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Vaka Paikea’s challenging sail home

Tuesday 8 August 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Features, Weekend

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Vaka Paikea’s challenging sail home
Vaka Paikea sailed from Avatiu to Avarua harbour in celebration of Rarotonga’s Arrival of the Gospel Bicentennial. MELINA ETCHES/23072537

After two months in Samoa and 15 challenging days at sea voyaging back home, Vaka Paikea arrived at Te Ava Tapu marae Avana harbour on July 22, relieved, safe, and sound.

The double hulled canoe was chartered for six weeks by the Aiga Folau o Samoa, Samoa Voyaging Society, to deliver their “Guardians 2023 project”.

Paikea had embarked on its ambitious 800 nautical mile traditional voyage to Samoa on May 22, and with good wind, arrived at Apia in around eight days.

Paikea departed Apia, Samoa on July 7 for the homeward voyage to Rarotonga with a crew of nine: Cook Islanders, Captain Peia Patai, Zeb Revake, Steven Daniels, Tariu Tairea and Tuaine “Katu” Teiti and Manu Johnston of Kanehunamoku Voyaging Academy. The Samoa Voyaging Society members Lyvia Hansell-Black, Kalolo Steffany and Mao Lavatai were also part of the voyage.

Patai said: “The wind was on our nose all the time, it was one of the hardest trips.”


Vaka Paikea crew were hosted by Nick Henry on Aitutaki. TPMVS/23080352

The crew encountered wind blowing directly towards the bow of the boat which meant they had to tack back and forth (zigzag) which is generally more challenging than sailing with the wind from behind as it requires more skill and effort to maintain forward progress.

Holding onto the oe to keep the canoe on course was also a challenge.

The crew worked tirelessly to steer the canoe into the wind and it was not an easy task, Patai said.

“It was all about steering into the wind and the canoe can only go 50 degrees into the wind,” he said.

“We had a choice to either go south and hit the bad weather or stay up north, but the prevailing wind was kind of steady. Not rough, just difficult.

“It was hard I think with the young crew I had, but I think they can appreciate it as they have learnt a lot.”

Despite the obstacles, the crew persevered. On day nine at sea, Suwarrow came into sight, and they decided to go in for a rest and a break.


Vaka Paikea crew Zeb Ravake and Tuaine (Katu) Teiti arriving at Avana Harbour from Samoa. TPMVS/23080351

Suwarrow is approximately 500 nautical miles but the mileage became about 1450 nautical miles with all the zig zag tacking, steering and sailing required to get there.

One of the crew, Tuaine Teiti was a former park ranger on Suwarrow.

The crew were happy to have a much-needed rest and catch up with Suwarrow’s park rangers Teina Vakapora and Harry Papa’i.

“We enjoyed the break for a day and a half, and the guys wanted to come home – they had been away for two months,” said Patai.

Leaving Suwarrow, the crew had good wind and then it turned in front of them.

“We knew that, we knew it was going to come and then it pumped up, and after four days of sailing (from Suwarrow) we got to Aitutaki, wind on the nose all the way.”

The crew took another much-needed break on Aitutaki, staying overnight. They were hosted by Nick Henry, former crew and captain of Samoa’s Vaka Gaualofa, and Graeme from Stonefish Apparel, before sailing home on a much smoother voyage.

Patai praised his crew for their hard work, resilience and dedication.

The crew of Vaka Paikea have proven to be true navigators and skilled in the art of traditional Polynesian navigation. Their achievement is a source of pride for Polynesians and serves as a reminder of the importance of traditional sailing.

“If we had waited in Samoa (for better weather), it wouldn’t have done us any good anyway because of the winds, so we decided to just go,” Patai said.

“The good thing is, I encouraged the crew … ‘it’s a hard trip but what you do is you turn it around and as a person it will make you stronger and more resilient’.

“I know the canoe could handle it, I’ve sailed the canoe from day one all the way and I was involved in building it and sailing them to Micronesia. I know that the canoe can handle the weather and I’ve been in rougher seas.”

Lyvia Hansell-Black, from the Samoa Voyaging Society, wrote about the voyage in a post on Facebook: “What a journey it’s been - the ultimate challenging ‘windward sail’ (for me yet), definitely the ‘hard-nosed sailing’ category.”

She is grateful to Captain Patai and the professional, dedicated crew of Vaka Paikea, including Samoa’s Karl (Kalolo) Steffany and Mao Onesemo (Lavatai), for commanding a challenging sail, for their great comradeship, and for sharing their knowledge and experience.


Captain Peia Patai and crew arriving at Avana Harbour from Samoa. TPMVS/23080350

“The most admirable feature of this journey is the quiet determination, commitment and team resolve, and the resilience of our crew to hold on to that ‘foe’ (oe) as if our lives depended on it – the speed lightening attention to changing sails, direction or pulling in sails/sheeting, which in many ways it was.”

Hansell-Black noted that the foe is heavy and that three crew members had to hold on to it to control a gybe (turning the vaka with the wind behind you and vaa) in 25 knots of breeze.

When night fell, she came to deeply appreciate the dedication of Vaka Paikea, especially when the wind was hitting 20-25, 30 knots, and gusting crazily.

“For me being mentally prepared for this voyage is key,” she wrote.

With the Guardian educational programme all wrapped up, Patai said “we are happy we were able to sail to Samoa and help them out.”

Paikea is anchored at Avana Harbour, Ngatangiia, and will have a couple of weeks rest before sailing to Nga Pu Toru (Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke) later this month.

“I would like to thank all our families for their support and prayers while we were at sea, and we know that we will always be safe,” said Patai.

Vaka Paikea also participated in the Rarotonga 200-year Arrival of Christianity celebrations, sailing a Gospel delegation from Avatiu Harbour to Avarua Harbour as part of the re-enactment of when Tahitian missionary Papeiha came ashore in 1823.

Te Puna Marama Foundation which manages Paikea is currently offering, weather permitting, a fundraising initiative for members of the public to experience a unique sail on the vaka.

Since this is “whale season”, the two-hour sail is also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the giant creatures passing through our waters while enjoying light refreshments on board.

Te Puna Marama is a charitable trust and all funds go towards the upkeep of the vaka. For bookings, visit their Facebook page.