by Terry Galpin
Bam! That’s a sound a sailing canoe captain never wants to hear. I look up and our entire standing rig comes crashing down. Everything – mast, boom, spar, sail, stay lines – all down in the water. After making sure my crew is unhurt, I am flooded with thoughts of our failure two years ago. Words that small kids should never hear come out of my mouth. We are not going home in the rescue boat this time!
Two years ago, bad weather and extreme seas swamped our canoe and literally split open our safety ama (float) midway across the Alenuihaha Channel in a race from the Big Island to Maui. In 17 years of Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association races, we were the first all-woman crew to compete in the entire 10-race series that season. Grudgingly, but fearing for our safety (we had just seen a shark eating a pilot whale), we called in the rescue boat. Feeling like our wahine crew had let down all of womankind, we vowed to train harder and smarter.
In the years since, we had good days and really bad days – days with 30-knot winds and 20-foot seas in a 48-foot canoe with a sail capable of generating speeds above 20 knots, all while steering with a wooden paddle. We wondered how the Polynesian ancestors traveled so far in similar craft to find Hawai´i.
It is 2006: 18 Hawaiian sailing canoes leave a beach on the North Shore of O´ahu heading for Kaua´i. Again we are the only all-wahine crew and the conditions are challenging: 20-knot winds and 10-foot wave faces.
We go high of the fleet, the better to turn down, catch the following seas and surf to the finish. Our canoe is flying. And then it happens. We are surfing down a wave when a loud and violent crack comes from the rigging. Our rig comes down and the safety boat that was shadowing us comes speeding over.
“Let us hook you up,” the boat captain screams. “No, just stand by!” I yell back, “We can do this.” While 30-pound pieces of wood fly overhead and cotton line swings around like whips, we raise and reattach the entire standing rigging, and raise the sail in those same winds and seas that have knocked it down.
We cross the finish line hours after the last sailing canoe has finished and are greeted as if we have won. It dawns on me that what we have actually won that day is far more important than first place. We have won the respect from our fellow watermen. We are no longer “the wahines in the pink sailing canoe.” We are the wahines of Moa “E” Ku.