean, it was such a romantic thing. Denizens of the sea, surfers. And in New York in particular, there were many bars that Hawaiians would hang out at. It was a very active scene. So, he was kind of an anomaly in that all-Haole society, all those blonds named Bart. And the story of their meeting; he was invited to one of these parties out in South Hampton on Long Island. And they had in those days these speed boats, Garwood speed boats, long, mahogany, big powerful engines. And they would tow an aquaplane behind it, which is just basically like a surfboard with a rope attached to the boat. And the swains, the Haole swains, barts with their blond hair, would get up on it. There was a rope, and you’d hang onto the rope, and you’d go back and forth across the lake. You know. And [CLAPS HANDS] everybody would clap, you know. Bart; all right! So, my father was asked, Well, would you like to try this, Sandy? And so he said, Well, sure. So, he got on it, and he went back and forth too, only he was standing on his head.

 

And holding onto the rope?

 

No rope; just standing on his head.

 

Wow.

 

I mean, he was a surfer, so that was no big deal. This thing is totally stable; he’s just standing on his head and go back and forth. Which excited the interest of a lot of the young women there, including my mother, who was an artist as well. So, they had that in common. And they got together, and eventually married, not after certain tests were administered, let’s say.

 

Was there opposition in the family to his marrying her?

 

I think that she was being squired around by a young man named Salton Stahl, which was a kind very prosperous Hartford, Connecticut family. And I think probably my gram and grandpa were a little astonished when she brought this Hawaiian guy back, who had no money at all. His father had lost all his money. That’s one reason why he perhaps didn’t go home. And they were really good people, but on the other hand, they were a little suspicious of this artist Hawaiian guy. Was he marrying her for money, or what. And so, they made a deal. My mother and her mother would go on the grand tour; they would take off for three months, they would travel throughout Europe, and if Ginny Low, Ginny Hart in those days, if she came back and still wanted to marry him, it was a done deal. But there was gonna be a cooling off period. And I still have all their letters in a little box, and I hope to do something with that someday. But all these wonderful letters going back and forth. And when they got back, Mom said, I want to marry him. They said, Okay. And he was accepted definitely into the family, and they realized what a good thing they’d done.

 

Her parents were true to their word.

 

Yes, they were.

 

You know, he must have felt kind of lost. I mean, he’s on the East Coast, and unhappy at school. Goes to visit his sister, she passes away.

 

Right.

 

No family, no money.

 

Right.

 

I wonder, did you ever know what he was thinking?

 

I don’t know. But there’s another story. I mean, people seemed to gravitate to him. I mean, I think the Hawaiian part of him was that outgoingness. You know, the looking at somebody and seeing the positive, seeing the aloha, welcoming that person into his embrace, both real and spiritual. And I think that stood him in good stead; it opened paths for him.

 

He probably would have been okay everywhere he went, then.

 

I think so. Yeah.

 

Wow. And he and your mom enjoyed a long, happy marriage?

 

Yes; right to the end. Yeah.

 

Sam Low’s father had been a waterman growing up in Hawaii. Living close to the Atlantic Ocean, he was able to share his love of the ocean with his son. Sam Low grew up with perhaps as much Hawaiian culture as was possible for a boy growing up in New England in the 1940s and 50s.

 

My Haole family, the Harts, were very family-oriented. The concept of ohana, which wouldn’t have been expressed that way, was very strong among them. And they lived in New Britain, Connecticut, which is the hardware capitol of the world, but they lived in a family neighborhood. When I grew up, all around me lived aunts, uncles, and cousins. So, it was quite a bit like you would grow up in Hawaii. And then, on Martha’s Vineyard, which is this tiny island off Cape Cod, my great-grandfather bought a farm, and then he subdivided it and gave lots to all of his children, and then, their kids moved in. So, I grew up as well in kind of an ohana neighborhood. And I still do; that’s where I live, and that’s what I love about it, we’re all family. And I think that for my father, when he discovered that family that had those tight connections, he started to feel really at home, started to put his roots down.

 

Did he keep in touch with family in Kohala?

 

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, in Kohala or on Oahu. In fact, in those days, Hawaiians were peregrinating everywhere. And people in his family, they would go to Stowe to ski; Stowe, Vermont.

 

So, it wasn’t as if he didn’t see people from his family.

