Holau Vanuatu, Eruptions, and the Next Voyages

In 2005, ninety-six year old Paramount Chief Koloso Kaveia announced his plan to sail (holau) to Vanuatu on a TePuke. He had taught his students how to make short voyages. Now he wanted them to know what they would find if they went further.

Kaveia’s family objected to the idea for a couple years, because of his age. In 2007 Kaveia told them “I am the son of Lata” (the Taumako culture hero who was the first voyager) and “I will die on this voyage.” Then his family accepted his decision.

Kaveia knew that this “Holau Vanuatu” would be a family reunion, and a re-opening of the ancient sea-road between SE Solomons and Vanuatu island communities.  This 300 n.m. route has not been sailed intentionally by TePuke since before WW II.  Families of Taumako (Duff Islands), Outer Reef Islands, have not seen family members in Vanuatu for over seventy years. Kaveia’s crew hoped to see their now ninety-year old uncle, Jimmy Jones of TORBA Province (northern Vanuatu), and meet his Vanuatuan family.

Unfortunately in 2007 and 2008 there was not enough money to make the voyage and bring a crew back home from Vanuatu. In 2009, Kaveia died. Since then the students of Lata Voyaging School of Taumako, have been training to make Holau Vanuatu, using the skills Kaveia showed them.

crew training June 2017

crew training June 2017

2013 crew training in Outer Reefs

2013 crew training in Outer Reefs

They built two TePuke, and navigated between islands of the SE Solomons, using only ancient designs, materials, methods and tools. Over the next several years some crew members got through the bureaucratic steps to get birth certificates, affidavits, photos, and, finally, passports.

But there are two problems that are still holding them back. The first is lack of an escort vessel en route to Vanuatu. The second is having transport for the crew to return home from Vanuatu, and then 8-9 months later getting the crew back to Vanuatu to sail the TePuke home.

In 2015 – 2017 we could not find a support boat that would commit to doing either the escorting or the crew-transport. If the crew were to go home by air and outboard motor canoe the costs would be over $30,000.USD, and could take weeks or months.

Great Support and Rising Hopes

During the last two years, the Vanuatu Kultural Senta, and TORBA Provincial government officials have organized welcomes and support of many types in hopes of receiving a a TePuke crew that sailed from Taumako.  Francis Hickey offered much encouragement and key introductions.  The Christensen Foundation offered crucial support to these efforts on both the Vanuatu and Solomon Islands sides.  Sailing educator Terry Causey and others donated generously.  People who learned about Holau Vanuatu on Vaka.org and vakataumako on fb have helped in many ways. In November we received grant funds from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, to support the Taumako seafaring program and especially Holau Vanuatu.

In late October we were very hopeful that Holau Vanuatu could occur in November. We felt that nothing but an act of God could stop us…

And we were right.

Tinakula Confusions 2017:

Lata Voyaging School voyaging crew of Vaka Valo Association, Duff Islands, had sailed the TePuke to Luova, Santa Cruz Island in June, 2017, then went home to wait for the right season to sail south to Vanuatu. They arrived back at Luova, Santa Cruz Island, in mid-October, and began to prepare the TePuke for a November voyage to either Vanikoro or Taumako.

They methodically replaced some parts of the TePuke. Based on weather signs, they expected a Palapu wind to happen early in November, or maybe earlier. October 20 a Te Palapu wind began to blow. It was just a matter of it becoming more stabile in position and strength. With little left to do on the TePuke, the voyage seemed imminent!

Then it happened. On October 21 at 2AM, Tinakula Volcano, jutting out of the sea between Sta Cruz Island and Outer Reef Islands, blew it’s top!  Thunderous explosions awakened the inhabitants of many islands in Temotu.  Ash clouds rose to over 37,000. feet (10,000 Meters) about sea level and heavy ash fall coated Nukapu and other Outer Reef Islands, fouling wells and water tanks. Some days later more huge explosions happened. Some of the voyaging crew suffered red eye and diarrhea, along with residents of Malo and Santa Cruz Islands.

