Magnus Danbolt is the captain of Te Matau a Māui, one of four waka on an incredible journey from Aotearoa to French Polynesia. The following is an extract from his captain’s log.
Day 8 | 260410
The wind is here now. At noon yesterday Te Matau a Māui and Hine Moana were overtaken by a southerly front. Like a grey wall it came thundering on to us with 25-30knots SSE winds and rain – a dramatic wind shift from the light westerly winds in split seconds. We quickly reduced sails and called Marumaru Atua and Uto Ni Yalo who were 10 miles north to warn them of what was coming their way. The two groups of waka are still sailing parallel to each other about 10 miles apart. In the strong SSE winds we can’t keep our due east course but are slipping slowly to the north. The morning had been very nice with sun and lighter winds. Many of us on Te Matau had taken the opportunity to do our laundry, which still hadn’t dried when the first squall hit. Now the bunks where we sleep are full of wet clothes that won’t dry for days. This weather is good training for the crews. Not too much wind and the sails are still easy to manage. The forecast shows that we might get up to gale force winds in the next days. The conditions now already make life hard on the waka. Nothing is dry and everything upside down. Even typing this is a challenge. Sitting squeezed into the whare in the morning light, Māmā Liz, Murray and Ema trying to make an omelette; Murray and Ema steadying the pans and Māmā Liz stirring. The simplest task becomes a mission. Now it is important to get the crew together, encourage everyone and work as one team. We are only just halfway to Raivavae.
Ngā mihi 260410 Time (UTC -11) Position Te Matau a Māui 0600 36″20S 162″44W
Day 9 | 270410
ANZAC Day. The heavier weather from the south east doesn’t bring down the crew’s morale. Instead the amping, yeehaa-ing increases and everyone gets their glow on. There are no worried faces when the waka surfs down a wave and buries her bow through oncoming waves. It is a constant rhythm if you are down below in the hull. It sounds like thunder and the hulls shudder on impact. You can hear the water hit the top of the hull and cascade down like a waterfall. At sunset we remembered family and friends that had passed due to the various wars and held our own ANZAC day ceremony. We are fortunate to have two ex-servicemen onboard. Twelve miles north Marumaru had their own Anzac ceremony. She has been tracking more or less the same course and speed as Te Matau and Hine Moana who are still close together. During the night Marumaru is coming closer and at 0600 only a few miles separate our latitudes. Uto Ni Yalo has problems maintaining her course heading into the wind (close to the wind). She has drifted further and further to the north and is not making as good speed as before. She is probably the lightest of all the waka and doesn’t seem to handle the heavier winds as well. In the evening she is out of VHF range. Luckily Evohe, one of our support boats, is tailing her and can relay our messages. We think that our Fijian brothers are really cold and desperate to get to the warmer latitudes. The south east wind is slowly veering to the south. That will give Uto the opportunity to catch up with the rest of us and now, in the morning she is on the VHF and has done a very good job fighting against the weather to come south! At 0400 the wind increased to gale force… We are still doing 10 knots and 15-17 knots down the waves. Big swell and spray whipping our faces in the wind. The canoe is being thrown around and a wave breaking over the deck took Tiaki, the youngster onboard, with it all the way to the guard rail. Luckily he is unharmed. Another day of voyaging!
Ngā mihi 270410 Time Position Te Matau a Māui 0600 35″36S 159″06W
Day 10 | 280410
The storm continues throughout the day. Towering waves and 48 knots of gusts force us to reduce sail even more. A dramatic change of the staysail to the storm jib saw three of the crew mostly submerged for the best part of 30 minutes when the bow ploughed into the waves. One second there is water up to the main mast. Next second the bow rises three metres up in the air with water pouring down the side and the crew, Murray and Tiaki emerge again through the white wash only to smash down again into the next wave. It looks dramatic and they come back with a smile. It is all about working together and looking after each other. The waves are still crashing over us but the worst of the pounding is gone. In the morning Uto Ni Yalo comes flying by. She has managed to climb up against the wind and is pushing hard eastward. She doesn’t seem to have any problems in the hard winds. The lighter canoes seem to handle better after all! She disappears to the east of us until we can’t reach her on the VHF anymore. In the early morning Uto and Marumaru are joining up 30 miles north of Hine Moana and Te Matau.
