(CNN) — Relying mostly on the sun and stars, the ocean waves and cloud movement to navigate, a traditional Polynesian deep-sea canoe is sailing around the world. Its crew’s goal? To bring attention to our oceans and Native Hawaiian culture.
Hokule’a, which departed Hawaii in 2014 on a worldwide voyage, made its way to New York for Wednesday’s World Oceans Day, where the crew was welcomed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The double hull canoe is a performance replica of the canoes early Polynesians likely used 3,000 years ago to discover all of Polynesia, said Nainoa Thompson, president and navigator of the Hawaii-based Polynesian Voyaging Society.
“This is the vehicle of our ancestors,” Thompson told CNN.
The name Hakule’a in Hawaiian means “star of gladness” and comes from “haku” for star and “lea” for gladness.
The 41-year old canoe and its crew have stopped in about 65 ports in 14 countries, but Sunday’s arrival in New York was its first visit to the Big Apple.
“We just want to build awareness about things that we value,” said Thompson. “Our major focus is the oceans.”
“You’re never going to protect something you don’t understand,” he said. “And you won’t protect it if you don’t care. If you want to take care of the earth, you need to understand it. You need to go.”
More more than 200 volunteer crewmembers have rotated through the 12-crew canoe, usually committing to five-week stints, Thompson said.
While the crew mostly uses nature to navigate its way around the world, the crew has used instruments when they sailed into New York, the Great Barrier Reef “and other places we don’t know,” said Thompson.
“Our job is not to prove we can sail without instruments but to learn how to do it.”
In 2014, the crew’s port visits included French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Samoa and American Samoa. In 2015, port stops included Australia, Indonesia, Mozambique and South Africa. In addition to New York, 2016 visits include Brazil, Cuba and Washington.
The 2017 agenda includes Panama, Costa Rica, the Galapagos and Tahiti.