Today I had the most amazing experience.
I took my parents down to the viaduct to see if the va’a tele were there, as I knew that they had returned to the harbor awaiting better sailing weather.
We arrived and saw the wooden masts above the modern boats. The masts stood out distinct as two straight thick poles.
As I approached the Floating Pavilion I saw to my delight the Gaualofa, the Samoan va’a.
She looked absolutely beautiful and my heart swelled with pride just looking at her. My parents and I waved to the crew and I called out to them in Samoan and asked if there was there a chance that I could bring my parents down for a look. Not only did they let us on but invited me to be with them when they took her out for an afternoon sail.
Wow a bucket list opportunity. Never say no. Of course I said yes. I waved my parents off and settled on board getting to know all the crewmembers.
Marc skippered us out onto the Waitemata Harbor where we learnt about reading the winds and how to raise and stretch out the boom to guide the mainsails when needed.
As I looked around the va’a tele. I could see the double hull shaped like a catamaran. The outside was painted in traditional Samoan mamanu or patterns. The sails or ‘la’ were triangular shaped and also featured traditional Samoan mamanu but when they were hoisted and shifted to catch the wind, the boom was lifted and stretched out. The decks covered the flat of the va’a. The rear end housed the gigantic ‘fue’ or paddle which was used to steer the va’a. Above the fue were solar panels to harness the sun’s energy. Around the edge of the va’a I observed the lashings had been carried out using ‘afa’ or woven coconut sinnet.
Marc directed us when to gybe which is a sailing maneuver when the va’a is sailing in the same direction as the wind. When he called out ‘gybe’ we would loosen the la and some of the crew would tighten other ropes. The la or mainsails were pulled into the mast and would cross the centre of the boat, then flicked out under the other guide ropes. We would then rush to retighten them. He would call out if they were not flapping to leave them alone.
We also tacked into the wind. This is a maneuver that would turn the va’a into the wind. Again we would shift the la so that they were sailing in the same direction as the wind.
Marc read the current and stated at one stage that the current was swift. I looked over the side but did not know how he was reading the current. I would have liked to have asked heaps more questions but was conscious that I was there observing and helping without getting in the way of the afternoon.
As I helped Koleni with the fue I learnt that the paddle worked in reverse of a car. You turn right the wheels right. But with a fue, we would push it left to turn the boat right.
Sailing along, Lole was busy preparing the evening meal and it smelt delicious.
We raced along catching the wind and headed towards the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Suddenly disaster struck. A windsurfer appeared out of our left and sailed straight into our path. Marc called out we tried to avoid him and he continued straight into us. Straight up the middle of the va’a and under the hull. Marc called out and we released the sails and pulled them in. There was a sickening crunch. The crew opened hatches and the wind surfer appeared. He was yanked up safely onto the deck but was calling out for his wind surf. I was thinking of the crew on board whose lives were endangered. The surfer, who could have been killed, but was luckily unscathed. Thank goodness for the experience of Marc and the crew.
We tacked back and picked up his small vessel and hauled that onboard too. The motors were checked and one was damaged so that might affect the departure date.
Then we were instructed to pull down the main sails and to motor back to berth in the Viaduct.
So we did. The mood going back was somber and quiet. As an observer I thought how patient the skipper and the crew had been in regard to the event of the afternoon. However the positive sign was the seeing of a double rainbow appear in front of us. The ‘nuanua’ was a beautiful sight and the mood lifted.
Everyone helped prepared the va’a for berthing by tidying the deck, putting away the sails and coiling all the ropes. We pulled up beside the Tovuto Ni Yalo. The Fijian crew helped us berth the Gaualofa.
I was content and excited at being part of something so big. I am aware I was privileged to be part of this amazing sailing team if only for a few glorious hours. They will leave Auckland and sail for Tahiti. This is the first leg of their epic journey. The voyage is used to raise awareness for the Ocean. They want us to think about the growing noise pollution in the ocean, acidification of the ocean and about anoxic waters and how this is changing the balance of the ecosystems within the ocean. They seek the wisdom of our ancestors and the knowledge of scientists to keep the Pacific healthy and give our grandchildren a future. More information can be found by visiting their website http://www.pacificvoyagers.org and helping them spread the message globally.
Soon after we were tied up securely Te Matau A Maui motored in beside and I made contact with Cecile who had sailed with her Maori whanau and was seeing off her sister who is part of this epic journey. She agree to give me a lift back home. The crew of the Gaualofa kindly asked me to stay and share a meal with them which I would have loved to have done. However family responsibilities were calling. I bade all my new friends soifua ma manuia i le latou malaga and left with Cecile. When I return to school next term I will make use of this personal experience. We are studying Tangaroa as a focus for Matariki.