In a vision to unite ancestral wisdom with the best of modern technology, Pacific Voyagers has created a family of traditional sailing canoes powered by renewable energy and designed to provide a system of inter-island transport that is both culturally meaningful and environmentally sustainable. The three types of vaka (canoe) include vaka moana (open ocean canoe), vaka motu (inter-island transport canoe), and vaka hapua (lagoon canoe).
The Pacific Ocean encompasses one third of the Earth’s surface and is dotted with thousands of small islands, all connected by miles of vast blue. Pacific cultures share a rich heritage of seafaring and deep sea voyaging that is guided by a profound understanding of nature and non-instrument navigation. Today, inter-island transport is largely dependent on ships powered by polluting fossil fuels.
The Pacific Voyagers vaka, or traditional double hull canoes, provide an alternative vision for the future. They not only decrease reliance on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy, but also foster cultural revival, educational opportunities, economic independence, community empowerment and environmental health.
In addition to physically transporting children to schools on neighboring islands, the vaka Okeanos serves as an intergenerational classroom in of itself, traveling on a larger classroom that is the ocean. As communities’ re-learn their ancient knowledge, the hope is that it will be carried into the future. While connecting children to their ancestral heritage, vaka motu also provides a means of traveling the ocean silently without impact. This proximity to nature and marine life engenders a love for the ocean and a desire to protect this precious resource.
As with all journeys, the vaka motu holds evolving possibilities that extend well beyond what Pacific Voyagers might have foreseen since the launching of their first vaka motu prototype Okeanos on November 3rd, 2011. The design incorporates information shared from many different island groups, resulting in a design specific to Pacific inter-island transport. Unique features include a boom that doubles as a crane to hoist goods onto the vaka with ample storage space, capable of carrying up to 2 tons in weight. The vessel is powered by the wind and sun, with eight solar panels to run the engine for quick maneuvers in harbors. Although the vaka’s ecological footprint is small, its potential to transform is tremendous.
Vaka moana, vaka motu, and vaka hapua honor the insight of our island ancestors and contribute to ensuring a safe and productive future for our children. Uniting Pacific islands in a sustainable way, the canoe becomes a powerful symbol that bridges the past, present and future. This symbol is assembled and crewed by the community, positioning Pacific Islanders as exemplars of positive change. The vaka not only perpetuates cultural legacy and promotes environmental sustainability, but also embodies a value system with a global and timely significance. The vaka displays a genuine model of hope, a model guided by community.
Here in Fiji, we are lucky enough to be trialing the first prototype of its kind which is currently conducting a 3 – 4 month ‘research phase’ running as a passenger / cargo vessel between the islands of Viti Levu, Lomaiviti, Kadavu, Yasawa’s and Lau.
At the helm is Magnus Danbolt who says of the venture, “There is a great need for transport between the islands. Many groups are isolated for months on end and a vaka motu can be the answer to solve such immediate needs. Should this initial research phase be successful, the team hope to roll out the program to the wider Pacific and build the canoes in the islands. Fiji would be the ideal place to start.
The prototype was built in New Zealand and boasts everything you would expect to find on a state of the art passenger vessel, yet no fossil fuels are required in operation – the electric motor pods are powered by solar!