Crew Blog | Nā’ālehu Anthony: Going Digital in the Analog Age | Pacific Voyagers

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Crew Blog | Nā’ālehu Anthony: Going Digital in the Analog Age

In the black of night, when we’re steering by the stars and counting the miles with bubbles racing by our speeding canoe, we are reminded how truly analog voyaging was for centuries. What we call “art” now, a bundle of sennit hanging on the wall or a woven piece of sail weaved to perfection, were all integral parts of a canoe. Ancient societies possessed all the technology necessary to create a vessel that could sail purposefully to other islands. Today, one could argue that our society is not as resourceful. The great trees are gone, along with many of the tradesmen and tradeswomen who knew how to build a canoe. Only a few who cling to the craft remain. So we sail on a hybrid vessel, a performance accurate replica of what most likely once was. She sails the same speed and points the same way her predecessors would have done more than 600 years ago. By the time PVS founders built their canoe in the 1970s, they had to use some modern materials to make it all go – fiberglass, Dacron, and a little plywood to fill the gaps of missing knowledge.  But the intent is still very much the same: using only the clues and observational tools that the ancients had, we raise islands from the sea thousands of miles from where we started.

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One thing that has stayed analog (until very recently) has been our communications structure.  In the old days, (circa 1970s) there wasn’t much to speak of in terms of communications equipment except for a single sideband radio that would be used only in emergencies. It remained that way for more than a generation with the intent to protect the “experiment” and purity of traditional navigation. So no outside information was allowed, no modern navigational clues to make the task easier for the ones with the enormous kuleana of way finding.

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Over the years, our mission has shifted a bit. We proved that the gift of navigation passed down from the unbroken line of masters works even today. Now we are turning our attention to education and sharing the values that comes with visiting ports around the world. The lessons in port are now starting to sound familiar: native perspective and knowledge may have a place in solving some of Island Earth’s most serious problems. So we use technology and tools available today to amplify these stories. And so the communications job surrounding this voyage becomes more critical than it did before where we are now dealing with audiences who want to know what just happened aboard the canoe while it is thousands of miles from land, and we are forced to compete in a 24-hour news cycle.

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Today, even onboard this ancient vessel, we have been forced into the digital age, albeit begrudgingly, like a wondering monk forced to carry an iPhone on her journey.  But alas, as I type this log on a MacBook Pro, using Inmarsat satellites to move massive amounts of data everyday, we are careful to keep the crew in the bubble of the past. Our website is updated daily and our Facebook and Instagram fans (@hokuleawwv) have an insatiable appetite for content, but the 11 of us sailing do not get to see any of the posts or comments until we get home. Part of it is the absurd cost of satellite time. The other is that in order to participate in the lessons that are embedded in this process of voyaging, we must leave the land stuff on the land and go to sea wholeheartedly. Without that commitment, all kinds of chaos can occur. But mostly, it’s the cost of the satellite time. 

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Our escort, the Gershon II, is always within sight and a VHF call away (by the way, that’s the reason for SB71 in my signature). However, she has a completely different view plane. They sail patiently behind us, knowing our exact position. They have AIS, GPS, and DSC for our PLB and bunch of other cool gadgets that sound cooler by acronym. They call us to let us know we have a slight edge, ¼ knots more than them, and are losing ground at 1.85 miles out. The technical knowledge is appreciated. After all, we’re 1/3 of the way around the planet from the comfort of home.

And that’s the paradigm: old has to embrace new, but new can also appreciate old, I think. Here’s the nīnau: Is navigation actually more important today than it was 2,000 years ago when navigators were pulling Hawaiki out of the sea for the first time in human history?

The simple answer is no. Those voyagers were unleashing the single biggest feat of exploration of their time.  But in this age of kids knowing how to swipe an iPhone before they can read, and their parents looking down at that same device to know exactly where they are to the last inch, traditional non-instrument navigation may be one of the last places where not knowing exactly where you are isn’t solved by a device but by looking up to the heavens where all the clues necessary to find your way are waiting.  That tangible connection to environment and self are lost to many in this influx of technology. But for us here, in this space, we embrace the analog, keeping the digital at bay as long as we can.

Me ka ha’aha’a,
SB71
Nāʻālehu

Written by Nāʻālehu Anthony, reposted from Hokulea.com, September 1, 2015

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