Tinakula eruption - October 2017. Credit: Okano Gamara

Tinakula eruption – October 2017. Credit: Okano Gamara

Ash rising above Tinakula volcano - October 21 2017

Ash rising above Tinakula volcano – October 21 2017. Credit: NASA Terra/MODIS

Tinakula often releases smoke and sometimes shoots out rock and ash. But usually only right above it’s tiny crater. The last time an eruption of Tinakula really disturbed the people of other islands was 1972, when some people living on the island died and others evacuated. The time before that was in the 1880s. So people of these islands were surprised and frightened by when it happened.

Eruptions continued for weeks.  On Nov. 4, most of the crew of Holau Vanuatu took advantage of a (rare) ship bound for Duffs and went home to see if their families were ok. Before Meph and I left Hawaii we were hoping that Tinakula would quiet down and it would be possible to Holau Vanuatu.

Meanwhile the latest cost estimates we were receiving for an escort and crew-transport vessel for Holau Vanuatu were much higher than expected. The most suitable boat needed no less than 47,000.USD to make two 250 n.m. trips between Sola, Vanualava and Sta Cruz Island—one trip to escort the TePuke, and the other trip to bring the crew back home. November is when the cyclone season officially starts, so typical yacht insurance is not available, and most vessel owners are not keen to operate then. This cost estimate was actually a generously discount price for a fishing vessel that originated in Port Vila. Other vessels were busy moving thousands of people from an island in Vanuatu where another volcano was erupting!

On arrival in Honiara on October 27 Meph and I (Mimi) observed many tons of bottled water and rice being loaded on a relief ship bound for Temotu. The water was for islanders whose water supply was fouled by ash-fall. The rice, it turned out, was meant to relieve the lack of garden foods that were still compromised by the cyclone two years earlier.

We could not reach anyone at Santa Cruz Island to get first hand report on conditions there. We postponed flying there until we could be sure that our presence would not add to a need for water. A week later, assured that the eruptions had abated and the water supply at Santa Cruz was plentiful, we flew to Santa Cruz.

We were greeted warmly by our Luova hosts, Wendy Yaya and her mother Hilda Leitolo. We will describe our delightful stay with them in their homestay at Luova in the next post on Facebook. We were also met by TePuke Captain Ambrose Miki and stalwart crew John Hibi. During the next weeks we assisted them in lashing more parts onto the outrigger of the Tepuke. Such maintenance is required before any voyage, and these two had worked right through the eruptions to make sure the TePuke would be ready to go as soon as conditions allowed.

Captain Ambrose Miki and student crew John Hibi

Captain Ambrose Miki and student crew John Hibi

Lashing the crossbeams with the uprights to the ama

Lashing the crossbeams with the uprights to the ama

On October 26 the Heritage Expeditions cruise ship visited Taumako, and Dr Salopuka and Honourable Stanley Tehiahua were both at home to greet our long time supporters Drs. Stephen and Lis Weinstein and Dr. John and Elena Kearney. Nine years earlier they had performed cataract surgeries on one of the most ardent supporters of Lata Voyaging School, Chief Moses Memuana. Moses was excited to thank them once again. Vaka Valo Association Director, Chief Jonas Holani, presented Dr Kearney with a model TePuke. The expeditioners reported that the joyful singing and dancing welcome, and especially the presentation about how the TePuke is constructed, was the highlight of their cruise through Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

hn and Elena Kearney received model TePuke from Chief Moses Memuana. Expedition leader Nathan Russ in background

hn and Elena Kearney received model TePuke from Chief Moses Memuana. Expedition leader Nathan Russ in background

Chief Jonas Holani telling expeditioners about TePuke parts

Chief Jonas Holani telling expeditioners about TePuke parts

Chief Moses presenting gift model TePuke to his surgeon, Dr. John Kearney

Chief Moses presenting gift model TePuke to his surgeon, Dr. John Kearney

We could not communicate directly with anyone at Taumako/Duffs. Ambrose Miki expected the wind for voyaging to be confused and weak until after the new moon, Nov, 19. A few members of the voyaging crew needed transport to come back to Luova. These 120 n.m. trips, usually by outboard engine on open fiberglass canoes, are weather-dependent and it usually takes at least 4 days of good conditions for an outboard motor canoe to make the crossing and return.

