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Polynesians sail the Pacific to save their ocean

by Sail-world Cruising round-up on 19 Sep 2011
Some of the Vakas on their way, photo by Magnus Danbolt .. .

A group of Pacific Islanders are in the midst of one of the most imaginative cruising sailing adventures ever. Coming from many island nations across Polynesia, they have been sailing eastwards across the Pacific in seven 72ft Vaka, traditional Polynesian sailing canoes. The goal of the voyage is to 'strengthen their ties with the sea', remind the world of the importance of the ocean environment, and 'honour their ancestors.'

Starting in Aotearoa (New Zealand) in April of 2011, they sailed to Tahiti, The Marquesas, and throughout Hawaii where we attended the

Kava Bowl Ocean Summit.

The 16 crew members on the seven craft then sailed on to San Francisco, down the Californian coast to San Diego, where they are wintering their vessels. They will commence their journey again in January 2011, continuing to spread the word about the urgent need for all people to unite in an effort to protect the oceans from waterborne trash, and show people 'what they can do to help.'

They confirm what many others have seen before them, writing on their website: 'During our journey thus far, we’ve seen pockets of floating plastic and debris, litter strewn

upon our beaches, and the most heartbreaking: a Fin Whale just off the shores of San Francisco, struggling in an entangled piece of plastic rope that only took hold deeper.'

The native sailors on this journey represent the nations of Aotearoa (New Zealand), Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, New Guinea, Vanuatu and Tonga. They will continue their voyage south to Cabo San Lucas, on to Costa Rica’s Cocos Islands, the Galapagos, The Marquesas, Tahiti, and then back to their Pacific Island homes.

'The vakas sail 65 degrees off the wind and are very efficient,' said Nick Henry, a native of the Cook Islands and

captain of the Samoa canoe Gaualofa. 'We have sailed as far as 236 nautical miles in one day.'

As they sail their vakas across the Pacific, they do so with respect for the environment, emphasizing their voyage motto: 'Move your paddle silently.'

According to Henry, they have come together for many reasons. 'At first, for me, it was about bringing back the traditions of our ancestors and teaching their ways to our children,' Henry said. 'I have a 13-year-old son. I wanted him to learn about his seafaring ancestors and to appreciate the old ways. Now, it is as much about the message of protecting the ocean.'

Until they commence sailing again,they will be be winterizing their vaka in San Diego until January, 2012, and all are welcome to visit.

For more information about the voyage and the people involved, visit www.pacificvoyagers.org, and for more information on Okeanos - Foundation for the Sea, who are sponsoring the journey, visit www.okeanos-foundation.org.

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