okeanos - Stiftung für das Meer

Vaka Moana—The Voyage

Encompassing about one-third of the earth’s surface and constituting half of the global hydrosphere (all the waters of the earth's surface), the Pacific is an important factor in climate control. Many species of animals and plants occur only there, either in the Pacific itself or on its islands. Moreover, approximately one billion people live in close proximity to the ocean and make their living from it whos habitat, the Pacific, is under special threats from climate change, exploitation, and diverse forms of pollution.

For a long time Dieter Paulmann has been looking for the right way to raise awareness about these problems, which will affect all of us, landing on our collective doorsteps, whether we like it or not. Finding this way has been a journey in itself until he finally met the wise and spiritual people of the Pacific who are following in the wake of their ancestors, reviving their ancestors' wisdom and their respect for the sea.

Impressions from Tahiti © Okeanos

By helping these people to spread their knowledge about traditional navigation, used by their ancestors to populate the Pacific thousands of years ago, we also found a way to help the ocean. This traditional knowledge includes awareness about the healing, spiritual forces of the sea, about the ocean's generosity in feeding us, and about the close connection every living being on earth has to the sea. Contained within this knowledge is therefore the respect and the love for the sea, which is necessary to treat the sea in the right way. We are still learning from these people every day, for which we are grateful and humbled.

This was also the key and spark to our project "Pacific Voyagers". Our aim was and still is to bring this wisdom, and the attendant respect and love for the ocean to the world.

Across the Pacific, the traditional voyaging canoe, called 'Vaka Moana', is said to represent genealogy. Pacific Islanders trace their origins to certain canoes, for each is a sacred and living treasure that connects people to their ancestry. The canoe embodies balance, harmony, teamwork, and respect for the sea, nature and all beings, and it is a microcosm of the Pacific Islands, but also of our larger island that is planet Earth. 

For us the vaka is now a metaphor for a sustainable way of life. Bridging ancestral wisdom and renewable energy, the vaka tells a universal story of hope. The voyaging canoe is a powerful model of intergenerational learning and cross-cultural legacy, with tremendous potential to inspire pride in our common heritage, and motivate change as we navigate towards a world of ecological sustainability.

Vaka Moana © Natalia Tsoukala

We commissioned to build seven 'Vaka Moana' at Salthouse Boatbuilders in Aotearoa/New Zealand (video). They are powered by the wind and sun only and are navigated the traditional Polynesian way (celestial navigation). The construction of these Vaka Moana is based on the knowledge and experience of our anchestors combined with modern technological knowledge and use of renewable energy (solar panels).

Solar panels on Vaka Moana © Rui Camilo

Our vaka are crewed by people from all over the Pacific--people who have seen changes in their home islands with their own eyes, people who are living every day according to the wisdom of their ancestors, people who are already taking care of the ocean by working for an NGO, people who are educating children, and people who love the sea. Ranging in age and experience, these men and women are fishermen and artists, teachers and farmers. While some are life-long seamen, others are getting their first taste of the open ocean. But as diverse as their individual lives may be, they share one voice and vision, and their mission is simple: Use the wisdom of our ancestors, combined with modern science, to propel us into a more sustainable future, help heal our injured ocean, raise awareness, and revive the cultural traditions of voyaging.

In April 2011 the vaka and their crews started their voyage Te Mana O Te Moana ("The Spirit of the Sea") from Aotearoa to Hawai'i and, beyond that, to the West Coast of the States. They passed various countries and islands until their journey finally ended in the Solomon Islands in July 2012 in Honiara/Solomon Islands where the crews also participated in the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts. After the festival, our vaka family dispersed as each vaka returned back to her Pacific Island home, with some of the canoes stopping in New Caledonia, Tonga, and Tuvalu along the way.

Vaka Moana © Okeanos

However, though the joint voyage has now ended the vaka will all continue to voyage through their various Voyaging Societies - for cultural, educational, logistical and commercial purposes (the latter in favor of each Voyaging Society's NGO). Thus, our journey is not ending, but has only begun as we continue our mission towards a sustainable and fossil fuel free Pacific.

The epic voyage 'Te Mana O Te Moana' is also the topic of our TV series titled "Our Blue Canoe" that is currently being produced in Auckland / New Zealand. You will find more information about it shortly on the Okeanos and the Pacific Voyagers website.  


Inter-Island Transport—The Vaka Family

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 and satisfies all (sea) transportation needs. Our three types of vaka (canoe) include the Vaka Moana (open ocean canoe), Vaka Motu (inter-island transport canoe), and Vaka Hapua (lagoon canoe, still in the construction phase).

These vaka 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.

Vaka Motu in construction stage © Greg Salthouse/Salthouse Boatbuilders

In addition to physically transporting children to schools on neighboring islands, the Vaka Motu serves as an intergenerational classroom itself, traveling on a larger classroom that is the ocean. As communities relearn ancient knowledge, it enters the consciousness of the youth, where it may be carried into the future. While connecting children in the Pacific region to their ancestral heritage, the 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, our Vaka Motu holds evolving possibilities that extend well beyond what we might have foreseen since the launching of our first Vaka Motu prototype Okeanos on November 3rd, 2011. A second Vaka Motu, Rangi, was launched almost exactly two years after Okeanos, on November 6, 2013.

The vaka 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 Motu in the marina © Stacey Simpkin

The main impetus behind the Vaka Motu was to develop a typical working boat for the Pacific that can be built and operated by the islanders themselves. The typical distance for inter-island traffic is 50 to 100 nm, but the vessel is also capable of long open ocean crossings. It can be used for many purposes, i.e. to bring goods from remote outer islands to the central markets, for coastal fishing operations, for noise-free whale watching and sightseeing tours for tourists and it could even operate as a floating school bus. It provides an economic and environment-friendly transportation system for people and products on the islands while fostering cultural revival, educational opportunities and community empowerment.

The Vaka Motu requires no use of fossil energy as it is purely wind and solar powered. Just like the Vaka Moana, the Vaka Motu is based on the traditional double-hulled polynesian sailing canoe design. However, in contrast to traditional vaka their hulls are made of E-Glass and Epoxy Resin. The fibreglass production is simple and can be handed over easily to local craftsmen after adequate training as the construction of the hulls is done with a mould that is easily transportable in small containers. Its shallow 0.8m draft makes it possible to sail across shallow lagoons and to easily land on beaches. It is steered by a traditional wood steering paddle (hoi). Like the Vaka Moana, our Vaka Motu have a multi-purpose boom that can be used as a crane to assist loading and unloading of cargo, and all beams are connected to the hulls through traditional lashings.

The first two Vaka Motu were built in New Zealand for practical, technical, design, monitoring, safety-at-sea testing and construction reasons. However, the intention is to build these canoes locally on small islands. The materials that are used, mainly wood, canvas for sails, ropes etc can all be sourced locally. Our two Vaka Motu have already been tested intensely in different Pacific island regions to determine their usability and practicability in the tough tropical environment and to collect feedback. The enthusiasm and interest in this type of boat is tremendous in all the places we visited, and plans are being developed to start with the first local construction.

Vaka Moana, Vaka Motu, and Vaka Hapua honor the insight of our 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. In addition the vaka displays a genuine model of hope, a model guided by community.

Take a tour of our Vaka Motu "Okeanos"