October 10, 1999 – Landfall Rapa Nui

October 10, 1999 – Landfall Rapa Nui

By Sam Low

Sam Low Photo – Max Yarawamai points to Rapa Nui, Aaron Young is not fully awake…

“Garlic Eggs for Breakfast!” Says Terry Hee, carrying the last two dozen eggs past a group of smiling crew members lining the rail. Terry had planned to ration the eggs for another day at least, but now there is no reason. We have seen land–and the land is definitely Rapa Nui!

Yesterday at sunrise we set our course SSE, beginning the first real leg of our zigzag search pattern. Nainoa intended to tack back N at sunset but the wind curved NE making that impossible. So instead of tacking, he decided to follow the wind around and steer ESE. This was a risky strategy. Although the Navigator’s dead reckoning placed us well W of Rapa Nui, what if they were wrong and we were S of it or even to the E? We would sail by the island in the night.

To make matters worse, we had not seen the stars for two nights and our latitude was therefore based on dead reckoning from star sights that were 48 hours old. And without either sun or stars to steer by, the navigators had been relying on an unexpected blessing–a steady swell from the SW. But had the swell changed direction?

“This wind is a gift to us to go E,” Nainoa explained to us last night. “So I say let’s go. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. If our dead reckoning is good, and I think it is, we should take the chance.”

Last night and on into the morning the winds continued to blow strong from the NE and Hokule`a responded by speeding ESE–6 to 7 knots at times–slicing through the waves, producing long tendrils of spray from her bow.

Near dawn, Max Yarawamai spotted two holes in the clouds ahead low on the horizon. Born and raised on the low Micronesian atoll of Ulipi, Max’s ability to see islands at great distance is almost legend aboard Hokule`a.

“I looked carefully at the two holes on the horizon,” Max explained later, “Checking first the one on the starboard side. I saw nothing there so I switched to the puka on the port. I saw a hard flat surface there and I watched it carefully. Was it an island? The shape didn’t change! It was an island alright. We had found the dot on the ocean.”

“I didn’t expect to see the island this soon,” Nainoa told us later. “But we knew it was near. We were following the wind around–steering more E as time went by–and the wind drew us to the island. That’s a fact–you make of it what you want. In the end all we did was follow the wind, Hokule`a found the land.”

Hokule`a is now tacking toward Rapa Nui which is about 25 miles away, but upwind, so it is uncertain whether she will make landfall late this afternoon or early tomorrow morning.