 

No; they would come and visit. You know, probably once a year, as a young kid growing up, there would be this hoard of people coming in, all jabbering away and having a wonderful time. And then there would be hula, and there would be singing. So I was exposed to that as a kid. And I think that really helped my father as well, to have family come and visit once a year.

 

So, may I ask; just why didn’t he go back? He could have.

 

What he told me was that he left, he started a career, he started a marriage, he started a family. And time passed. So, when he started to think about going back maybe in the 40s and 50s, his father died in 1954, and he did want to go back and see him. By that time, what he told me was that Hawaii had changed so much, that he really wanted to keep his memories of the way it was when he left.

 

I see.

 

And then, Martha’s Vineyard was his saving; it saved him. Because he went there for the whole summer, and he would fish, and he would get opihi. And uh, you know, he became famous for getting these little periwinkles off the rocks and taking them and [SLURPS] eating them.

 

Did anybody else do that?

 

They did, eventually. And these Yankees started eating sashimi and raw fish, and periwinkles, and he had a major impact on their lives.

 

Did he do anything luau-related?

 

Yes.

 

Anything from home that way?

 

Yes; yes. Well, uh, he started a luau in this community on Martha’s Vineyard called Harthaven, actually, and my middle name is Hart. He married into the Hart family. He came up with the idea for a luau, but it became a clambake. Because that was what they were used to. And so, the clambake became an annual event that he presided over. And so, he brought this kind of sense of— and the way they had it, you know, Yankees would normally hire somebody to put on a clambake. No, no, no. Everybody’s gotta come, everybody’s gotta help with the fish, and everybody’s gotta help with the oysters and the clams. Everybody’s gotta build the pit, everybody has to clean up. And so, he created this kind of cement that brought everybody together. And I think that was his spirit as well.

 

And you shared his attraction for the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

So, you were a part-Hawaiian who grew up on an island, who loved the water, but it was not the Pacific Ocean.

 

No.

 

And you never lived in Hawaii as a kid.

 

No. No, but from very early on, actually, my father said, Well, Son, there’s only one way for you to learn how to swim. I gotta take you out on the boat and throw you overboard. My mother said, No, you’re not gonna do that, Sandy. And so, she took me to the beach and did the normal thing of, you know, letting me go out ‘til I touch, teaching me how to float, and all that sort of stuff. And I was given a rowboat when I was a kid, and I rowed up and down. We had a harbor there, and I rowed up and down the harbor, you know, hours. And then, one of my uncles had a little one and a half horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and so that went on the back of the rowboat, and I would go [IMITATES ENGINE].

 

[CHUCKLE] How old were you then?

 

I was probably eight.

 

Wow.

 

And eventually, a rule was passed that I could only do that between ten and noon.

 

Because you were so irritating?

 

Oh, god, these people were out there trying to, you know, have their cocktails at five. [IMITATES OUTBOARD MOTOR]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But eventually, I acquired larger boats, I got into scuba diving, did a lot of wreck diving. And I was in the water all the time. And that came from my father, really, just emulating him.

 

Sam Low made his first trip to Hawaii in 1964. It turned out to be a bittersweet trip, but opened the door to a part of himself that he had previously only known through his father.

 

The first time I came to Hawaii was as a Navy officer.

 

How old were you then?

 

Well, how old was I? I must have been twenty.

 

So, first time here when you’re twenty.

 

Yeah. And I was in ROTC. I wanted to serve my country, I wanted to be on a ship. If I’m gonna serve my country, I better be on a ship. And it was a wonderful experience. It was the beginning of the Vietnam War. I requested and got Pearl Harbor, ‘cause that was my chance to come see my country, really, my islands, my people. I was going to drive across country in a Volkswagen. And then, I was gonna have the Volkswagen shipped to Pearl Harbor. And so, before I left, I had my bags in the Volkswagen, and my father and I embraced. And he said, Son, I’m gonna go back to Hawaii. I’ve not gone back, I didn’t really want to, but you’re gonna be there and I do want to see my family, and so, I will see you there. And we embraced. He died that night. I was a day down the road, and I got the word on the phone.

 

Oh; wow, that’s so hard. How old was he?

 

He was young; he was fifty-nine. After he passed, the Navy gave me two months compassionate leave to come back, and we buried him. I told my mother that I could be reassigned to a base on the East Coast, and the Navy would do that. And she said, No, your path is set.

 

And it was, wasn’t it?

