Powered solely by the sun and the wind, the double-hulled, 22-meter vaka will leave their Pacific home countries over the next month and sail to Hawaii via French Polynesia in the wake of their ancestors.
The vaka make up a pan-Pacific network of voyaging societies which aim to raise awareness of environmental issues — including ocean noise pollution, acidification and anoxic waters — in tandem with recapturing traditional Pacific voyaging and navigational skills and re-establishing cultural links between Pacific neighbours.
The network is supported by Okeanos, a German-based philanthropic organization which promotes the protection of the world’s oceans and marine life.
Four of the vaka took part in a shorter voyage in 2010, sailing from New Zealand to FrenchPolynesia, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Among those on last year’s journey was vaka expert and curriculum manager at the New Zealand tertiary institute Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Hoturua Barclay-Kerr.
Mr Barclay-Kerr, who will celestially navigate the Haunui, describes this year’s event as a full performance after last year’s dress rehearsal.
“Despite having to organise seven canoe loads of people, preparations are going well, probably because the logistics were worked through last year. This journey will take up a large chunk of our lives, but we are taking a strong environmental message that impacts on all of us across the Pacific, so it is important that people see our commitment in carrying that message. For me, doing another voyage means being able to bring a canoe into islands where people have only heard stories about their ancestors doing this sort of thing. We are able to reinforce the stories told in these different Pacific cultures about the knowledge and abilities of their ancestors. To see this on their faces is a great thing.”
Mr Barclay-Kerr says that not only do the crews need to be good sailors who are able to work together in a confined space for a long period of time; they must also be able to deliver articulate messages about being responsible guardians of their environment.
“We have to ensure the oceans and our world are being taken care of.”
After having arrived in Hawaii, the crew will attend a conference addressing the costs which ocean climate change will have for us all if we don’t change our behaviour. The journey of the vaka will continue to North America to teach young people about the voyage and the environment. They will return via the Cocos Islands, Galapagos, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, with the ultimate destination of the Solomon Islands for the 11th Pacific Arts Festival in 2012.
The New Zealand-based contingent of this extreme voyage will depart from Auckland’s Viaduct harbour on April 12th (weather permitting). These four vaka – Gaualofa (Western Samoa crew). Uto Ni Yalo (Fiji), Haunui (Pan Pacific), Te Mataua a Maui (New Zealand) and Hine Moana (Pan Pacific) – rendezvous with the rest of the fleet, Marumaru Atua (Cook Islands) and Faafaite (Tahiti) at the Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia, in late April for the first part of the project.
Once the fleet is underway the public can follow its progress via the official voyage and project website, which will carry daily blogs from crews, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.
The voyage will also be the subject of documentary film produced by Okeanos and itssubsidiary, the New Zealand company Oceanic Nature Film Productions.