Courage to Leave the Dock


A new generation of Hawaiian leaders are rising to the challenges facing our islands and our planet. E Hoʻokanaka features these important new voices.

Photo: Kaʻiulani Murphy
Photo: Polynesian Voyaging Society and ʻŌiwi TV

Ka Wai Ola recently caught up with Hōkūleʻa navigator Kaʻiulani Murphy. Originally from Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island, Murphy recalls being “fascinated” the first time she saw Hōkūleʻa on a school field trip. As a student at UH Mānoa in 1997 she enrolled in a voyaging class and when she had the opportunity to sail she was hooked. Murphy has been involved with the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) ever since; her first voyage was in 2000. Today she works as a PVS Education Specialist and as an Instructor at Honolulu Community College where she teaches Voyaging as part of the Hawaiian Studies program.

Mālama Honua

“Caring for island earth was Mālama Honua’s mission. It was about meeting new people and reconnecting with others. The canoes have been amazing platforms for learning and for sharing aloha. I was on several legs of the voyage, including the first and final legs. In 2014, I sailed from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti, and then from American Samoa to Tonga to Aotearoa. I caught up with them in 2016 on America’s East Coast and sailed from Massachusettes to Maine. Then I rejoined Hōkūleʻa in Tahiti and got to sail her home to Hawaiʻi. A nice little circle.”

Life Lessons

“When Nainoa (Thompson) asked me to navigate the final leg home from Tahiti I was stressed out. I wasn’t confident that I knew enough. I was kind of stuck in this place where I never felt ready to leave the dock. To feel confident to just say, “okay untie the lines” and then go.

“Fortunately, Bruce Blankenfeld was on that leg and said, “you know what you know already. You need to have fun. It’s hard work, but enjoy it too.” So when we left I was able to relax a little and enjoy the experience knowing that it would be a learning process.

I feel really lucky that in the 20+ years that I’ve been involved with PVS I’ve been able to sail with a number of different teachers. I’ve also been lucky to have wahine role models like Aunty Penny Martin who crewed on Hōkūleʻa’s first voyage. Aunty Penny has always been a part of Hōkūleʻa. She’s such a huge force in ʻohana waʻa – just larger than life; a super strong woman. When she reminds us of that first voyage she says, “it was an all male crew plus two.” We (women) really have come a long way.”

Next Steps

“Hōkūleʻa has made such a huge contribution to our people, from the very first voyage. She brought back our pride and dignity and reminded us who we are and who we come from. We are in this place of re-learning all of this ʻike kūpuna. I feel like the upcoming generations are going to be so much smarter and better at things than us. So I really feel like the next big thing is that we as kānaka, as ʻōiwi, are going to need to be able to control what happens in our place; on our ʻāina.”