 

It was; yeah. She said, You’re on your way to your father’s land, and you should continue. She was wonderful about that. I shipped out immediately to Subic Bay, and then we were in the Gulf of Tonkin, and then the Vietnam War started, and I felt it was my duty to be there. So, when we first came back from a deployment about a year over there, I immediately volunteered to go back. And I did that. So, my experience, my first experience here in Hawaii as a naval officer, I was mostly in service at sea. But I did get to meet my family, Clorinda Lucas, who is my father’s sister. And I sensed in her this deep Hawaiian spirit. I don’t know if you knew her.

 

I didn’t know her; I grew up hearing about her.

 

Yeah.

 

And she’s passed away now, of course.

 

Yeah. Well, first off, she lived in Niu, and she lived on Halemaumau Street, at the head of a little entrance into the valley. So, there were all these little houses around, down below, and then you drove up this road. It went from uh, asphalt to dirt. And then, you got into this valley, and there was a pasture there with horses, and there were two or three houses. And that was her place. And so, it became almost rural. You went from Honolulu, you went to Niu, you went to this subdivision, and then, all of a sudden you were back in—you could be anywhere. You could be on the Big Island. And all around her lived her children. So, this was a real ohana compound, and I recognized the similarity there between how I grew up. But we didn’t have horses. And if you looked up the valley, here were these beautiful mountains. And Clorinda was the ohi nui; she was the matriarch, she was in charge. And everybody paid attention to her. She had a very benevolent, loving attitude, but when she said something was gonna happen, that’s the way it was. So, I’d not seen a matriarch before like, quite, and that was wonderful. And then, one of the things I experienced almost immediately is that particularly on Sundays, Saturdays and Sundays, there would be people coming and knocking the door. They weren’t announced, they didn’t know that they were gonna show up, but it was kind of like open house. And Hawaiians from all walks of life would come, some bearing gifts, some with problems, some with questions, some with something needed to be solved. And so, Clorinda had that kind of alii outreach. And that was new. So, I felt, I think, with her for the first time that sense of aloha, that sense of benevolence, that sense of taking care of other people. She was a famous social worker. Her daughter married Myron Pinky Thompson, who was equally caring of his people.

 

The husband was a social worker.

 

Yes.

 

Of Laura, the daughter of Clorinda.

 

Right; right. Clorinda’s daughter Laura married Pinky Thompson, Myron Pinky Thompson, and he was a wounded veteran. Went ashore in Normandy, was a scout, was hit by a sniper, sent back, went to school on the East Coast, Colby College due to fortuitous circumstance, and then returned to Hawaii and dedicated his life entirely to the Hawaiian people. He was a social worker from day one. He was the head of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust. He was an advisor to Governor Burns, very close with the Hawaiian delegation, and pretty much dedicated his life to helping Hawaiians understand their proud heritage. And that’s how he really got involved with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, as well.

 

He was a very humble man, too. I remember getting a tire blow out on Kalanianaole Highway, and guess who stopped to change my tire?

 

Pinky.

 

Yes.

 

Yeah.

 

Changed it, and left.

 

He would do that. Yeah. So, you know, having the chance to come to Hawaii and to be involved in that community, the Lucas family and the Thompson family, and Low, you know, it was an immersion course in kind of the spirit that you take care of each other.

 

Your aunt must have curious about you, too. Even though she’d visited your father, she must have been interested in getting to know you as an adult.

 

I had a terrible reputation. I was a spoiled brat when I grew up.

 

Were you, really?

 

Yeah; I’m afraid.

 

Were you obnoxious?

 

I’m afraid I probably was.

 

So, felt very entitled?

 

Yes. I was an only child, and so, the report came back. She saw me, but the report came back that, you know, Boy, Sandy and Ginny have this brat for a kid. And I think I had to overcome that when I got out there, and I can’t say whether I did or I didn’t, but I can say that Clorinda, you know, gave me this immense hug every day, either physically or just spiritually, and I felt her aloha envelope me immediately. And so, that that drew me into wanting to know more about, what’s this about, what’s this quarter of me that is different than my Yankee part.

 

How much had you wondered about that?

 

Probably when I was growing up in New England, not so much.

 

And could people tell you were part-Hawaiian?

 

Well, they knew I was different. I would freely, you know, offer that, because I thought it was cool. Growing up as a young man, you know, I’m six or seven, of course, I wanted to be a cowboy. And my grandfather was a cowboy, and so, I was very curious about that. My father would tell stories about going up into the valleys and bringing back a pig, and hunting.