Ngā mihi 280410 Time Position Te Matau a Māui 0600 35″27S 156″37W
Nine days later island drums thunder across the ocean as the first Polynesian fleet to sail the Pacific in hundreds of years arrives at Raivaevae harbour. Conches trumpet their arrival and a large crowd of uniformed school children and families, dazzling in their leafy headdresses and flower garlands, sing and sway to beating drums. A procession to the Mayor’s residence follows and everybody enjoys a sumptuous feast.
After 19 days sailing 2200 miles from Auckland, the fleet has just completed the first leg of their two-month voyage that began in April.
For the locals, this is an auspicious occasion. Seeing their heritage in action and witnessing Polynesian waka with their crab-claw sails aloft is cause for celebration.
Collectively the crews make up the Pacific Voyagers Network. Marumaru Atua hails from the Cook Islands, Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji,Faafite from Tahiti, Hine Moana has a mixed crew from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. Te Matau a Māui from Aotearoa has three Ngāi Tahu crew members, Frank Kawe (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu), Tiaki Latham-Coates (Ngāi Tahu – Kāti Huirapa) and Eruera Tarena (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui), and through tenacity and a bit of luck, this TE KARAKA reporter for the Samoa-to-Tonga leg of the journey.
The voyage is about reviving Polynesian non-instrumental navigation and sailing traditions and cultural reconnections between the Pacific Islands. The crews are also trying to catch up to the Hawaiians who have been sailing and navigating traditional waka for more than 30 years.
Each waka has a 16-person crew, which is broken into watches that take charge for a three-hour shift, followed by a six-hour break. Due to the long time at sea, many crew members leave at different ports and new ones arrive to take their places.
From Raivaevae the waka will sail to Moorea, Papeete, Ra’iatea, Rarotonga, Upolo in Samoa and Vava’u in Tonga. TE KARAKA caught up with Te Matau a Māui in Samoa to record Ngāi Tahu’s presence in this historic journey and to chart their part in cultural reconnections within Polynesia.
But first the crews have to be trained to master the sea, the weather and the stars.
In Aotearoa, Hekenukumai Busby (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kāhu) is widely considered to be the father of star navigation and waka.
He was introduced to ocean voyaging by Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson and the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1983. He also became a student of the late Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug. Busby learned to observe and interpret the stars, sun, the wave action, ocean currents, wind and bird activity.
Piailug, from the island of Satawal, was one of the last master navigators in Micronesia. The re-birth of traditional navigation in the Pacific is largely due to his generous teachings. Piailug did not believe in Micronesian/Polynesian/Melanesian distinctions; he considered all the islands of the Pacific one people.
Many scientists and historians had believed that Polynesians had accidentally colonised the Pacific through drift voyaging. But when Piailug navigated the 4000km journey from Tahiti to Hawai’i in 1976, he proved them wrong. His death on July 12 this year, at the age of 78, is greatly mourned by the traditional navigation community.
It was through Piailug’s teachings, a handful of Māori sailors – Stanley Conrad, Jack Thatcher, Piripi Evans and Busby became master navigators.
“We all learnt together from Mau,” Busby said when TE KARAKA spoke to him in March at a Ngāi Tahu Celestial Navigation Hui at Awarua Marae in Bluff. “We had lost the art of navigation. It was through that man we got the taonga back again and I don’t think we’ll lose it again … the boys are recording everything now.”
A bridge builder by trade, Busby is also a renowned waka builder.
In 1991 he built his first sailing waka, Te Aurere, which was Aotearoa’s first waka hourua (double-hulled sailing waka).
On this latest Pacific voyage, Busby joined the fleet in Papeete, where the crews visited marae and placed stones from their homelands. Busby then joined Te Matau a Māui.
