– Nainoa Thompson
President, Polynesian Voyaging Society
For almost a decade, our focus has been supporting the construction of traditionally designed Polynesian sailing vessels called “Vakas” (canoes). Together with Pacific voyaging societies, Okeanos supports the development of vakas designed from information shared by many different island groups, resulting in sailing vessels specific to Pacific inter-island transport that are culturally meaningful and environmentally sustainable while satisfying all sea transportation needs.
Our new vaka technology connects the best of the past with the best of the future including solar panels and, most recently, coconut oil-fueled engines, perfectly suited for fossil-fuel free transport of people, food, medicine, and supplies between South Pacific Islands.
The VAKA MOANA (Boat of the Ocean) is our largest traditional canoe built according to drawings made by James Cook around 1770. She has two masts, a maximum weight of 14 tons, accommodates 16 people, and is able to carry four tons of load. She is made for open sea transportation over long distances with the larger goal of reviving traditional Pacific culture and environmental awareness. Seven Vaka Moana composed the ‘Te Mana O Te Moana’ voyaging fleet.
Our new VAKA MOTU (Boat for the Island) is the work boat of the Pacific. A smaller version of the Moana, she has with only one mast, a maximum weight of nine tons, and can accommodate 12 people and three tons of cargo. She is primarily designed for commercial operation between the islands.
Okeanos’ current focus is on the development of partnerships to integrate Vaka Motu into the day-to-day lives of the islanders including transportation of teachers, doctors, and school children, and all goods and services, including disaster-relief to those devastated by extreme weather.
The vaka motu sails with a contemporary rig. It has a sail area of 615 square feet (58 square meter), a length of 50 feet, a 20-foot beam, a two and a half foot draft (80 cm) and is operated by four crew for normal operation.
It is steered by a traditional wood steering paddle (hoi). All beams are connected with the hulls through traditional lashings. It is equipped with GPS navigation, a compass, and VHF as well as international safety equipment such as life rafts, life vests, flares, etc., following international safety regulations. The average sailing speed is about 7 to 8 knots. It sails nicely high to the apparent wind between 55° and 60°.
As is the case with the vaka moana, the hulls of the vaka motu are made of e-glass and epoxy resin, as it would be environmentally irresponsible to build boats with wood nowadays.
The solar installation consists of eight solar panels with 230 W each, offering a total capacity of 1.9 kW. With normal sunlight, the boat can be driven with a speed of four knots. Using two independent LiPo 48v battery systems each with a capacity of 15kWh, the boat can run 20 nautical miles independent of the sun. It thus has a sufficient cruising range to reach ports or other safe places even when there is neither wind nor light. Two 10kW electrical pods can be lowered into the water from the deck to propel the boat or recharge the batteries during sailing. Two independent electrical systems are used so the Vaka Motu can still move if one system fails.
We are also operating one vaka motu with two 15 kWh electrical inboard engines that allow higher speed, greater range, and may reduce maintenance work. In 2016 we have started test runs with 20 HP Volvo diesel engines operated with coconut oil. Since then we are operating our vaka motu ‘Okeanos Vanuatu’ with a coconut oil powered engine . The use of coconut oil enables the islands to use the abundance of coconuts without using unsustainable plantation products and without depending on fossil fuels.
The typical distance for inter-island traffic would be 50 to 100 nautical miles, but the vaka motu is also designed for long open ocean crossings. It is mainly used as a ferry boat to bring goods from remote outer islands to the central markets, coastal fishing operations, noise-free whale watching, sightseeing tours for tourists, and can even operate as a floating school-bus.
The vaka motu contains a 1.45 meter high deckhouse which provides eight passengers shelter against sun, rain, and wind. At the same time, it provides space for a navigational area and two pilot berths. For the wellbeing of crew and passengers, it is equipped with a special galley area in the port side and also with a functional toilet with a black water tank on the starboard side.
The two vaka motus that currently operate in New Zealand and Vanuatu (a third one has successfully been tested and launched and will be operating in Marshall Islands) were built in New Zealand for practical, technical, design, surveillance, safety-at-sea testing, and construction reasons. However, in order to gain experience, it would be beneficial also if they were to be built locally on small islands. Its materials – including wood, lashings, sails, and ropes – can all be sourced locally.
The production – either with fiberglass or jute (now in a testing phase) – is relatively simple and can easily be handed over to local people. This is because the mould that is used to build the fiberglass hulls is easily transportable in small containers
The main impetus behind the vaka motu was to become the typical working boat for the Pacific, built and operated by the islanders themselves.
This not only revives old skills, knowledge and tradition but also provides a lot of opportunities for young people to stay on the islands and find a profession that provides a good balance of challenges and benefits.
We are soon going to launch our first vessel called ‘OKEANOS PEARL’ – a boat for transportation within lagoons. It combines the most current and innovative use of the fibreglass with epoxy resin construction process with a solid solar technology and electric power system.
It has a wide range of use, including daily inter-island transportation of passengers, shuttle services for tourists between the airport and their hotel, reef excursions, whale watching, sunset tours, dive operation trips, school bus shuttle services, and express cargo operation. Okeanos Pearl will be able to ferry 18 passengers and two crew members with luggage and little cargo.