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A day in a life of sailors

The captain of Iosepa answers questions about how sailors live on the canoe

Iosepa, a traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe sails in the ocean
Iosepa sails during FestPac 2024 at Kualoa Ranch.
Photo by Yui Leung

From early-morning crew meetings to going into an anchor watch, a sailor’s life starts at 5 a.m., said Mark Ellis, director of Voyaging Experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He explained how day-to-day living works while on board a Hawaiian canoe.

How do you shower?
They use a bucket to pull water from the ocean and then lather up with environmentally friendly soap.

What do the sailors do on the canoe?
The sailors are split into two groups. One group works while the other group rests until they switch. The working group re-ties and fixes lines and opens and closes the sails as needed. The resting group plays music and games or tells stories.

How do you go to the bathroom?
There is an area on the back of the canoe with a seat with a hole in it where sailors can do what they need to into the ocean. The seat is covered by fabric flaps on all sides for privacy.

A toilet on a sailing canoe
A toilet on a sailing canoe
Courtesy of Mo'okiha O Pi'lani

How do they cook?
Cooking on the canoe is similar to cooking while camping. They bring a portable stove and plan a menu so nobody gets bored of the food.

Kitchen on a boat
A kitchen on a traditional sailing canoe.
Courtesy of Mo'okiha O Pi'lani

How many people are on the boat?
Generally, there is a crew of 12 sailors on the boat at any given time.

Anchor watch
Anchor watch is when crew members are posted on lookout duty on a rotation throughout the night, says the Grenada Bluewater Sailing website. Community members volunteered to be part of the Iosepa’s anchor watch when the canoe was anchored at a port, completing six- hour shifts. They would jot down information about the canoe for the next batch of sailors, said Ellis. This is vital for the safety of the canoe, Ellis explained, in case of changes in weather, tide or a moving anchor.