In Awarua, Busby had struggled walking around and sometimes needed assistance. At the time he said he felt younger and his body moves easier when he is on the waka. This proved true on the six-day sail to Ra’iatea.
Ra’iatea, also known as Avaiki, has huge spiritual significance because Taputapuatea Marae, the great navigational temple synonymous with Polynesian origins, is located there. At Taputapuatea all the crews change into formal traditional dress and make special presentations.
After Ra’iatea, the fleet travel to Rarotonga. Their arrival echoes a similar event 18 years earlier. In 1992, about 20 Pacific waka, including Te Aurere, sailed to Rarotonga for the South Pacific Arts Festival.
Having made the journey many times before, master navigator Tua Pittman, who was trained by Mau, and Te Aturangi Nēpia-Clamp, guide Marumaru Atua and the rest of the fleet through Avana passage and into their home harbour.
They are given a tremendous welcome and after a few days celebrating, Faafite departs for Tahiti and Marumaru Atua remains, while Te Matau a Māui, Hine Moana and Uto Ni Yalo carry on to Samoa.
The origins of this waka fleet go back to 2008 to the South Pacific Arts Festival in American Samoa.
German philanthropist Dieter Paulman,whose foundation Okeanos aims to protect the oceans and preserve marine life, was attending the festival. Paulman was planning a movie about the problems the oceans face and looking for a metaphor to carry the message of how to treat the ocean to sustain it for future generations. In a meeting with Rarotongans Ian Karika and Nēpia-Clamp and filmmaker Rawiri Paratene (Ngā Puhi) the idea of the vaka-journey emerged.
Speaking from Cologne, Germany, Okeanos project manager Tanja Winkler says to bring the project to realisation, Okeanos set up Ocean Noise Productions (ONP).
ONP owns all the waka until the end of the project. It deals with all the logistics of the voyage, which also included three support boats.
The aim of the whole project is to produce a documentary that brings the message to the world.
Winkler says the Pacific has huge environmental meaning because it is the largest body of water on earth. At the same time, Pacific cultures provide “genuine ancient knowledge” of how to preserve the environment.
“We have lost connection with the sea, only seeing it as a means for trading, leisure or to feed you. But people are not really aware it is part of you.”
“When you sail waka you move more quietly without disturbing marine life, you respect Tangaroa and only take what you need. You don’t fight the elements; you are part of the elements,” says Winkler.
In addition Okeanos is funding a climate change and ocean study that also focuses on the Pacific and its problems.
Each of the waka has been given on a charter agreement to participating islands for four years, after which they are able to buy the waka for a nominal fee.
When it came to buying Te Matau a Māui, Ngāti Kahungunu was quick to put up its hand.
Consequently, a number of the crew are Ngāti Kahungunu including watch captain and ex-Navy diver Rob Hewitt, who is well known for surviving four days in the sea when he was swept away from his friends near Wellington.
Hewitt was employed by ONP to train the Aotearoa crew.
Frank Kawe is the most experienced Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāi Tahu sailor aboard. He is another watch captain.
Kawe says waka hourua provide an opportunity for people to get in touch with their own ancestral waka, to learn how tūpuna travelled across the seas; and he is excited to hear Ngāi Tahu has taken initial steps to learn about waka hourua.
“To me I think they’ve shown the way in maybe producing a model that could work for other iwi to follow, to go and do the same thing,” says Kawe.
He says waka hourua also tend to boost the confidence levels of those involved. “I always liken it to the Spirit of New Zealand but geared specifically to Māori and Polynesian.”
Kawe got his start on Te Aurere when waka veteran Jack Thatcher (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Pukenga) asked him to travel to Mt Maunganui to bring Te Aurere to Tauranga for a series of wānanga in 1996.
Kawe’s interest was piqued and he has since sailed in Hawai’i and Micronesia many times.
He says they have yet to fully realise what Ngāti Kahungunu leadership has envisaged for the waka.
He would like to see waka used as a platform to introduce people of all iwi, particularly Ngāti Kahungunu, to sailing kaupapa and all that it has to offer.
