Over the summer, Lucy Lee ’23 was one of five student navigators invited on a training expedition of Hokulea and sister voyaging canoe Hikianalia to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
One of their big challenges: use traditional Polynesian navigation techniques to find Nihoa island.
How tough is that? Lee said Polynesian Voyaging Society President and Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson has compared the task of navigating to Nihoa—with an area of just over a third of a mile—to departing from Hawaii Island’s south shore and finding something about half the size of Diamond Head.
So … pretty tough.
On the day they were set to arrive at Nihoa, Lee had the midnight to 6 a.m. navigation run.
“I was really nervous because we wanted to be at a certain place at sunrise,” the Chaminade Environmental Studies major said. Once Lee conducted some calculations as day broke, she and the other student navigators concluded they were close to where they wanted to be.
They woke Thompson up to share the news and he didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to.
“He smiled. We were about a degree and a half off (course)—about as close as you can get without using modern tools,” said Lee, adding that her first deep sea navigation on Hokulea was an awe-inspiring experience. “Papahanaumokuakea is not a place people typically get access to. It’s super special. I think going anywhere by canoe is awesome, and pulling Nihoa out of the water was definitely the highlight.”
While the Papahanaumokuakea voyage was a major milestone for Lee, it’s also only a start. She is training to navigate during Hokulea’s next major voyage: a 41,000-mile trek to circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean, stopping at 46 countries, 345 ports and 100 indigenous territories.
The launch date is tentatively set for summer 2022.
The Pacific Voyaging Society has called the massive expedition, coming on the heels of Hokulea’s worldwide Malama Honua voyage, an opportunity to focus on the vital importance of oceans while developing young crew members, navigators and leaders. Lee said she’s honored to be training as a student navigator, “learning and watching and being taught what it takes to be on the crew.”
“It’s learning how to change lines, how to change knots. But it’s also learning what it means to be a helpful and active crew member,” added Lee, who had only navigated on inter-island and coastal sails before the 10-day voyage to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. “I feel very fortunate to be … learning the skill and the art of traditional Polynesian navigation.”
And she’s balancing all that learning on the water with her studies at Chaminade.
“School is really important for me,” said Lee, who graduated from Kamehameha Schools and is interested in going into environmental law. She said she chose Chaminade because she wanted to stay in Hawaii and was interested in a university with an individualized approach to instruction.
Lee said she applied and got into several colleges on the mainland but knew they weren’t a right fit. “You know in all those cliché college movies where they walk into the lecture room and there’s like 200 people?” Lee asked, laughing. “I was like, that’s not for me. I like how Chaminade is small.”
Lee was also interested in an option that wouldn’t break the bank.
At Chaminade, she is receiving the Regents Scholarship (a merit scholarship), which covers about half of her tuition.
And, Lee said, she was looking for an environment-focused program that incorporated policy and advocacy. The Environmental Studies program at Chaminade was perfect. Lee said her ultimate goal is to offer legal expertise and representation to sustenance fishing and farming communities in Hawaii.
“They are ingenious, but they struggle in literacy when it comes to law and defending themselves in justice systems,” she said, pointing to decades-long legal challenges over water rights for small farmers on Maui. Lee added, “I started hearing about that case when I was in elementary school.”
But before heading to law school (and after graduating from Chaminade), she’ll be taking a break.
Because around that time, she plans to be sailing on Hokulea—on its pan-Pacific voyage.