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Young crew members grow through challenges during historic voyage

Tuesday 9 July 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Go Local

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Young crew members grow through  challenges during historic voyage
Vaka Marumaru Atua captain Peia Patai being accorded a traditional welcome on Saturday. MELINA ETCHES/24070808

Vaka Marumaru Atua arrived home safely on Saturday from an “amazing” 21-day open ocean journey from Honolulu, Hawai’i. The crew of 16 completed the historic Transpacific voyage, showcasing impressive seafaring skills and the traditional wayfinding knowledge of the Pacific.

The Cook Islands traditional vaka departed Avarua, Rarotonga, on Friday, May 10, for the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture held in Honolulu last month.  After 22 days, the Vaka arrived at Sand Island on June 1st welcomed by PVS (Polynesian Voyaging Society) 'Ohana, and the Cook Islands community.

The voyage was part of an ongoing effort to revive and preserve the traditional voyaging practices, which had declined in recent decades.

Steering the crew on both legs of the Rarotonga-Hawai’i-Rarotonga voyage was Captain Peia Patai, an experienced Cook Islands master navigator of Vaka.

Patai has crossed the equator an impressive nine times on previous voyages across the Pacific.

However, it was only during the recent ocean journey in May from Rarotonga to Honolulu that Patai caught his first glimpse of the elusive north star from the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) or the “doldrums” area.

As the Vaka sailed through the doldrums just north of the equator, Patai finally laid eyes on the iconic celestial marker that has guided seafarers for centuries.

Despite his decades of expertise in wayfinding, Patai disclosed that this was a profoundly moving experience as the appearance of the North Star signified the vaka transition into the northern hemisphere.

On their way up to Hawai’i, he said the weather was “solid (strong)” entering the doldrums.

“It’s a solid area that we train hard ourselves to deal with it. That’s where you’re tested as a crew – your discipline has to be on top-level,” says Patai.

He noted that his teacher, Hawaiian Pwo master navigator Nainoa Thompson, was a bit worried and making contact via satellite phone and checking the weather on satellite.

“It was so solid when we went up and going in, there were thunderstorms … and one day you can see the canoe going in between and you can see the clouds.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the North Star from in the doldrums. Why? Because there was an opening in the sky… and both sides are two systems – system on the East and system on the West.

“It makes you humble, that we’ve been blessed. This trip has been blessed – either way.”

The start of the trip to Hawai’i was difficult from Mauke onwards with the wind on their nose all the time.

Patai says “we were sailing at the wrong time … El Nino brings in that (kind of weather)”.

Many of the crew sailing to and back from Hawai’i were new and many hadn’t been at sea for that long.

Patai believes the courage and determination the young people took on and the blessings from the prayers from home saw them through their journey.

He said the young crew probably didn’t think of the difficulties they were going to experience and when they were in that space, where they had to deal with their challenges, they grew.

He sensed that some crew members were scared at the start.

“But they managed very quickly to overcome their fear and adapt to being on the ocean and begin to enjoy it,” says Patai.

“I think they were all well satisfied and have improved themselves as a person, and their skills in sailing.”

Patai explained that a voyage for 20 days is basically waking up surrounded by the ocean and at night you have the sky full of stars.

He appreciated that the journey wasn’t too easy so the new crew would know the good and the hard side of sailing.

“I see a brighter future for us, it’s good having these young people and their experience… I’m getting old so I can’t wait for them to take over,” he said.

Sailing home wasn’t too bad as they had fair winds and a couple of rough days which was good too “to get where we were going”.

Quite a bit of fish was caught and the crew enjoyed fresh fish meals “but you can’t beat corned beef and spaghetti,” Patai said.

Dr Evangelene Wong from Atiu was one of the two women who sailed back to Rarotonga.

“It was beautiful weather with a bit of everything, we had a bit of excitement, a little bit of squalls, of calmness,” said Dr Wong.

“It’s living in the moment – just enjoy that day, that moment, no matter what, it is right there, right now. It was a beautiful trip.”

Sandra Ankli said sailing to Rarotonga on her second long voyage was “really lovely”.

Her highlight was seeing the stars every night, the lucky weather and bonding with the crew.

Te Ariki “Tux” Gardiner stated that making bonds with the crew was pretty special on this trip, his longest voyage.

“Going on there as a stranger and coming home pretty much as family. And every day we had new obstacles we had to try and overcome,” Gardiner said.

“This trip was amazing and I’m so grateful to be a part of the Marumaru Atua crew, I’m very blessed and it was an amazing experience.”

Benjamin Raela said the ocean journey was a beautiful experience.

“It’s really nice to be home, it’s a trip of a lifetime – the kind of thing that our ancestors did,” said Raela.

Vaine Taurarii Aue Metua Mitchell was tired and hungry when the welcoming ceremony was over.

“I’m happy seeing all the families, it’s so good to be home. I’m looking forward to a Corona, and a meal of rukau and neck chops,” said Mitchell.

Oliver Oolders says “it’s awesome to see all the friends and family and I can’t wait to have a freshwater shower – hot or cold.”

The Vaka Marumaru Atua crew sailing from Hawaii to Rarotonga were: Captain Peia Patai (Te Puna Marama Voyaging Foundation), Deon Wong, Oliver Oolders, Zebediah Revake, Steven Daniels, Ngatama Ria Tuakanangaro (Mauke), Metua Mitchell, Dr Evangeline Wong, Andrew S Akavi Raeputa (Mitiaro), Sandra Ankli, Josh Rowles, John Wayne Gosselin, Ben Raela, Te Ariki Gardiner, Kahia Walker (Hawai’i), Matariki Cardinali Tuki (Rapanui/Hawaii). Joining the Mauke-Rarotonga leg - Moana Rakei (Mauke), Daryl Ngaoire (Mauke), Tutere Moetaua (Mauke), and Temanava Patai.

Patai expressed his gratitude to the sponsors who have contributed and supported the Marumaru Atua voyage to Hawai’i and back: Air Rarotonga, Bank of the Cook Islands, Government, Stone Fish Aitutaki, and others.

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