Pacific Voyager Aunofo Havea of the Tonga Voyaging Society kicked off World Oceans Week at The Explorers Club in NYC with a thought-provoking panel discussion around women in the ocean space in honor of this year’s UN World Oceans Day theme “Gender and the Ocean”. Aunofo explained the challenges that face women sailors in a male-dominated industry and her inspiring journey to become the first female captain in Tonga.
Since 2011, Aunofo has led many Okeanos-sponsored sails aboard our traditionally based, fossil fuel-free vakas, including an all-female sail from Bora Bora to Aitutaki aboard Okeanos-built vessel, Hinemoana.
Aunofo and the Tonga Voyaging Society sailed an Okeanos-built “vaka motu”, or boat for the islands, from Auckland to Vava’u for a pilot program during the 2016 whale watching season. Tonga is one of the world’s most flourishing whale watching destinations, and Aunofo believes that a silent, fossil fuel-free vaka motu would be the ideal vessel for observing humpback whales.
During their trial Aunofo and crew witnessed that compared to the speed boats that are typically used for whale watching in Tonga the vaka motu moved slower while the height of its freeboard sometimes made entering and exiting the water more time consuming. Unlike single-hulled, “western” boats, however, the vaka motu has a shallow draft that allows it to dock directly on the beach, which has helped the Okeanos vessels to reach some of the most remote and inaccessible islands during activities that range from ecotourism to disaster relief. And crew and passengers enjoyed the scentless, silent and ‘green’ propulsion of the vaka.
The Okeanos vaka motu runs solely on clean energy, utilizing some of the most common resources found in the Pacific: wind, solar power and coconut biofuel.
Aside from the appeal of running a vessel that is fossil fuel-free, the vaka’s traditionally-inspired design promotes cultural awareness and can be used as an educational platform to teach Pacific sailors traditional knowledge and ocean stewardship.
Aunofo and Okeanos Director Dena Seidel followed the panel discussion at the Explorer’s Club with a presentation on how Okeanos Foundation for the Sea can help support sustainable sea transportation among vulnerable Pacific islands at the forefront of climate change. Aunofo hopes to secure a vaka for Tonga to continue Okeanos Foundation’s mission, and would love to design a vaka specifically for whale watching.
“[It will be] an opportunity for me to teach my people to understand how important it is to love the ocean and to keep it healthy,” says Aunofo. “And to revive my traditional knowledge and culture through the vaka and sustainable industries in Tonga.“
By Steven Holloway, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, 4 June 2019