Dona Catharina has been contracted by the Pacific Tradition Society to be the saftey and camera support vessel for a traditionally build Polynesian Vaka on its first international voyage from the Solomon Islands to Vanuatu.<img
The Te Puke originates from the Duff Islands or Taumako, where the use of these unique crafts in local waters has been uninterrupted. But an ocean voyage needs crew that is capable to not only sail in difficult swell and wind condition, but also is capable to navigate. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KXt4PL2R1aU
The last Duff island navigators, able of using traditional methods of navigation and who had the skills to sail a Te Puke through the open waters of the South Pacific, have passed away. But they did train up a new crew, and with the help of the Pacific Tradition Society, it is hoped, that these skills are being nurtured and preserved for future generations.
Unfortunately our voyage did not quite play out as we had all wished for.
After waiting half of November in Lata on Ndendo for the right winds to arrive for , we seemed to bee finally lucky with the forecast of Northerly winds for a voyage south, to Sola in Vanuatu.
To get the Te Puke out of the wind shadows of the Island, we took the Vaka in tow. Even past the east end of the island we did not find any winds, so it became necessary to keep towing. Eventually, by nightfall, the promised northerlies arrived and the towline was released. To our surprise, the Te Puke crew was unable to gain any speed, but only managed to sail or drift about 9miles during the night, and by daylight we needed to reconnect the towline, and by noon we where towing the Te Puke through the pass of Utupua
It turned out, that, as soon as the Vaka crew had raised the mast during the previous night, it broke at the foot, and after a jury rigg repair, the meanwhile good brise ripped the traditional mat sail.
Utupua is a beautiful remote, and seldom visited Island. And a deep bay, that cuts the island almost in half would offer protection even in a tropical cyclone. We where warmly welcomed by the villagers on who’s shores we dropped our anchor. Visitors are rare on this island with no airport.
But the Te Puke crew was eager to press on towards Vanikolo, about 30 miles to the south, because of better family connections, and thefor easier repair option.
After another overnight tow, we got the Te Puke safe into a protected bay on Vanikolo. Repairs to the mast where done immediately, and the damaged sail could be patched with a mat, that had been gifted to the Dona Catharina crew by friends from Tikopia. I’m sure our Tikopia friend would agree that passing the mat on to the Te Puke was a necessity.
The weather window had meanwhile closed, and there did not seem to be any favourable wind in the near future. For us, on Dona Catharina it was getting late in the season, and so we needed to make the decision to pull the plug, and head south, out of the belt of the tropical cyclones.
The Te Puke crew will attempt to sail the remaining 120 miles to Sola in 2020 and we hope, that they will use the time, to go over their vessel to make sure, she is more seaworthy next time. We also hope, that they will spend as much hours as possible to improve on their sailing skills, and take their vessel out on every occasion. I’m sure, if they keep working on their skills, the voyage to Vanuatu will come to a sucssesfull conclusion by the end of 2019