|Shantell Ching tightens Hokule‘a's lashings
When Shantell Ching returned home after navigating on the 2000 voyage back from Tahiti, she stayed home for a month. “At sea, your senses become extremely acute. It’s like if you’re blind, you learn to rely on your other senses,” explains the thirty-seven-year-old educator.
Shantell’s first exposure to Hokule‘a came when she was ten years old, and the original crew came to speak to her fifth-grade class at Kapalama Elementary. She remembers the slide show, and she remembers being extremely curious about how the navigators read the stars and the weather. When she was twenty-seven, she met Nainoa Thompson at a sea trial for Hawai‘iloa.
“I was in the right place at the right time surrounded by the right people,” she says. She started working as a part-time office clerk for the PVS and began hanging around to observe navigator training. In 1995, she was tapped to join the Hokule‘a voyage from Hawai‘i to Tahiti (the same voyage Catherine was on). Later that summer, she jumped aboard Hawai‘iloa as it sailed from Ketchikan to Juneau, Alaska, stopping at nineteen different ports. In 1999, she was the sole female aboard the Mangareva to Rapa Nui voyage. And in 2000, she was the primary navigator from Tahiti to Hawai‘i, assisted by Ka‘iulani Murphy and Kahualaulani Mick.
As Shantell talks about canoe voyaging, she makes numerous cultural references, using Hawaiian terms that articulate the dynamics of the Polynesian tradition more clearly than English words. She explains that gender is not an issue with the crew, that instead it’s a matter of each individual’s kuleana, privilege or responsibility.
“It’s not a competition between what I can do and what men can do. Laulima [working together] is key to successfully accomplishing the task,” Shantell says with a gentle voice and regal composure. “Everyone respects and treats each other like family.”