“I’m sure there are other aspects that the waka can be used for – some commercial, some promotional and environmental – but I think for myself and number of others that the most important aspect is the transfer of traditional knowledge.”
Kawe says one of the things he enjoys most about voyaging is encountering different peoples.
“The underlying thing, especially for ourselves as Māori, when we are travelling through French Polynesia and Central Polynesia, is the aspect of reconnecting to the kōrero of our past, and re-strengthening whanaungatanga with the tangata whenua of these islands.”
When the fleet arrive in Samoa, Head of State and Samoan Voyaging Society patron Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi speaks about how the fleet are reviving the traditional conversations of the Pacific forefathers.
“This conversation sings of Hawaiki/Hawai’i, and the connection with the original Savaii; and of Te Ika a Māui, where the lands of Aotearoa were believed to be fished by Māui out of the ocean; and, as well, of how Tonga and Rarotonga are markers of being southward, in the direction of the way-finders.”
Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr presents Tui Atua with a Te Matau a Māui t-shirt and a stone from Aotearoa.
He explains that one of the stories in Aotearoa is how pounamu returned to Hawaiki. When people heard about this beautiful stone that could only be found in Aotearoa, they journeyed there to find it.
In Samoa the crews stay an extra day to attend a dinner for the Fijians. Although the fleet does not travel to Fiji, the Fijiians are welcomed by their compatriots on each of the host islands.
Their waka, Uto Ni Yalo, is well equipped with sponsors from Fiji, an onboard journalist, who writes daily stories for The Fiji Times and a cameraman, and kaumātua Ratu Manoa Rasigatale. They also have their own captain in Colin Philip.
Te Matau a Māui captain is Swede Magnus Danbolt who works for ONP and has been with the waka for more than a year.
Although Kawe has sailed for more than 15 years, he does not hold a skipper’s ticket. Barclay-Kerr only joined the voyage from Rarotonga after attending the Waka Ama World Championships in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Hewitt has much less sailing experience but gained several qualifications during his time in the New Zealand Navy. This year he will sit his Yacht Master Ocean Certificate.
With the backing of Ngāti Kahungunu, Hewitt is running two Day Skipper wānanga in October for iwi members. It will cover whakawhanaungatanga, kapa haka, first aid, and basic seamanship revision.
Danbolt says the qualifications are a “Pākehā technicality”. He says there is a lot of traditional sailing knowledge that can’t be put down on paper but the qualifications are part of the criteria for insurance. The qualifications also shows that the crew has training in basic safety and seamanship. It also requires the crew to commit and learn about sailing as well as tradition.
Although gaining skippers qualifications is new for the Aotearoa crew, in Hawai’i the rules allowing non-qualified crew members to sail are much tougher because of the possibility of expensive lawsuits.
Danbolt says that of course the captain of Te Matau a Māui will be Māori.
But while he has been at the helm, Danbolt has learned te reo Māori, adhered to the use of karakia and when the crew perform a fierce and rousing haka in Samoa, he is part of the line-up. He says the Pacific culture and its peoples is what make this voyage special.
From Samoa, the fleet set sail for Vava’u, Tonga.
Clear night skies allow Te Matau a Māui to navigate by the stars, with Barclay-Kerr using a red laser pointer to indicate Takurua (Sirius), Aotahi (Canopus), Rehua (Antares) and Te Matau a Māui (Scorpio). The fleet makes short work of the voyage and arrive at Vava’u in less than 45 hours.
Most of Te Matau a Māui crew then fly back to Aotearoa and Uto Ni Yalo sets sail for Fiji, knowing they will receive a heroes’ welcome in Suva.
Hine Moana and Te Matau a Māui remain in Vava’u as a sailing training base for Tonga, and to investigate the possibility of a commercial venture into whale watching.
After three months in Tonga, Te Matau a Māui is making her way back to Aotearoa where preparations are underway for next year’s great voyage. In March the fleet will sail from Auckland to Tahiti and then on to Hawai’i. Now there is also talk of sailing to the west coast of the United States of America and then down to the Galapagos Islands.