Sunday, May 29, 2011

Traditional Double Canoes come to Taipivai Bay

We delayed our departure to the Tuamotus once again so we could see a fleet of seven traditional double canoes, called vaka moanas, come into Taipivai Bay on Nuku Hiva. The Marquesans threw them a grand party and served up a fabulous traditional lunch of assorted fruit and meats that we were invited to partake in as well. Five of the seven voyaging canoes sailed all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. The other two joined them in Fakarava in the Tuamotus, the only other stop before Nuku Hiva. From here they will sail on to Hawaii and then San Francisco. The canoes were constructed mostly out of traditional materials with the help of polynesian experts. Some of the modern modifications include fiberglass hulls and solar powered electric engines to help them on their way when the wind dies. Each canoe is crewed by about 20-30 people representing about ten different south pacific nations. For more information about the voyaging canoes check out the website:

We sailed into Controleur Bay just as the canoes were on the way into Taipivai and we caught up with the last canoe right before they doused their second sail. It was quite a magnificent scene; seven traditional double canoes, some with red sails and some with white, coasting into the dramatically beautiful Taipivai Bay, with several massive waterfalls dotting the distant scenery amidst the lush steeply sloping valley walls, sporadically illuminated by bursts of sunlight as the clouds passed by. Many Marquesans were out in their outrigger canoes welcoming the fleet and singing/chanting words in Marquesan. The crews on the vaka moanas often replied in their own versions of the polynesian dialect. The whole thing really gave us the surreal feeling of being transported back in time.

Soon all the boats were anchored and all the crews were ashore. We hurried to anchor ourselves and pump up the dingy. We picked up Ryan and Alex on Shalimar and made are way towards the black sand beach, weaving through the seven vaka moanas and admiring the unique artwork and craftsmanship while trying to imagine what it would be like to voyage across the sea on one. The welcoming ceremonies were under way as we drew near the large crowd that was gathered around a circle of open space where all the action was taking place. The seven different boat crews were each individually recognized and welcomed and they in turn performed their own customary greetings of some sort. Drumming accompanied the whole ceremony. The Nuku Hiva dancers performed a traditional Marquesan dance called the Pig Dance and then the male dancers invited all the visiting men to come out into the circle to learn a small part of it. This was a lot of fun to watch and pretty humorous to all those present.

After the welcoming and dancing was done, it was time to eat. A huge spread of all types of fruit from the island was unveiled while the locals went over to the roasting pits to get the meat ready. Soon the meat was bought over by the Marquesan dancers while singing and yelling something about food I presume. It appeared to be a variety of meat including pig, goat, and beef, prepared the traditional way and wrapped in leaves. Jared got himself a gigantic leg of meat to gnaw on while I had a delicious bowl of poisson cru, raw fish with garlic and coconut milk.

After eating to our heart's content, we wandered down the beach a ways a ran into some other cruisers partaking in the festivities. A New Zealander named Simon came over and started talking to us and we all had a million questions for him. He kindly answered them all and we learned a great deal about what life was like sailing aboard the vaka moanas. It sounds like the shape of the hulls has gradually been improved for sailing to windward, so much so that the oldest boat of the fleet is much slower than the newest one. It also sounds like they sail pretty well in general and offer a nice stable platform for the most part. The structure on the top of the middle of the boat houses the galley and all the sleeping births are in the hulls. Everyone takes turns steering the boat with the oar like tiller in the middle and going to windward sounds especially interesting. The skipper must alternate having the rudder in and out of the water to counteract the the boat's desire to head into the wind. To do this, you push up and down on the tiller instead of side to side, no easy feat in big sloppy seas when its really blowing hard!

We are very glad that we stayed for this special event and we feel very lucky to have witnessed it. I hope that our friends in California check out the itinerary on the website link above and make plans to go and see the vakas sailing under the Golden Gate bridge. It would be well worth it!

1 comment:

long island used boats said...

It seems like a festive event with the traditional canoes.