Photo: ‘Ōiwi TV/Sam Kapoi, Courtesy of Polynesian Voyaging Society

From 2014 to 2017, a double-hulled canoe, built in the tradition of Polynesian voyaging, circumnavigated the globe, successfully returning to its home port in Hawaii in a historic achievement—all in the name of saving the planet.

By Lauren Phillips

In 2014, two double-hulled canoes set sail from Hawaii for an epic (and ambitious) journey around the world. The crews of the watercraft used traditional Polynesian navigation methods known as wayfinding—looking to the stars, the sun, the winds, birds, and other natural phenomena—to guide the ships around the globe, returning to Oahu in June 2017 after more than three years of voyaging across a combined 60,000 nautical miles between the two vessels.

Why attempt such a journey, in which crew members faced such dangers as rogue waves, pirates, hurricanes, and the other risks of open ocean on boats smaller than 80 feet long and 25 feet wide? For the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which coordinated the endeavor, the benefits of the worldwide voyage far outweighed the risks.

Related: Learn what it was like to be a crewmember on the Worldwide Voyage

The Hawaiian name for the worldwide voyage, Mālama Honua, means “to care for our Earth,” a message of ecological conservation the Society and its representative crew members sought to share with the more than 100,000 people they encountered in more than 150 ports across 23 countries and territories during the voyage. The voyage helped to draw attention to the plight of coastal communities affected by a rapidly changing climate and to the impact human actions are having on the oceans. Mālama Honua also helped to reignite interest in wayfinding, which had practically disappeared from the planet, and Polynesian culture across the region and beyond.

Watch: A Perfect Weekend in Oahu, Hawaii

The mission also went beyond these tangible goals, though, according to Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson, a Coastal Living Ocean Hero.

“The mission was to build community,” Thompson says. “We believe in diversity, we believe it’s important that many get exposure to the Earth. It wasn’t just a physical voyage. It was a voyage in building a larger culture of people that’s not based on race, that’s not based on the color of your skin. That’s based on values.”

Related: Meet 13 Ocean Heroes Fighting to Save Our Seas

The circumnavigation, which demanded six years of careful planning and strenuous training, was completed with the help of 245 participating crew members, including more than 200 formal and informal educators prepared to fulfill the voyage’s missions. These crewmembers manned the two double-hulled canoes—Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia—in teams of 12 to 13 and 14 to 16, respectively. Hōkūle‘a, first launched in 1975, is the older of the pair and was refurbished in advance of the voyage; this vessel circumnavigated the globe. Hikianalia is younger, with sustainable solar and wind energy systems that merge ecological technology with the voyaging tradition. She had her own path for part of the Worldwide Voyage, but began and ended it with Hōkūle‘a.

Read more about the planning and motivations behind the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage.

The worldwide voyage continues as Hōkūle‘a and its crew visit community ports around the state of Hawaii, where it all began. The Mahalo, Hawai‘i, sail celebrates both Hōkūle‘a’s historic circumnavigation and the efforts of the communities of Hawaii who supported and furthered the voyage’s mission.

Visit the Polynesian Voyaging Society's website at hokulea.com to learn more about the worldwide voyage, the society's efforts to preserve the art of wayfinding, how you might be able to catch a peek of these epic double-hulled canoes, and more.