Sailing bringing communities back together after rediscovering lost art

by Chris Kameen on July 28, 2013

Vaka sailing HardIf you had no money but lived on a paradise island with very few people, then at some point you might wonder what else is there outside of your bubble. For thousands of years the people of the Pacific travelled the oceans on giant sailing canoes known as Vaka, using navigation techniques that were so very nearly lost.

During my travels I have been to many places where the most effective form of transport is by boat, but no where is this more prevalent than the islands of Polynesia. Two years ago I had a fantastic trip to AitutakiVaka Aitutaki and Rarotonga for an Oceania sailing regatta. These islands are amazingly beautiful and tiny – think of a population smaller than Manly’s Eastern Hill in some cases. In the past these people relied upon sailing their Vaka across the oceans to neighbouring islands as a way of trading and living.

Vaka Wapa TapuNow we must remember that Europeans did not conquer Navigation properly until they had accurate clocks around 1760 and until then had relied upon very complex measurements of the moon and stars and a degree of luck and yet the polynesians had been crossing the oceans for centuries.. how did they do it?

These Traditional Navigators are attuned to the world around them, from the heavens down to the water drop, constantly noticing the shape of the sea and the character of light through the clouds and this ancient art of wayfinding was nearly extinct until one of its last keepers, master navigator Mau Piailug from Micronesia, on the island of Sattawal, chose to teach. He mentored Nainoa Thompson, who then became the first Hawaiian and Polynesian since the 14th century to practice the art of wayfinding on long-distance ocean voyages. Recently two of these Vaka returned to Rarotonga  after traveling from Easter Island and were greeted like heros. Once again the seas can become a route to new islands and opportunities rather than an expensive barrier to cross.

Vaka_moanaThis story highlights the amazing opportunities that learning to sail and navigate can offer and we are no differnt to these people from Polynesia – we all have a desire to travel and explore. At Sydney Sailing School we want more people to have these opportunities and keep the dreams alive.

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