“Eddie was never seen again after he paddled away from us that morning. It was a terrible tragedy. Everybody liked Eddie. He was well known, not just in Hawaii, but internationally, because of his surfing abilities. But he never lost his lifeguard instincts, from all those years of being a lifeguard at Waimea. He wanted to get help for us before the canoe was lost. As it was, we were in the water for 22 hours. Eventually Hokule’a was spotted by a passing Hawaiian Airlines pilot and coast guard helicopters picked us up that night. When the coast guard showed up we told them about Eddie and they launched an intense search for him. Some of the crew stayed with the Hokule’a until it could be towed back. It was salvaged and repaired and made many more trips for thousands of miles through Polynesia and Micronesia.”
I happened to be in San Francisco in 1995 as part of a large welcoming crowd when Hokule’a sailed down from Seattle and passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a very moving experience. By then, Hokule’a had sailed the equivalent of halfway around the world on its numerous trips to Polynesia.
On several trips to Catalina Island in Dreams I charted the predominant swell that comes from the west and how it is modified by reflection, refraction, and diffraction around the island. From numerous trips I was aware of the swell but previously never paid attention to the subtler aspects of how the boat moved under its influence. Hearing about Hokule’a and Piailug, and listening to Lyman-Mersereau, kindled my interest. On the next trip I made to Avalon, Catalina Island, I closed the compass binnacle and tried to steer by keeping the swell at 45 degrees on my starboard bow. (The heading for Avalon from Newport is 225 degrees magnetic, so for a west swell I needed to subtract 45 degrees.) The island was obscured by early morning overcast skies. When it finally cleared a few hours later, I could see I was on course.
Coming back was a different story. By then a south swell had set in and we had confused seas. As I looked astern, it seemed the waves came first from one direction and then another, and sometimes I could not determine from what direction they were coming! I could see that it would take considerable practice, along with the ability to sense the predominant swell, to become proficient at this method, especially over much longer distances. I have great respect for the Polynesian navigators thanks to my amateur experiments.