 

And a grandfather named Rawhide Ben. I mean, how exciting is that?

 

Right; that was pretty amazing. I did want to come back, and I did want to see that. You know, I was very curious about it. But it was really only when I finally did come back, you know, kind of carrying my father’s spirit with me, that I recognized that I was really coming back for him and me. And that gave it a different dimension.

 

What a tumultuous entrance. I mean, to have your father pass away, and then you’re caught up in the events leading to the Vietnam War.

 

Yeah.

 

It must have been a tough time for you.

 

Yeah. It was. But as I say, having that kind of family, Clorinda and Pinky, and Laura, made it feel very secure, very warm.

 

Did Laura make her trademark beef stew for you?

 

Yes. Yes, she did. Now that you mention it, absolutely; yeah. Which was kind of uh, familiar.

 

You’ve described this lovely community where you lived, where you were surrounded by family. As we all know, family is a blessing, and occasionally it’s a curse. What’s it like living always with family that, you know, you can’t go home and be away at times.

 

I think it’s wonderful. It’s that bond that you can’t break, really. So, you will always have a disagreement or a flash of anger, or something. But if you live in an ohana, whether it be a Haole one or a Hawaiian one, you always know that you can come back and that the door will open, and that you can go through hooponopono and be back together again. And I love where I live on Martha’s Vineyard. I love that probably sixty, seventy percent of the people who live there are family, they’re cousins. And there’s kind of a circle, dirt circle, and if I set out to go for my walk, unless I tell people I’m walking and I gotta keep going, it can take me forty minutes to cover half a mile, because there are people to talk to.

 

It is a community.

 

It is a community; it really is a community. And I loved growing up in that. So, I’m very happy to have cousins all around, both here and in Harthaven.

 

Sam Low did not grow up in Hawaii, but his love of the sea and family have always connected him to his Hawaiian culture, and eventually, to Hokulea, the double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe that is guided only by the elements of nature. Mahalo to Sam Low from Martha’s Vineyard on the East Coast for sharing his family stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

In the 1995 voyage, we went from Tahiti to Hawaii, and I was on a Swan, which is a luxurious kind of racing yacht. And that was the hardest voyage I’ve ever been on, because it’s a mono hull, and as soon as you get out there, it goes, pfft, like that, you know. And so, you’re always working at thirty degrees. You’re always struggling. And then, pow!

 

That’s not luxury.

 

No. Nice when it’s anchored. And then, when I got to voyage on Hokulea, having that experience, I thought, Oh, god, this is gonna be tough, we’re going to be out in the open, and whatever. But Hokulea … it’s so graceful, and she doesn’t tilt. You know, she’s got two hulls. She goes out, the wind comes, she takes a set. And she goes. And those beautiful manu’s just cleave the ocean. And so, in the most difficult of weather, with all the sails down, you know, you just hunker down, and she’s just floating over it like a duck.

 

 

[END]

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Sam Low: Raising Islands

 

As a crewmember on the Hokulea, waterman Sam Low experienced the chicken skin moments when, as the canoe would approach a Pacific island, the island itself would appear to be raised out of the distant horizon as the canoe sailed closer. As a documentarian, author Sam Low heard the vision, fears and dreams of master navigator Nainoa Thompson and those involved with sailing the canoe.

 

Transcript

 

Nainoa has said that early on he’s been hindered by a fear of failure. Do you know how he resolved that? Because he certainly succeeded.

Courage. He resolved it by being courageous, I think. It was Nainoa’s job to be the first Hawaiian in perhaps a thousand years, after that devastating accident, devastating loss of Eddie Aikau, to take the canoe as navigator on the first voyage in a thousand years that a Hawaiian has navigated. So, naturally, he was fearful. He was fearful for his own ability, but he was fearful for his people. Because if he failed, that would have been, Oh, Hawaiians, yeah. I have the feeling that his father helped him understand that there’s a deeper mission. That everything is based on helping your community, helping your people, and that your fear or your immediate reluctance is nowhere near as important as pushing through it to get that mission accomplished.

In researching his book, Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low spent hours interviewing his cousin, Nainoa Thompson, talking to him about the double-hulled canoe Hokulea, and what drove his dream to voyage in the wake of his ancestors. Sam Low, next on Long Story Short.

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Sam Low was born and raised in Connecticut. His Hawaiian father left the Big Island to attend prep school on the Continent, where he got married, never to return home again. Their son Sam inherited his father’s love of the ocean and of boats, and grew up spending summers at the beach on Martha’s Vineyard, where he still lives at the time of our conversation in 2014. Sam Low made his first trip to Hawaii as a young naval officer, and has been coming here ever since, connecting with his family that includes Nainoa Thompson. Sam’s background as a documentary filmmaker, his ocean skills, and his family connections eventually led him to become a crewmember on Hokulea, where his role on the voyaging canoe was that of the documentarian. His job was to observe, and through that, he got to experience what life is like sailing on a canoe in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles away from land.

My role on Hokulea has always been as a writer, as a documenter. Usually, on Hokulea, you’re a crewmember, and so that’s basic. You know, you stand your watch, and you do all that. But you have another role as well, which is, you could be a cook, you could be a watch captain, you could be a carpenter, or you could whatever. And my role was as documenter. And so, that fit, you know, what I had been doing for so many years prior to that, going out and documenting, either filming or writing about, or doing a thesis at Harvard about a way of life that I wanted to bring back and I wanted to give you, wanted you to have this gift. I have seen this, I have been there. And now, I want you to have it. And that was a perfect blend of what the job was. As a documenter, the kuleana, or actually as any crewmember, the kuleana on Hokulea.

Isn’t it interesting that all your interests sometimes come together and inform each other into one wonderful culmination?

Yeah. I probably never would have gotten on the canoe if it hadn’t have been that I did have this skill of being able to write. And of course, it didn’t hurt that Nainoa was my cousin, and I had a relationship with him. I was invited on the voyage to Rapa Nui. And that was actually my first trip on the canoe. The voyage to Rapa Nui was supposed to be the hardest voyage, because the prevailing winds are against you. And so, Nainoa had predicted that it would have to be tacking into the wind. So, this would be a zig-zag all the way. So, what was maybe, I think about seventeen hundred miles could easily become three thousand miles, if you had to tack. So, he chose a veteran crew. He had on board those folks like Tava Taupu, and Michael Tongg, and Snake Ah Hee, and Bruce Blankenfeld, and you know, Kalepa Baybayan. The best of the best. They set off. Now, I should say that this was the first voyage that I was actually invited to go on. But Nainoa wasn’t quite sure about me. I had made one voyage on the escort boat, and that went fine. So, he just wasn’t sure, and he put me on the escort boat and he said, You’re gonna be on the escort boat for four or five days, we’re gonna see how it goes, and if everything’s going okay on the canoe, then we’ll bring you over.

Why was Nainoa unsure about whether to have you on the Hokulea? ‘Cause you’re a waterman, you’ve been around water all your life in different kinds of craft.

Right; but you have to remember that on that voyage, there were the tested men, they were the best of the best. These men had probably voyaged thirty thousand, forty thousand miles. Not only that, they’re surfers, and they’re athletes.

And did Nainoa figure you could document it just as well from the escort boat?

I think he knew I couldn’t do that. But I think he wanted to just be sure. I think he wanted to go out and to see, and if it was a slog, and it was what he expected it to be, the most severe test of endurance, then maybe I would have stayed on the escort boat. But it didn’t turn out that way; it turned out to be easier. And so, I think that’s why he invited me.

So, it had to do with physical conditions?

Physical training.

Not fit?

Not fit. Not like those guys. No; uh-uh. Those guys, well, look at them. I mean, look at Tava. You know, look at Snake. All of those guys are watermen, all the time. You have to remember, New England, it’s the winter, so I get to swim four or five months out of the year. I was not in the kind of shape that those guys were, so I think that’s what his reservation might have been. So, I think on the fifth day, we got word that they wanted me to go over. And I’m like, Yes! And it was one of those rainy, kind of drizzly days, not a lot of wind, and I was rowed over by one of the crew on the escort boat. And Hokulea is up here, and I kind of crawled in. You crawl over the hulls, and then you crawl up over this canvas kind of space shield. And I remember crawling out and looking up, and there was Mike Tongg. His appearance is like this gentle, loving Buddha, you know. He has that kind of loving appearance. And the rain was just dripping down off his face, like this. And he was looking down at me with this beneficent smile. He didn’t say a word; just … Welcome, good to see you. And so, I just immediately felt at home with Mike’s blessing. He’s such a veteran on that canoe. But Nainoa had felt that we had to be prepared for the slog of wind. But as it turned out, fortuitously, at that time of year, down in the roaring forties … I hope I’m right, but I think that we were probably up around twenty degrees south. And down around forty degrees south, there were a number of low pressure areas that were spinning storms up toward us, spinning wind up toward us. And so, they broke the trade winds, and they created following winds. So that Nainoa seeing that, set off basically in a storm, and sailed along with the wind coming from behind, spun up by these storms down in the roaring forties, until that storm went through, and then we were kind of the calm. And then the trades would fill in again, and we’d do a little tacking, and then another storm would come along. And we made the trip so much faster than what was predicted, that we got there a week before our welcoming party.