Family packing OBM canoe for sea crossing

Family packing outboard motor canoe for sea crossing

Meanwhile, Meph and I (Mimi) needed to help Dixon Wia make arrangements to fly to Suva for his US visa appointment, and onward to Kaua’I to help with completion of Parts 1 and 2 of our 3 part documentary film “We, the Voyagers.” Many flights get cancelled for weather and we hadn’t much time. So, we three flew to Honiara on 18 November.

In Honiara we met with two Kiwi police about the “Vaka Ama” program they are planning to engage Solomon Islands youth who are now numerous in the national and provincial capitols, in traditional activities taught by Solomon Islanders who still know the ancient maritime skills. The Taumako voyagers, including especially the women and girls who are key to building and voyaging work, will be paid to teach others when this program gets started.

As I write to you today, Dixon has received his US visa in Suva, and is awaiting his flight to Kaua’I in 3 days. Ambrose Miki and crew are back in Luova, and standing by for any good wind to go to any island north, south, or east. The windy.ty forecasts do not look hopeful. But the crew has not given up.

Solutions for 2018-2019:

At this time it is clear that Holau Vanuatu must wait until 2018.

In Honiara Commander of the Solomon Islands Maritime Police, Luke Vaikawi, informed us that by November there should be 2, or 3, patrol boats functioning. He will recommend that one of them be available to serve as an escort/crew-transport vessel for Holau Vanuatu. We hope to hear from any suitable vessel that would like to help out. We can pay for the fuel and food.

In Honiara Dixon presented a model TePuke to the Taiwan Embassy. The Taiwan Ambassador then invited us to join him and his staff for lunch the next day, and promised to support Lata Voyaging School programs of Vaka Valo Association. Specifically we discussed support for a voyage from Taumako to Honiara to participate in the July, 2018, Melanesian Arts Festival. Vaka Valo Association is still waiting for an invitation from it’s own provincial and national government organizers.

Oliver Liao, Dixon Wia, Mimi George, and Ambassador Luo of Taiwan with TePuke model gifted to Taiwan Embassy

Oliver Liao, Dixon Wia, Mimi George, and Ambassador Luo of Taiwan with TePuke model gifted to Taiwan Embassy

En route home, In Brisbane, we met with Vaka Taumako Project supporter Wade Fairley, regarding plans to bring a Seawind 24 to Temotu in a year or two, to serve as permanent support boat to Lata Voyaging School sea-training programs. He and his daughter Kelly plan to make a “Moana voyage” in 2019, then donate the boat to Vaka Valo Association. We must raise funds for the purchase (about 6,000. Aussie dollars) and maintenance/outfitting and transport of the vessel to Temotu (about 9,000.USD).

SW24 that Wade Fairley is restoring for Moana voyage and donation to Vaka Valo Association

SW24 that Wade Fairley is restoring for Moana voyage and donation to Vaka Valo Association

Another vessel that will be available in 2019 is one that Lata Voyaging School students can build themselves! The Saipan based organization 500 Sails has promised that a crew from the school will be welcomed to Saipan in 1.5 years to build a 27 foot sailing vessel for similar purpose. We must raise the one-way travel costs for the Taumako crew, and safety and maintenance gear for them to sail the vessel home to Duffs.

Imminent and Future Voyages:

Today, November 29, Tinakula is much more quiet. It is nearing the end of the traditional window for safe winds (before cyclone season sets in). Since there is no phone service at Taumako, and communications with the crew at Luova is sketchy at best, it may take weeks or more for us to hear more news from any of them.  But eventually the news will come to all of us.

