May Day on May 1 is an ancient northern hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. In Hawai’i, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and it is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and the culture of the Native Hawaiians in particular.
But we are not here to talk about the number of leis that will be passed out this Sunday. May 1st is also a significant date in Hawai’i because it marks the revival of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture and a renaissance of voyaging, canoe building, and non-instrument navigation.
On May 1, 1976, Hokule‘a left from Honolua Bay, Maui; set on a course towards Tahiti.
The crossing from Hawai’i to Tahiti presented two main challenges, one in sailing, the other in navigation. The longitude of the Hawaiian island of Maui, our starting point, lies some 500 miles west of the longitude of Tahiti. Since the trade winds along the route generally blow from the northeast above the equator, and from the southeast below it, in order to reach Tahiti, Hokule’a had to sail well enough to windward to make up the 500 miles of longitude and while also fighting the westward moving current that typically accompanies the trades. Our strategy to accomplish this was to sail as hard into the wind as the canoe would point without losing too much speed in order to gain maximum easting in the northeast trades, and then to hold on to as much of that easting as possible when, below the equator, the winds shift to the southeast and would start pushing us to the southwest.
“At the arrival into Pape’ete Harbor, over half the island was there, more than 17,000 people. The canoe came in and touched the beach. There was an immediate response of excitement by everybody, including the children.” – Nainoa Thompon
Hokule‘a approaches Oahu and home after its 4,800-mile historic trip to Tahiti and back. Star-Bulletin Archives
So, there you have it ohana. May 1st isn’t only to be remembered as the day we show off the aloha spirit, it is also to be remembered as the day Hawaiians took the step we needed to embrace our relationship and history with the stars, sun & moon.