Nice when storms are your friends.

Yeah; yeah. So, it turned out to be a lot easier in terms of the crew, and in terms of the endurance than we thought it was gonna be. More difficult from the navigation point of view, because often you would have cloudy skies. In fact, on that voyage to Rapa Nui, two or three days before Nainoa found the island, we started to have cloudy skies, and he had no real sight of his guiding star. He was steering pretty much by swells, and he was navigating by dead reckoning. So for three days, he was navigating by instinct, trained instinct. And on the day that we sighted Rapa Nui, the winds shifted. He was going to do a zig, and instead of doing a zig, the wind shifted and kind of pushed us in the direction that he thought we wanted to go. And he said, We’ll follow the wind; we’ll just stay, we’ll follow the wind. Hokulea knows where she wants to go.

Now, when you can’t navigate by stars, does he sleep at all? I mean, because he’s always watching current conditions.

Yeah; he is. Well, when you’re not navigating by the stars, you’re navigating pretty much by the swells and the wind. Of course, the wind was gyrating around and changing, so he was using the swells to navigate. Normally, if he’s alone on a voyage, then he will sleep in catnaps. He’ll sleep for maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes, and then jump up and be awake for, say, eight hours, and then lie down for twenty or thirty minutes, and jump up. And he’ll do this for thirty days at a time. One of his great fears on that first voyage in 1980 was he wouldn’t be able to stay awake. That’s Mau’s secret, not mine; I can’t do that. But it was one of those first, as he calls them, the doors of perception had opened. One of those first doors that opened was that when they set sail out of Hilo and started on the voyage, after about fourteen hours, he decided he was really tired, he was gonna take a little nap. And he lay down, and he lay down for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and he jumped up and he was refreshed. And he said that was the first kind of sense that there is something in navigation, there is something in accepting the challenge and the risk that comes from another level, and that he was able to that, on that first voyage. And that’s what he normally does. On this voyage, the Rapa Nui voyage, he had Kalepa Baybayan on board, he had Bruce Blankenfeld on board; he had trained navigators with him. So, he could sleep.

If you don’t have enough sleep for enough time, I mean, I would think your judgment becomes impaired. So, I guess you have to have a limited goal in terms of time? How do you do that?

He does it for a month at a time.

Amazing.

I have no idea; I couldn’t do it.

So, maybe because you have a goal and you’re trained, and you’re generally in good shape, you can manage your mind and your brain cells for that amount of time.

Yeah; it’s a mystery to me, how he can do it. You know, it’s always chicken skin if you’re crew, and/or a documenter particularly, my job being to watch everybody, and to record. But you know, I’ve watched Nainoa pretty intently, and it’s always that moment when he says, Post lookouts, land is near. And then, I would get to go ask him, Well, what’s going on? He’d say, Well, I think Rapa Nui is there. And he put Max Yarawamai, who is Carolinian, who has great eyesight, he put him on watch. And about five hours later, there it was, Rapa Nui. And it was pretty much where he said it was. And Rapa Nui is tiny. And so, he found this island after seventeen hundred miles.

After sailing to Rapa Nui, Hokulea navigator Nainoa Thompson invited Sam Low aboard the canoe for the trip home. This second experience gave Sam even more insights into how Nainoa used nature and his intuition based on experience to guide him to exactly where he wanted to go.

The second voyage I got to make was from Tahiti to Hawaii. And we’d been at sea for, I think, about twenty-four, twenty-five days. Had lots of storm on that particular voyage, lots of squalls. I’m going to say it was the twenty-fifth day, I forget exactly, Nainoa turned the canoe downwind. We’d been headed into the wind all the time to get to the east of the Hawaiian Islands, and he turned downwind. So, we knew something was up. And steering downwind on Hokulea, the sails are on either side, wing-on-wing, ‘cause the wind is directly from behind. And we were steering that way for a while. We couldn’t see anything; there was this gentle mist wafting over the canoe. You could feel the sun, but you couldn’t see it. Visibility ahead was maybe oh, I don’t know, half a mile.