After Dec 13 it will be too dangerous, and the last ship is planning to go to Duffs bringing students and travelers going home for the holiday. We hope for Te Hakahiu (from westerly) or a gentle Te Tokelau from (southwesterly) for sailing to Taumako, or another Te Palapu (from north northwesterly) for sailing to Vanikoro. The crew of Lata at Luova is confident that the right wind will blow when the time is right. We are grateful that there has been much learning going on as they grappled with the effects of the Tinakula eruption, and as they stand by for any possible chance to make a voyage before mid-December.

We hope that the family members and supporters of Lata Voyaging School, and far flung supporters of the Vaka Taumako Project understand the situation and have a bit more patience with the natural, educational, and bureacratic processes toward accomplishment of Holau Vanuatu.

Aloha No,

Mimi and Meph

Dixon Wia filming in 2013

Check out our Kickstarter!

Summit of Voyagers in Honolulu

Mimi and Meph helped welcome Hokule`a home on 17 June, and then exhibited at the Convention Center conference on ocean voyaging 18-20 June. Read more

Vaka Valo Association is in Charge! Their Programs are Underway!

The Vaka Taumako Project (VTP) of the Pacific Traditions Society, under Direction of cultural anthropologist and sailor Marianne “Mimi” George, had a research permit in the Solomon Islands for 20 years. During that time the George, and the VTP, worked in support of the aims­ of Te Aliki Koroso Kaveia—the main aim being to teach a new generation to build and navigate voyaging canoes using only ancient designs, methods, materials, and tools. Kaveia died in 2009, and his students are now leading these efforts through their own organization, Vaka Valo Association (VVA).

VVA, also known as the Vaka Taumako Project of Solomon Islands (VTPSI), was officially registered as a Solomon Islands charitable organization in 2014. Starting January 1, 2017, the VTP officially works under VVA in Solomon Islands. VVA is run by a Board of Directors. Dr Simon Salopuka is the Executive Director of VVA. Dr. George is a non-voting, international member of the VVA Board of Directors.

VVA Media and Lata Voyaging School (Lata Hahoaki Holau)

VVA will launch their own website as soon as can be afforded. There is still no electricity, phone, or WIFI service in Duff Islands. What is posted on the wpvaka.wpengine.com website is usually done from Hawaii. When Dr Salopuka is not in Duff Islands he sometimes can access internet and make posts to wpvaka.wpengine.com and vakataumako on facebook. VVA will also launch their own facebook page as soon as possible.

VTP and VVA are collaborating on completion of a 2 part documentary film series “We the Voyagers.” The film is in roughcut form. Completion funds are needed.

As soon as a permanent structure can be built, all photos, recordings, video footage, reports, publications, and other archival materials that have been gathered by the VTP (and are being stored by the VTP) will be available in the Halevaka (Canoe House) Archive of the Lata Voyaging School. Architectural plans of these structures are nearly completed and we are fundraising to begin construction as soon as possible. Eventually it is the plan of VVA that the Lata School will welcome voyaging students from local and international venues.

Hahoaki Sea-Training Programs

During 2017 two main voyages were planned. Holau Ndeni (voyage to Sta Cruz Island) was accomplished June 2-4. Holau Vanuatu will begin as soon as the right wind comes in November.   During July – October maintenance will be done on both TePuke—Vaka Valo (the one at Ndeni) and Vaka Causey (the one at Taumako). When Vaka Valo is relashed it will be used in sea-training around Duff Islands. When Vaka Valo reaches Vanuatu, it must stay there several months until the right winds blow so it can sail back home to Taumako, or onward to another international venue, such as Fiji or New Caledonia.

International Voyaging Programs and Festival Participations

VVA is hoping for an invitation, and some necessary per diem support, to voyage to Honiara to participate in the Melanesian Arts Festival in June/July 2018.

VVA hopes to participate in the FestPac in Honolulu in 2020. In 2010 VVA also hopes to complete the Te Alo Lili (that was begun in Hawaii in 1999), sail it to FestPac, and then after FestPac is over, sail it home.

