Ocean-going canoes from Polynesia in our waters

Several weeks ago I published a photo I shot of a large sailboat anchored here in our bay. I’d heard it was from New Zealand. More recently I found out that this was one of a fleet of 7 vakas moanas, or ocean-going canoes, each boat with a crew of about a dozen sailors from Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji and other Polynesian islands. They’re making a film called “Our Blue Canoe,” to alert people to the pollution that is threatening our oceans. No fossil fuels; their only propulsion is the wind and a small amount of power for engines from solar panels. They are using celestial navigation.

“Okeanos – Foundation for the Sea have rebuilt seven ocean-voyaging vaka moanas, together with the help and expertise of the Polynesian people. The design of our vakas use a fusion of both traditional and modern methods and materials. We followed our ancestor’s design, but incorporated more sustainable materials to lessen the impact on our environment. Fibreglass hulls replace timbre to protect our forests and we’ve added eight solar panels on the back of each vaka to power our engines. Natural gas is the only fossil fuel used, which is employed solely for cooking. Like our ancestors before us, we use no running water. Voyaging on our vaka, we are continuing to revive our ancient Polynesian cultural traditions while exercising respectful stewardship of our ocean.”

Two days ago the4y left San Francisco, heading south along the coast.


Photo © Rui Camilo

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

9 Responses to Ocean-going canoes from Polynesia in our waters

  1. It's amazing how people traveled through dangerous seas in small boats and other craft. It was common for people to paddle from Vancouver to the northern logging areas up the coast. I even remember reading about a honeymoon trip up the coast. We (as in I) have sure gotten lazy or less capable over the years. – Margy

  2. Wade Davis writes about the Polynesian people and their incredible skills of reading wave patterns, wind and sky. Wayfarers is the name of the book I believe. He also has a radio production with a New Zealand Radio company. People have been doing incredible things forever without high tech electronics unless you recognize the human mind as the original High Tech gadget.

    The Village Elder

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  4. This is great. If you haven't come across them already, take a look at the GalGael trust in Glasgow.


    As they say: 'Community project building and sailing traditional boats in celebration of Scotland’s heritage.' But it's far more than that – it's a community-regeneration project that has also built one of the most beautiful boats I've ever seen! Inspirational both in terms of craft and community involvement.

    Do take a look. They're a good bunch.

  5. Glad Village Elder mentioned the Wade Davis book. I listened to his lecture series on the Wayfarers in the Massey Lectures (a Canadian lecture series available on CD) and the section about the Polynesian's ability to navigate the open oceans is unforgettable. Truly astounding.

  6. I've gone to Europe twice a year since 2003 and each time wondered if it would be the last—-crossing the ocean via screaming jet engines burning kerosene probably isn't practical NOW, much less decades from now…

    …but I keep remembering that people crossed oceans for millenia on sailing ships. So all is not lost. We can still get around—it'll just take longer. And what's wrong with that?

  7. Hi Lloyd,

    Love your posts as usual. One thing is confusing – You said their only propulsion is the wind but the quoted text says "we’ve added eight solar panels on the back of each vaka to power our engines."

    I'm confused.

  8. Anonymous: I took another look and amended it to: "…No fossil fuels; their only propulsion is the wind and a small amount of power for engines from solar panels. …"

  9. I had the privilege to have the great and legendry David Lewis sail with me on my junk rigged yacht Shoestring in the 1990's. He was the last European to know the secrets of navigating using the stars, currents and other methods without any instrumentation taught to him by the Polynesians. He was the first man to sail a multihull around the world and was the first to sail to the Antartic and back in his little yacht. A remarkable man and one of the great navigators. A wonderful experience to have known him as a friend. He died in 2001.

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