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    Re: Polynesian canoes set off from New Zealand to Raiatea (French Polynesia)
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2010 May 9, 13:16 +0100

    I wonder if anyone has been following the journey of the four vakas
    (Polynesian voyaging canoes), which set off on an island voyage from
    Auckland with the intention of ending up in Rarotonga.
    The voyage can be followed via twice-daily reports from the vessels, on
    their website at-
    http://www.voyaging.co.ck/ .
    They have now arrived, more or less on schedule, at their first stop, the
    tiny speck of Raivavae, way South of Tahiti. The reports are rather worth
    reading, though without a lot of technical content, and showing a certain
    concentration on matters of food. Daily positions of the four vakas can be
    followed by a Google Earth link. At Raivavae, they were joined by a 5th
    canoe, which arrived fron Tahiti after being freighted there from her
    builders in Auckland.
    I have attached a map, based on a corner of Admiralty  map 5309, "World -
    tracks followed by sailing an auxiliary powered vessels", which was
    supplied with "Ocean Passages for the World" of 1973, the last year in
    which sailing vessels were catered for. The vaka tracks are roughly shown
    by my dotted line, ending at Raivavae.
    However, those reports provide a few facts about the voyage which did not
    appear in the initial press releases, which allow a bit of closer scrutiny,
    in the light of the stated aim "to revitalise the traditional art of
    sailing, navigation and canoe-building ".
    As noted previously, these have been built as two fibreglass hulls,
    connected by wooden beams, and built in a New Zealand yard. Although the
    hulls might be a similar shape to those of the traditional wooden vaka,
    construction will be very different. Berth accommodation is by bunks within
    the two narrow hulls, which (as I understand it, but am no expert on such
    vessels) differs greatly in that respect from the traditional vessels, in
    which life is generally lived under minimal shelter on the platform itself.
    This showed up in the more southern part of the passage, in which the crew
    appeared to be confined below, within the hulls, except when actually on
    watch, and greeted the decision to turn northward into warmer weather with
    great relief. Perhaps the on-deck life in the traditional vaka was suited
    only to more tropical conditions.
    I haven't seen a detailed sail plan, but the rig appears to be traditional
    Bermudan in every respect, not at all the "crab-claw" rig of the
    traditional Polynesian craft. However, it seems that components of that rig
    are kept on  board, because on the last day at sea before arrival at
    Raivavae, a crab-claw arrangement was hoisted, to give a better impression
    on entering harbour. That attitude, of deliberate cosmetic deceit, rather
    saddens me. If tricks like that are considered acceptable, can we take
    anything at face-value? Anyway, there's some doubt in my mind about whether
    a crab-claw rig would be compatible at sea with the way a Bermudan mast is
    It was stated that one of the vessels would be navigated without
    instruments, but instead rely on the collective wisdom of the elders on
    board. The others appear to be fully instrumented, with GPS. As they were
    all sailing in close company, within visual range and radio contact, I
    doubt whether that collective wisdom played a major part. Warnings of
    approaching weather were being received, presumably by satellite
    comminication via the support-vessels (of which more anon). The group
    initially took a proper track, somewhat South of East, in accordance with
    sailing-ship advice for passage to Tahiti (Raivavae is close to that
    track), to keep within the Westerlies. But that recommended track shows
    ships approaching the Raivavae area from the South. Instead, the vakas soon
    headed more Northerly, and then took a due-North tack; somewhat prematurely
    in my view, because it would then put them West, and downwind, of their
    destination. And so it turned out to be. As a result, the two support
    vessels were then called on to tow the vakas, in strings of two, for the
    rest of the leg to the island. These were two big charter yachts, fully
    equipped, "Foftein" and "Evohe". They were not mentioned in the press
    releases at the start of the voyage.
    Next leg.
    The next leg of the journey is to be to Papeete, Tahiti, which is a
    Northerly passage, across the wind. Presumably, the group will expect to
    approach from the East, with the prevailing wind. To get into that position
    will provide a good test of the windward ability of the vessels. It will be
    interesting to see if they can make it without further towing.
    You can judge for yourself, then, whether the initial aim "to revitalise
    the traditional art of sailing, navigation and canoe-building" has been met
    by this voyage. In my view the answer is "not at all". In every respect, it
    has been reliant on Western technology. That's a pity, but no amount of
    spin in the press-releases can really hide the fact. It will be interesting
    to read future press-releases to see what emerges. And it will be
    interesting to follow the progress of the voyagers in their journey. I wish
    them well, and hope they enjoy it.
    contact George Huxtable, at  george@hux.me.uk
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.


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