The crew relied solely on ocean swells, stars, winds and birds to navigate the waters in the Hokulea canoe's round-the-world voyage. There were a dozen crew members for each leg of the voyage.
A sailing canoe modelled on a traditional Polynesian design - and without modern navigation instruments - ended its three-year journey around the world in Hawaii on Saturday.
The 20 meter (66 feet) double-hulled Hokulea "star of gladness" canoe had a 12-person crew that was swapped out over the course of the journey. The crew only used ocean swells, stars, wind and birds as navigational aids for the 40,000 nautical mile (74,000 kilometer) trip which included visits to 19 countries.
Ka'iulani Murphy, an apprentice navigator on the canoe, said the journey taught her the value of ancient Polynesian maritime techniques.
"We really are sailing in their (the ancestors') wake," said Murphy. "We had to re-learn what our ancestors had mastered." The crew carried a message of malama honua: Caring for the earth.
The most difficult part of the journey was dealing with cloud cover and trying to maintain the proper speed so the boat escorting the canoe could keep pace, Murphy said.
Once the canoe came ashore on Magic Island, which is part of Honolulu, thousands of people celebrated the successful trip with the crew. Hawaii governor David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke to the crowd. Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, was moved while he gave a speech.
"Thank you, Hawaii. Thank you for this moment. I am very humbled to tell you right now that Hokulea is home," said Thompson.
A canoe with culture
The canoe was built in the 1970s but there were no Polynesian navigators left. Mau Piailug from Satawal in Micronesia was one of the last few people in the world to practice traditional navigation and guided the Hokulea to Tahiti in 1976.
"Without him, our voyaging would never have taken place," the Polynesian Voyaging Society said on the website for Hokulea. "Mau was the only traditional navigator who was willing and able to reach beyond his culture to ours."
Crewmembers hope to inspire other indigenous cultures to rediscover their traditions and how they can help with modern day problems. Thompson said Hokulea will travel around the Hawaiian islands for the next eight months, visiting local communities and the crew will share what they learned.
kbd/jm (AP, dpa)