Sustainability & How Ancient Vessels Are Better

Superior Design and Performance Features of Nga Vaka o Lata; Sustainability and How Ancient Vessels Are Better

abstract by M. George and Simon Salopuka, for the Sustainable Sea Transport Workshop, July  2014

From the 1500s through the 1960’s, Pacific islanders lost control of their land and sea resources, their health, and their dignity, as they were impacted by colonialism, world wars, and a global economy.  During the 1970’s until now, movements for “cultural revival” featured voyages over ancient sea roads using traditionally inspired craft.

These recent cultural revival voyages were made using mostly modern materials and methods. Chainsaws, epoxy, fiberglass, plywood, metal fasteners, nylon rope, and dacron sails.  The designs of most of the revival vessels were based on stick figure petroglyphs and drawings of artists who accompanied European explorers, like Captain Cook.

Only in 1993 was it learned by outsiders that the Polynesian people of Taumako, in the SE Solomon Islands, were still capable and willing to make voyaging canoes (Vaka o Lata) using only ancient methods, tools, and materials, and amazingly efficient and practical designs.

The superior and sustainable design and performance capabilities of Vaka o Lata include:

  1. a sail shape that has been proven in wind tunnel tests to capture radically more wind force than any other,
  2. a mostly submarine hull shape that is more hydrodynamically efficient that any other,
  3. an outrigger structure that has great integrity,
  4. various windlasses and lashing patterns that are extremely strong and that allow the structure to flex when necessary, rather than break,
  5. use of specific sustainable plants and materials for each part of the canoe, according to their particular strengths and qualities,
  6. no petrochemical in the construction materials or methods,and no fuels required to power the canoe, no toxic leakage,
  7. no need for docks, deep passages, or anchorages, and no damage the coral, electrolysis, or radiation,
  8. easily renewable from locally grown plants and hand tools,
  9. cost much less to build than modern vessels, and every bit of money would benefit the community that builds it,
  10. maintenance of the vessels requires only a shelter for it, and continuing access to plants and resources that grow on the island, 11) great cargo carrying capacity, comfortable, dry, and tabile platform, and shelter from the elements for cargo, crew, and passengers

In this paper we describe the particulars of Vaka o Lata and show how many of the design features are superior to modern vessels, in addition to being much more sustainable and practical.