And during this time, do you say, Hey, Nainoa, what’s going on? Or do people not talk about what’s up?

Well, I got to be bratty, because I was the documenter. So, I didn’t say anything for a while, but we went wing-on-wing, and then the wind changed slightly, and so one of the sails came over. So, now, we’re sailing like this. We felt that. And around six o’clock, I saw Nainoa was just back there on the navigator’s platform, just peering intently ahead. Again, this mist was coming over. We couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t see anything. So, being a documenter, I get to go back and say, you know, What’s going on? He said, Well, Hilo is right there. After twenty-five hundred miles, twenty-five days, Hilo is right there? So, I said, How do you know? And he said, Well, do you remember when the sail, when we couldn’t sail wing-on-wing? Well, that’s because we got into that place where the winds are coming and being broken by Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and churning around the island. And so, that wind shift, that gentle wind shift told me that we’ve gotten into that zone where the winds are breaking. You know, these mountains are fourteen thousand feet high. And he said, Look ahead, you see that mist seems to stall, it seems to slow down. So, I looked. Yeah; okay. Keep going. I know I couldn’t see it. And he said, If you look—the sun was starting to go down. If you look on either side, you can see it’s kind of dark ahead of us, and it’s a little bit lighter there.

You couldn’t see it?

I couldn’t see it. And so, I wrote it all dutifully down. And then we sailed on for a while, and then he tacked. And I said, Well, why’d you tack? He said, We’re on the Hamakua Coast, and I don’t want to get too close. Of course, none of us can see this. This is after twenty-five days. I don’t want to get too close, and Hilo is right over there. And so, I said, Okay; write it down. And then, we all felt it. And we all went over to the rail, and the whole crew is standing there looking, and Nainoa said Hilo is there, and they know Hamakua must be there. And we waited for about fifteen minutes, and then fortuitously, that low cloud layer lifted; just lifted. And there it was, the twinkle of the coast, Hilo over here, the lighthouse. And at that moment, Nainoa just said, We’re home.

Wow.

After twenty-five days. So, that’s the chicken skin, that when you’re navigating with someone like Nainoa or Kalepa Baybayan, or Bruce Blankenfeld, or Chad Paishon, or Shorty Bertelmann, any of these great navigators who have dedicated their life to merging with the signs of the sea, and you have the privilege to be on a canoe after that much time, and to see land is there, exactly where they say it is.

What happens over the twenty-five days, say, of a voyage? Is there a lot of talk? Is there a lot of laughter? What do people do, day-by-day?

I think it depends a lot on the crew and on the chemistry of the crew. And I think it’s all of that. But if I think back on it, I think more of a kind of … quietness, actually. I don’t think so much of laughter; there’s that. I don’t think so much of talk; there’s that. I don’t think so much of music, although there’s that. I think of the quietness of being at sea, and the feeling of being out in an immense ocean, completely alone, and you don’t see another ship, you don’t see another person, you don’t see land, and you get into kind of a rhythm of watch-standing, of being alert, and being relaxed, and being alert, and being relaxed, of the stars turning, and the moon and the sun. And there’s a blending with that diurnal rhythm so that it’s a meditation you get into. I think it’s a mediational state. I think it’s a very relaxed state. I think that even in storm aboard a vessel like Hokulea, which is so staunch and so seaworthy, and so sea kindly, that you’re not afraid. You know that if you do everything right, if you follow the instructions of your captain, if you bring the sails down, if you stand your watch properly, you’ll be fine. So that’s not it. It’s not anxiety, it’s not fear; it’s contemplation, it’s meditation. And actually, I think for most of us, say after five or six days, you’re just in the rhythm, and then when the canoe turns down and the navigator says, We’re there, we’re almost sort of like saying, Well, that’s good, we can have a hamburger, we can have a beer, but you know, why don’t we just keep going. ‘Cause you’re in this world. You’re with your crew, you’re with the weather, you’re with the canoe, you’re in this meditational almost Buddhist, Hawaiian meditational state, and you don’t want it to stop.

Sam Low started working on a book about Hokulea after he returned home from the Rapa Nui voyage in the year 2000. At first, he didn’t know what would be in the book, but it finally came together, and Hawaiki Rising was published in 2013. It tells the story of Hokulea, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance.

