Photos: Andrew Goff, except where noted.

Just after 9 a.m. this morning, the historic Hawaiian vessel Hōkūleʻa pulled within view of the small crowd of onlookers at Eureka’s F Street dock. Being in inshore waters, she was under tow from her motorized consort, the Kōlea. There was a moment of confusion as the two boats passed by the dock altogether and floated into the channel separating Woodley Island from the mainland. Were they heading up to the Bonnie Gool dock instead?

But a moment later the Kōlea lazed into sharp U-turn mid-channel and the Hōkūleʻa, dozens of feet behind, followed suit, with much of the crew of the double canoe rushing astern to work her giant steering oar, flipping her head around to the west. They pulled up at F Street, and advance scout and ground crew member Mike Cunningham, a Honolulu resident, rushed down to assist in making her fast to the dock.

Photo: Stephen Buck.

The Hōkūleʻa is a double-canoe sailing ship modeled after Polynesian seafaring boats of antiquity, and is a source of pride for native Hawai’i. It was conceived of and built in the mid-1970s, with the goal of recreating the great Polynesian voyages during the settlement and of that immense region of the Pacific Ocean, leaving behind a culture that stretched from the Hawaiian Island of Ni’ihau in the north, to New Zealand in the southwest, to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the southeast.

The people behind the Hōkūleʻa project wanted to recreate and revive the old ways of long-distance navigating – without compasses or GPS devices or anything of that sort, using only knowledge of the stars, the winds and the currents. One of them, a young man named Nainoa Thompson, studied navigation with the only person they could find who still knew the old ways of wayfinding, a man from a small Micronesian island named Pius Piailug. After years of study, in 1980 they and a crew successfully sailed the Hōkūleʻa from Maui to Tahiti and back without modern tools – a distance of about 5,500 miles, round-trip.

The Hōkūleʻa has undertaken many missions since then, around the Polynesian Triangle and around the world, and when the boat pulled into Eureka for a stop on its current mission — “Moananuiākea: A Voyage for Earth,” a trip around the Pacific Ocean that began in Juneau, Alaska at the beginning of this summer – Thompson himself came to the side of the boat to tell visitors about the purpose of their current work.

Nainoa Thompson.

“The evolution of this voyage is because we see the ocean changing,” Thompson said. “It’s our fundamental belief that the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century is to protect the ocean. Because it protects life as we know it.”

Thompson said the crew of the Hōkūleʻa is serving as the “conduit” for a team they have built to advocate for ocean protection, against risks like acidification and the subsequent loss of plankton – the biggest producer of oxygen on the planet.

The size and scope of the mission has taken the Hōkūleʻa out of her normal waters, and Thompson spent some time marveling at the size of the Pacific Northwest’s swell and the fog. The boat wasn’t built for this kind of weather, but so far she’s been holding up.

Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez greets the crew of the Hōkūleʻa.

But it does look like changing weather is going to keep the Hōkūleʻa in port for a couple of days, so you’ll be able to take a walk down to the F Street dock, and, if you’re lucky, catch a few words with the friendly crew. This morning, Thompson was last seen embracing Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez, who welcomed them to town. It seemed as though some sightseeing had been ordered up for the crew.

According to Mike Cunningham, the expedition’s advance man, it looks as though the round-the-Pacific trip might be postponed a little bit. After the catastrophic fires on Maui, the crew feels a need to get this symbol of native Hawaiian ingenuity and accomplishment and back home.

“We know that the presence of Hōkūleʻa back in Hawai’i is going to give the people strength,” Cunningham said.

Read more about the Hōkūleʻa at the project’s website.

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UPDATE, 9/13: Just in! The Hawaiian vessel Hōkūleʻa, currently docked in Humboldt Bay, has announced they will offer public tours today (Wednesday) from 2 to 5 p.m. at F Street Dock.

Mike Cunningham.