Day 1: Finally, after a year of planning, we are underway. As soon as we leave the protection of Nawiliwili Harbor on Kaua´i, the huge swells send everyone in search of safe shelter. We settle in for the two-day commute to Mokumanamana in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Day 2: You can feel the anxiety and anticipation as we approach Mokumanamana and prepare the wa´a (canoe) for launch. Veteran paddlers ready themselves for the solitude and exhilaration of paddling. The new guys are pacing in bewilderment at the sheer magnitude of what they are about to do.
Day 3: The terns and frigates arrive in the middle of the night, sentinels of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They came from our destination; we are happy for their company and guidance. Two birds join us, one on each side of the wa´a – escorts leading the way home. From the back, steering, I can see all five heads and 10 arms moving in unison in the moonlight. The birds staying in perfect rhythm, one on each side, for what seems like hours.
Day 4: It won’t be an easy night. This is our 39th hour and I see signs of fatigue in the crew. I jump from the pitching deck of the tugboat into the cold, frantic zodiac. Minutes ago I was in a short but deep sleep; now, with my five crew members, I sit huddled in the 14-foot raft, lurching and rocking in the turbulent sea. I try to get my bearings as we wait to exchange crews with the canoe. I hope they will find us as we bob up and down in the huge troughs and the black of night holding tiny glow sticks as our only beacons. Hana hou (one more time).
Day 5: Laysan Island comes faintly into view in the sunrise. My hands are numb, swollen from days in the water; they hurt at every joint. Holding a paddle is difficult, but I can now let my emotions go. We’ve made it: 461 miles. We’ve actually made it!