The young French navigator Maud Fontenoy is now in the midst of her third solo ocean voyage (she undertook the first, an Atlantic crossing, in 2003 when she was just twenty-six). The English translation of her memoir, Challenging the Pacific, about her second voyage across the Pacific Kon-Tiki route in 2005, was recently published by Arcade (my review will appear in the Sunday Advertiser’s Island Life section on 12/24, and in the Miami Herald in late December).

One aspect of her tale that struck me, and which I didn’t have room to include in my reviews, was not that she was the first woman to complete this astounding 73-day 4300 nautical mile solo journey in a twenty-five foot long, five and a half foot wide fiberglass rowboat, but how much passion she had for inspiring and teaching young schoolchildren.

Hawai`i navigator Nainoa Thompson has a similar passion for education, but one difference between his and Fontenoy’s efforts to involve children in navigation and stewardship of the sea seems to be the willingness of schools to weave the journey into curriculum.

Fontenoy dictated her daily log to her mother each evening, who then transcribed it to the web site, where children she had visited prior to leaving Lima for Hiva Oa read and followed her journey. She says she “had always insisted on associating children with my challenges, making concrete suggestions for learning projects to teachers and principals.” Above all, she aimed to nurture what she sees as “those dreams that are latent in all of us and which we must never allow to die.”

She writes that teachers in France and Polynesia integrated each detail of her Pacific voyage into their curriculum, (for example working on travel literature and sea poetry in French class [like our English classes], latitude and longitude in math class, Etc.). The most inspiring account was of one teacher, Madame Busson at Pierre Colinet primary school:

“Every morning, my log was uploaded to the site and read aloud so everyone could understand. The vocabulary was then dissected and careful research work done on flora, fauna, weather, distances, and Easter Island. I think those ten-year-old children now know more than I do about the lives of sea lions in their natural environment, not to mention the techniques used by Polynesians to catch flying fish.”

At this point in my reading, I noted in the margin: Imagine if every Hokule`a voyage were integrated into Hawai`i’s youth curriculum this way.

In January 2007, in the midst of El Nino season, Nainoa and his crew will undertake what he has called the riskiest voyage yet. It is in part meant to reconnect to King Kalakaua’s 1881 voyage to Japan and his worldwide mission of relationship building. The Hokule`a will first travel to Micronesia to deliver a sailing canoe to Mau Piailug, then visit each Japanese port of Hawai`i immigration. One can easily imagine applications for Hawaiian studies, classes in history, social studies, literature, science, math and more.

Fontenoy characterizes the way children approach her and voyaging as a question of “how,” but says adults approach her always with “why.” Here are both:

Is such classroom integration already being planned? If so, how? And if not, why?

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