There are other gatherings of voyagers planned for 2018 and 2019 that VVA aims to participate in.

VVA is proposing youth exchanges and voyaging student training exchanges with students from other islands and countries. VVA aims to re-establish partnerships and networks of voyagers throughout the islands of Temotu and beyond.

VVA seeks an emergency and support (and small cargo) vessel with an auxiliary engine to run in service of Duff Islands and other remote islands of SE Solomons.

Tepuke under sail near Tinakula Island

Tepuke from Taumako arrives in Santa Cruz

LUOVA, TEMOTU PROVINCE: For the first time in over thirty years, a Taumako voyaging canoe arrived at Santa Cruz Island’s northwestern tip on Sunday, June 4. Read more

Ambrose pulls halyard to secure windward boom to mast.

Calling The Wind of Reunion

Chief Kaveia’s Guidance

by Mimi George

For 16 years Chief Koloso Kaveia of Taumako (Duffs Group of SE Solomon Islands), strived to train a new generation to build canoes and make voyages using only ancient designs, methods, and materials. For several years he had in mind that he and his students would make a voyage from Taumako to Vanualava Island in the northernmost province of Vanuatu. The distance of that route is only about 300 miles. But making a north/south voyage in that Cyclone-prone area requires a lot of knowledge, skills, and discernment on the part of the voyagers.

The Taumako voyagers would have to sail before a very special wind that only comes once a year, and often lasts for only 2 to 4 consecutive days. With the right wind and an able crew, they could arrive in Vanualava in only 2 days. So they would have to recognize that it was the right wind and immediately depart from Taumako. If they sailed well then their canoe would arrive at Vanualava before the wind changed.

A voyage to Vanuatu (Holau Vanuatu) would also require meeting complex and expensive bureaucratic demands. The border between Vanuatu and Solomons had been virtually closed for over 70 years. To go from Taumako to Vanualava one needed to meet the costs of 1) a valid passport, and 2) two dangerous outboard motor canoe trips, and 10 airplane flights.

In 2008 Kaveia was about 97 years old. He was becoming weak, and his family did not want him to sail to Vanuatu for fear of losing him. But when he told them that he would die at sea, they accepted his plan to holau Vanuatu (sail to Vanuatu).   Why did he want to Holau Vanuatu?

The goals were threefold: 1) to reunite family members who had been separated for over 70 years, 2) to engage young islanders, including women and children, who have no paying employment and few educational opportunities available to them, and who are passionate about renewal of voyaging partnerships and networks, and 3) to re-open the ancient seaways so that islanders could once again share marriage partners and resources that would make the lives of people on both sides more sustainable and resilient to climate change.

The last night I was with Kaveia was in October of 2008, I saw him sitting on a log by the seaside. Hour after hour he looked toward Vanuatu under a sky full of bright stars. I lit a lamp and set it in my doorway in case he wanted to come talk. Just before dawn I heard him cough at the threshold, and I beckoned him in. He said “I just made the voyage to Vanuatu and returned! I saw every sign— wind, swell, star, and TeLapa (a mysterious light from islands). I remembered my experiences of voyaging that route (back in the 1940’s and 50’s). We are ready.”

It seemed to me that Kaveia was telling me that no matter if he died before he could holau Vanuatu with his students, he had done his best to make that voyage. But he was also saying that his students could follow his guidance after he died.

Kaveia went home to sleep, and I reviewed what he had already told me about how to find the way to Vanuatu. Kaveia used a mental model with 32 ancient Polynesian wind positions to coordinate and calibrate the relationships between various phenomena useful for wayfinding. We had made diagrams representing some of what he taught his students. Wind positions are linked with calendrics (solstices and equinoxes), swell patterns, routes between islands, and the rises and sets of celestial bodies.

Later that day I brought the diagrams to Kaveia, and asked him something I already knew “Which wind position is best to sail from Duffs Islands to Vanuatu?” His answer was unequivocal… “TePalapu is the one and only wind position for that route.”

