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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 4) - Two Hawaiian outrigger canoes are preparing to leave this weekend on the first leg of an epic voyage from Hawaii to Micronesia.

The double hull canoe “Maisu,” launched late last month on the Big Island of Hawai΄i, and its more famous sister canoe, the "Hokule’a," which made the first modern day voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976, will make the trip using only traditional star and wave navigation techniques - a once a lost art form in Hawai΄i.

The Maisu was built by the Hawai΄i-based Polynesian Voyaging Society as a gift to honor Mau Piailug, a renowned master navigator from the tiny atoll of Satawal in western Micronesia, who is credited with giving birth to a new generation of Hawaiian navigators and canoe builders.

"It took one man (Piailug) to get the Hokule’a to Tahiti in 1976 and spark pride in Hawai΄i and throughout Polynesia,” said the Voyaging Society’s Chadd Paishon, who was in Majuro to organize logistics for the upcoming visit. “That little spark ignited a fire in so many areas: Hawai΄i, the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Tahiti."

Both are double hulled canoes, the Maisu is 57 feet; the Hokule’a 62 feet. They will be accompanied by a support vessel that will track the voyage, but not assist in navigation Paishon said.

This is only the second voyage by Hawaiian canoes to Micronesia in modern times. The first was in 1999, when the Polynesian Voyaging Society sailed with Piailug navigating from Hawai΄i through the Marshall Islands and Micronesia to his home atoll of Satawal. Unlike the long history of navigation by Polynesians among Hawai΄i, Tahiti, the Cook Islands and New Zealand, both Hawaiian and Micronesian navigators say there are no traditions of voyages between Hawai΄i and Micronesia, making the route all the more challenging for traditional navigators.

The Big Island-based builders and crew of the Maisu were busy last week with "shake down" sails to test the canoe, as well as loading safety gear and provisions for the voyage that, weather permitting, is expected to start Saturday.

"The crew of Maisu (are working) diligently to prepare her for her maiden voyage to Micronesia," said Pomai Bertelmann Wednesday.

Alson Kelen, who manages a canoe building and sailing training program for young people in the Marshall Islands, is coordinating the planned visit to Majuro of the two canoes. Kelen said he is working with local schools to organize cultural exchanges with the canoe crews when they arrive in Majuro.

Paishon said that the navigators expect it to take about three weeks to sail the approximately 2,300 miles from the Big Island of Hawai΄i to Majuro.

They will spend several days in Majuro and then continue on to Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. From there, they head to Satawal, which is in Yap state of Micronesia. After dropping of the Maisu with Piailug, the Hokule’a will continue its voyage to Palau and then to Japan.

"The Maisu was built for Mau to utilize in the same way the Hokule’a was used for education and to make sure the knowledge is passed on to future generations," Paishon said. Piailug, now 74, began learning the art of traditional navigation from his grandfather from the time he was old enough to walk, and has spent much of the last 30 years passing on his skills to Hawaiians keen to revive the lost art in their islands.

Paishon described the gift of the 57-foot Maisu as something "small that we’re doing for him. The value of what he did for us is immeasurable."

Paishon said that since Hokule’a was built more than 30 years ago, six more voyaging canoes have been built in Hawai΄i. “We’re still learning as we go,” he said. “We’ll never get to Mau’s level. He grew up with it (navigation). But at least we can continue what we’ve learned from him.”

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