There was a period of time, and I think it was uh, 2010. See, I’d been working on this book for ten years. I mean, I didn’t really know that I’d been working on it for ten years. I was just recording, and I was writing articles. The first idea for a book would be a picture book, and then I went off and did my grandpa’s book. And I got partway there, and then I came back onto this. But there was a time, I think it was 2010, when I did have a chance to interview Nainoa very extensively. I was living in the family compound, and the guest house is, you know, a hundred yards from his house. And I would sit and wait, and every time he came out, I’d say, Hey, Nainoa, how you doing? You know, and he’d say, Not today, Sam, not today. Okay, okay. And then, How you doing? Yeah; okay, come. And so, we’d sit and spend two or three hours with a tape recorder, and I think the exchange did help him bring together all his experiences. Well, it was certainly great for me, because I was able to get this raw material for Hawaiki Rising. But I think it also helped him bring together his own experiences and correlate that, and put it together into kind of a set of values and a philosophy. It’s his philosophy, but I think in being able to exchange with another person who he was fairly intimate with, that it did help him in that. And at that time, about three years ago, the concept of moolelo became very important. And he expressed that; he said, You know, we stand on the shoulders of heroes, and it’s very important that as we move forward around the world, that we look back, and that we celebrate and bring with us the spirit of those people who made all of this possible, and the lessons that we learned from them, from his father Myron Pinky Thompson, from Mau Piailug, from Wally Froiseth, from Ben Finney, from Herb Kane, from all of those who had built the canoe, who had the vision of the canoe, who had sailed the canoe, and that evolving vision, that gift that they gave to all of us who’ve sailed on the canoe. He wanted that to be celebrated, and part of that was the book, Hawaiki Rising. It is a celebration of those heroes whose shoulders we stand on today. He expresses in Hawaiki Rising very clearly how fearful he was of that time of his first voyage. You have to understand that everything depended on it, that the canoe had capsized, that they had lost Eddie Aikau, and that Hawaiians were on the cusp of being able to, through voyaging, and all the other arts as well, not just voyaging, but Hokulea was the symbol of the Renaissance. Through voyaging, to recapture this great pride of ancestry. And the canoe had capsized. There was a great deal of anxiety, which he expresses in the book. And he pushed through, and he discovered deeper reserves, I think, of courage and of a sense of connection to his ancestors that allowed him to enter a world of understanding and of comprehension that was deep and that was powerful.

You went back and talked to a number of the people we associate with Hokulea over the years. What did some of those conversations yield in terms of insight about the voyages?

Well, they were key. The book is made up of what I like to think of as a chorus of voices. See, I’m not in it. It’s not my story. I’m the person that’s behind the camera, if you like, or that’s writing the story, singing the song, I hope. And I had this opportunity to interview dozens and dozens of crewmembers, and I wanted the book to be a chorus of voices. I wanted it to be told in the voices of the people that experienced it, not an impersonal narrator, a personal narrator. And I didn’t know that that would work. It’s like an oral history. And I’ve been very interested in oral histories, something told directly, authentically from the person who experienced it. So, the opportunity—and of course, I was very kind of shy and bashful. I mean, Tava Taupu, and Snake Ah Hee, and Herb Kane, and Nainoa and Pinky, and Marion Lyman-Merserau, and Dave Lyman. I mean, these are heroic figures to me. So, to have the honor that they would sit down and talk with me was terrific. And I didn’t want that to end. You know, so writing the book, you have to eventually do that; right? But the great pleasure was to have those moments, those intimate moments with people on whose shoulders we all stand on, and to have them tell me their story. That in itself, was the process, is sometimes more important than the product.

Through the eyes and ears of Sam Low, we all get to experience what it’s like to sail aboard Hokulea as she makes her way across vast oceans, guided by the stars and other natural elements, to faraway destinations. Mahalo to Sam Low for sharing his stories with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

Pinky evolved a philosophy that came out of voyaging. He said, You first have to have a vision, and you have to have a vision of an island over the horizon. And once you have that vision, then you have to formulate a plan to raise that island from the sea, Hawaiki rising. And then, you need to have discipline to train, to achieve that plan. And then, you need to have the courage to cast off the lines, and then you need to have the aloha to bind your crew together to find the island. So, those are values that were inherent in Pinky’s view in voyaging, and also in the world, and also all cultures of the world. So, he brought this philosophy from the past, brought it to the present, and made it a possible future. And Hokulea is voyaging around the world with that philosophy in mind.

 

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