Safety first on voyage back in time

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 41, September 2012

Two double-hulled waka on a 10,800 nautical mile round trip to Rapanui (Easter Island) will be navigated using traditional methods but no chances are being taken when it comes to safety.
Te Aurere
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
Te Aurere – one of two double-hulled waka making a 10,800 nautical mile round trip using traditional navigational methods.

Before their departure last month, MNZ Industry Liaison Advisor Mark Thompson worked closely with members of Te Taitokerau Tarai Waka (t/a Arawai Ltd), the charitable trust that owns the two waka, Te Aurere and Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti.

The waka gained non-SOLAS certification and certificates of compliance as novel vessels under Maritime Rule Part 40G.

“The certification does not compromise the intention of the voyage to sail according to traditional methods, but it means that we have done everything possible to ensure they have a safe trip,” Mark said.

“The safety equipment on board each waka would be on a par with yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race.”

This includes distress beacons and survival gear, and navigation equipment to ensure the waka are not sailing into danger. But Julian Joy, director of Arawai Ltd, emphasised this equipment would not be used unless an emergency arose.

“Only one member of the crew on each waka will have access to the modern equipment,” he said. “We are navigating using traditional methods but our navigators today obviously do not have the skills or experience of their counterparts in ancient times. As such, we are taking safety very seriously.”

Life for the crew will not be comfortable by modern standards, with neither waka equipped with a cabin or other modern facilities. The crew of 12 on each waka will share eight berths – four in each of the hulls.

“Whakapapa (genealogy) has contributed to the selection of the crew – this is a special historical voyage,” Julian said. “Comfort levels are not a high priority.”

But the waka have a proven track record of seaworthiness. Both were built by Northland navigator Hector Busby with Te Aurere built in 1992 and Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti launched last year.

Stan Conrad has been skipper of Te Aurere since its maiden voyage to Rarotonga in 1992.

“On the way up to the islands we had three or four 24-hour storms – and we caught a bit of a storm that lasted two and a half days on the way back. We were about 100 nautical miles off North Cape riding out the storm and we could hear (on the radio) about six yachts in the area experiencing difficulty. We were fine – a bit wet but reasonably comfortable given the conditions.”

Stan says the waka will take four to five weeks to reach Rapanui, travelling at four to six knots.

“That’s nice and comfortable,” he says. “We’ve done 10 or 11 knots with the full set of sails up with a good beam wind.”

Like the rest of the voyaging canoe community around the Pacific, safety is a priority says Stan.

“We know the risks and we make sure we are managing them appropriately,” he said.

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