Vaka Moanas

Vaka Moanas…Ocean voyaging canoes…Pacific Island Voyagers…Ocean preservation and understanding…Polynesian ancestral culture and tradition…Navigation by the sun and stars, wind and waves, clouds and wildlife.  A voyage motto of “Move your paddle silently through the water.”

So unexpectedly on the evening of August 29th, while paddling in Dana Point harbor on my standup board, my world crossed paths with the incredibly adventurous world of the Pacific Island Voyagers who were on an ocean journey, a journey steep with environmental purpose and ancestral intent.

As I began an evening’s paddle down the outer channel of the harbor six spectacular ocean canoes were turning their bows into the harbor.  Beautiful sails adorned with Polynesian symbols and patterns colored in natural earth tones of ochre and sepia billowed with the evening’s breeze.  The frequent deep bellow from a conch shell blown into by one of the island voyagers heralded their arrival into our local waters and harbor.  Canoeists from the Dana Point Outrigger Canoe Club and other standup paddlers provided a chorus of “welcome” in response as this small fleet of voyagers arrived.

They had departed from Auckland, New Zealand on April 19th of this year and sailed north to the Hawaiian Islands, west to the Northern California coast, then southerly along our coast on a route to San Diego.  Dana Point harbor was selected as a haven for the evening and following day to replenish stocks/provisions and provide educational tours and lectures in association with the Oceanographic Institute.  Their immediate destination was San Diego.  Eventually they will leave our ports to sail along the Gulf of California/Mexico; southward to the Cocos Island National Park and the Galapagos Islands; southwesterly to
the French Polynesian islands of Marquesas, Fakarava, Tahiti and Raiatea; southwesterly further to the Cook Islands; west to Tonga, Samoa and Fiji; further southwest to Vanuatu and finally onto their final port in the Solomon Islands for the Festival of the Pacific Arts, July 1st through July 14th, 2012.

I had not read of the voyagers scheduled arrival in any of our newspapers or news shows, had not heard word of their incredible travel on the internet. Yet our small harbor was listed as a port on their voyage schedule and the honor was great…and humbling.  A crowd of locals had gathered as the ocean canoes arrived in the northern end of the harbor, a small “bay” nestled at the base of the Dana Headlands.  People must have seen this small fleet sailing south past our shores…Huntington Beach, Newport Beach/Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach and Monarch Beach…and some had come to the harbor for an outpouring of friendship and greetings.  The small wooden pier that extends out into the harbor, adjacent to the Brig Pilgrim, a 130ft. ship homed in our harbor for educational purposes, held a gathering of well-wishers and a trio of Hawaiian musicians playing traditional Hawaiian songs on ukuleles, songs I recognized and loved as found on the wonderful CD “IZ in Concert…the man and his music” (the brilliant Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole who passed away in June 26, 1997 at the age of 38).

I paddled up the channel with the ocean canoes awed by their presence, their beauty.  I did not yet know of their voyage or who they were, what their purpose was, that came later with reading and research.  But they brought with them an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility, friendship and kindness as they gently sailed up the channel…the conch shell announcing their arrival.  I stayed to the side of the channel not wanting to join the well-wishers paddling directly beside them (for fear of falling off my board in a daze) and was availed a beautiful view of the crafts.  As they anchored for the evening paddlers and canoeists were welcomed aboard and further greetings were had.  Friendship was in the air like the bouquet from a beautiful tropical garden.

I raced home that night to tell my wife about this incredible experience I had had during my paddle.  The next evening we drove down to the harbor in hopes of visiting with these voyagers only to find they had once again journeyed forth and headed south to San Diego and ports beyond.  How kind fate had been to allow me to experience such a wonderful event so unexpectedly.

On Wednesday, August 31st the Orange County Register had a small article about the Pacific Voyagers arrival to our harbor.  To quote from the newspaper article:

“They call the Pacific their home and say the salt water flows through their veins,
connecting them spiritually to the sea.  On Monday, a group of Pacific Islanders sailed six Vaka Moana sea vessels into Dana Point Harbor, a stop during their journey from New Zealand to the United States. Their goal: Keep the seafaring traditions of their ancestry alive and teach others to respect and protect the ocean and marine life
.”

The link to the article is below:

Ocean voyagers bring Polynesia to Dana Point | polynesia, voyagers, bring – News –
The Orange County Register

The article provides a link to the newspapers “slide show” from which many of the photographs in this article are from, as well as a link to the Pacific Voyagers very interesting website, provided below:

Pacific Voyagers

The Pacific Voyagers website is full of information about their origination, purpose of the ocean journey, travel itinerary, videos, pictures and blog articles.  Watch their video, the trailer to “Our Blue Canoe”, it’s incredible.  In their words, taken from their website:

“We are a group of Pacific Islanders who have come together from many nations, sailing as one across the Pacific Ocean. We are voyaging to strengthen our ties with the sea, renew our commitment to healthy ecosystems for future generations, and to honour our ancestors who have sailed before us. As we sail our Vaka across the Pacific, we are respectful and gentle, always remembering our voyage motto: “Move your paddle silently through the water.

The Ocean provides us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, life-sustaining medicines, and nourishment for our souls. Currently, our Ocean is in peril and these essential gifts are quickly disappearing. Sailing together, we are combining the traditional wisdom of our ancestors with modern scientific knowledge to both broaden our understanding of the Ocean, as well as to share our message of stewardship with the world.

As Polynesians, we cannot separate ourselves from this Ocean. The salt water that flows through our veins runs deep, connecting us spiritually to the sea. Its life-force strengthens our bodies and shapes our identities. The Pacific is our home, our breath, our future. We can only survive if we come together as cultures, as crew-mates, to preserve the health of our ocean planet – Our Blue Canoe.

The design of our vakas uses a fusion of both traditional and modern methods and materials. We followed our ancestor’s design, but incorporated more sustainable materials to lessen the impact on our environment. Fibreglass hulls replace timbre to protect our forests and we’ve added eight solar panels on the back of each vaka to power our engines. Natural gas is the only fossil fuel used, which is employed solely for cooking. Like our ancestors before us, we use no running water. Voyaging on our vaka, we are
continuing to revive our ancient Polynesian cultural traditions while exercising respectful stewardship of our ocean.”

While I spent no more than an hour-and-a-half in the presence of these beautiful Vakas  and their voyagers, it has left an indelible impression on me.  I have worked at sea, two-hundred to three-hundred miles out at sea, hunting swordfish along the Georges Banks in the Atlantic Ocean, off of Cape Hatteras and the southeastern shores, the Bermuda Triangle, Florida Straits and the Gulf of Mexico.  I have been at sea in slashing pounding storms, bow cresting swells, rouge waves.  Our fishing boat “The Stephanie Vaughn”, a 90-foot steel vessel of which the majority was a working deck about 8 feet above the waterline, was operated by six men and was a hard life.  We were at sea for about three weeks at a time and the home port of Scituate, Massachusetts always felt so sweet upon arriving home.  After enjoying the Pacific Voyager’s website and watching their video I can’t imagine the strength, endurance, belief in their purpose and love of their culture and ancestry these voyagers must have.  They have my total admiration and respect.  To get an
idea of the length of their ocean journey go onto “Google Earth” and type in the various destinations I listed in the beginning of this article.  Seeing the great distances across the ocean they voyage from port to port, the enormity and danger of this voyage becomes
quickly apparent.

I wish the Pacific Voyagers a continued safe and successful journey across the seas and pray that the spirits of the oceans, the gods of the earth and heavens and the watchful eye of their ancestors guide them through the challenges they will face and home into the waiting arms of their families, friends and loved ones.

G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.

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