other crew members. Under Piailug’s guidance, the 3,000-nautical-mile trip was accomplished without instruments. The voyage was significant because it established beyond question that the Polynesians, using the ancient methods of navigation, were able to explore and eventually settle vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean.7

After Hokule’a returned to Hawaii, there was strong interest in further explorations, and in 1978 Hokule’a set sail again. However, the vessel encountered rough weather almost immediately, and before leaving Hawaiian waters, a tragedy occurred. Through my brother, Ken Smith, a well-known water polo coach and educator in Hawaii, I was introduced to Marion Lyman-Mersereau, who told me about her experiences on Hokule’a.

Marion: “We left near sundown on March 16, 1978, from Oahu. Our captain wanted to delay the departure because of the weather—heavy wind and seas—but was overruled. Hokule’a had rough seas crossing the Kaiwi Channel and by midnight was past Penguin Bank, somewhere off of Molokai, between Oahu and Lanai, on a southeast heading. Winds were gale force (35 to 40 knots) out of the northeast, impacting the port side of Hokule’a. Swells were running 6 to 8 feet. We became aware that the starboard hull was taking on water and Hokule’a was riding low on the starboard side. The captain rousted everyone to sit on the port hull to help balance the canoe. We also came off the wind so the crew could shorten sail. Before we could get the sail down we were hit by gusts of wind and a large wave and Hokule’a capsized. Besides me, the crew included our navigator, Nainoa Thompson, Eddie Aikau, and 13 others. I was the only woman. When we capsized, we scrambled back to hang on the upside-down hulls, consoling ourselves by saying that as soon as it became light someone would surely see us.

“By the next day we were drifting farther away from the islands—both Molokai and Lanai could be seen in the distance—but no rescuers appeared. Several of the crew—including me—were sick and everyone was wet and tired. Later that morning Eddie volunteered to go for help on a surfboard. The officers gave their approval, as with his reputation and skill it seemed like our best hope at the time. He was asked to take a lifejacket; but later this came floating back, so no one knows if he ditched it intentionally or it was lost when something happened to him.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement