As Ocean Planet and I slide almost effortlessly, in great conditions across the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, I think back to the great experiences I had on the stopover….
One of the coolest things I got to do in New Zealand was go for a sail on the “Te Aurore”. a Maori/Polynesian “Waka” catamaran replica of the type that the original settlers sailed from the polynesian islands (I don’t know which islands) to the land we now call New Zealand. I met and befriended the crew and the folks who built the boat and actually sailed it to Hawaii(!!!) using the complex traditional polynesian navigation system based on the stars. I learned a little about this ancient knowledge and how it works, which fascinated me to no end.
I don’t know much of the system, but some of what was explained to me was very interesting, and makes perfect sense: As the seasons go by, the stars in the sky don’t move very much at all. Certainly nothing like the sun and the moon which in comparison are all over the place. If you are at a certain latitude, the stars rise and fall at certain locations on the horizon. So one way to determine if you are at the correct latitude for a particular island or location is noticing if two stars (you would have to know which two, of course) rise on the dusk horizon at same time. If you were too far north or south, one of the them will rise before the other! The ancient navigators had the entire sky and major stars all mapped out. Without a compass, they could quite precisely guide the boat on a steady course by markings on it’s perimeter and how they aligned with the stars in the sky. I think this is totally cool.
Even though I can do celestial navigation (if I have to) by the sun, it seems mechanical and clunky compared to the mystery and magic to the how the the original voyagers found their way around the pacific. Another amazing fact is that much of the navigation data (for something like 80 islands!), is stored in a series of chants that have been passed down for generations. This data was nearly lost but is now being recovered. On the boat I was honored to meet the Waka skipper Jack, his crew, and Hector, a Maori elder and priest who is a traditional navigator himself.
Hector, Jack, along with John Panoho and friends are working to resurrect and preserve the Maori version of this system which is of incalculable cultural value. I was able to spend a little time with them at the Around Alone race village where they had booth for their program. They showed me great hospitality and even wore and sold our shirts and hats on our behalf to help support Ocean Planet! If that wasn’t enough, on the morning of the leg 4 start, John appeared with Hector and they presented me with a “Karakia” for good luck, a beautiful Greenstone with a lot of spiritual value. Hector, holding the stone, then blessed me and Ocean Planet for a safe and fast journey. What an awesome gift! I have to say that I do feel safer.
On my solo race and voyage around the world, one of the most special things is getting to touch upon the cultures of the sailing people that have gone before me. Though centuries have passed and technology has changed the world, we are all spiritually tied together in experience by traveling the great seas on this earth, the Ocean Planet.
For more information on “Te Aurere” and their program, please contact John Panoho at: email@example.com
Bruce and Ocean Planet (the boat)
Pictured above: I even got to drive…;-)