Then I asked, “When is the best time to sail with TePalapu wind?” Kaveia replied with a question, “What month is this?” “October” I replied, realizing that the 12 months of the solar (Gregorian) calendar are not the traditional units of time that he grew up with. Kaveia then said “The TePalapu blowing in November is safe.” “Is there no other time that is safe” I asked? He then said “There is no other time of year we can depend on TePalapu for sailing to Vanuatu.”

After Kaveia died his guidance was not lost in the hearts and memories of his students.

It took a few years for them to gather their courage and decide that they would try to make voyages without him. Chief Jonas Hollani led them in voyages to the Outer Reef Islands in 2012-2013. Then he turned to the matter of holau Vanuatu.

Kaveia teaching how to rig Te Puke 2002

Kaveia teaching how to rig Te Puke 2002

Kaveia 2008

Kaveia 2008

Chief Jonas steering 2012

Chief Jonas steering 2012

Watching, Working, and Waiting

When they actually set a time for Holau Vanautu (Voyage to Vanuatu) a couple years ago, I learned that satellite weather imagery, including week long projections were now available on the internet. I started watching it for the Solomons through Vanuatu region. Dr. Simon Salopuka then moved back home to Taumako, Duff Islands, and he and other students of Lata Voyaging School began studying TePalapu winds very closely … especially during November.

I saw that TePalapu blew as part of the seasonal transition from tradewind to cyclonic patterns. During November the TePalapu winds blew benignly. But after the transitional period that Kaveia identified as occurring in November, the Te Palapu winds can be the front end of a cyclone. Voyagers overtaken by a Cyclone would be lucky to live through it. I needed confirmation that what I saw on the computer was happening on the ground at Taumako.

In 2015 Simon and I were able to compare notes. A 15 knot TePalapu I saw on my screen during November 16-19 of 2014, actually did blow at Duff Islands…and no cyclone, or even storm, was associated with that TePalapu anywhere between SE Solomons and Vanuatu. We figured we had identified the TePalapu wind that Kaveia had recommended.

Taumako voyaging students aimed to make the Holau Vanuatu in November, 2015. But in March, Cyclone Pam destroyed both Taumako voyaging canoes, and all the gardens and fruit trees in Duff Islands. For the next 8 months Duff Islanders concentrated on finding food, rebuilding seawalls, clearing downed trees, replanting, and rebuilding. Then they set the goal to start the voyage on the first good TePalapu wind during November of 2016. Fortunately Christensen Fund and our private supporters allowed us to spend funds to help them recover, and then redoubled their support for Holau Vanuatu to happen in 2016.

Holau Vanuatu

Holau Vanuatu logo – Donate $50.USD and we can order it on a t-shirt for you

Duff Islands

Duff Islands is the tiny island group in the upper right at about 10 degrees South and 167 degrees East

Passports and Clearances

We began applying for crew passports in 2014. When our applications were lost in the Cyclone, we had to get new forms. During 2015, Several people at 3 islands worked for 10 months to get 10 new passports For people from the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and many other countries, acquisition of passports is a pretty straightforward process. It usually takes a few weeks. In Solomon Islands getting a passport is usually a saga.

Challenges included lack of birth or marriage certificates, cameras, or literacy. The forms and affidavits were filled, signed, witnessed. Photos were taken and edited to fit. But all were rejected for one reason after another. We tried again. Crew members in Honiara trudged back and forth to offices, and inquired month after month for progress in processing. Papers were carried between Honiara and Duffs again and again. Ships usually go to Duff Islands every 2 to 3 months…except when they don’t. A few years ago it was 13 months between ships, and Taumako secondary school students were dropped from their boarding schools on other islands for lack of transport.

On October 24, 2016, with extra efforts and expediting by the Ministry of Immigration, 10 unsigned passports were issued. The crew signatures had to be witnessed by an Immigration official. Of course the crew was in Duff Islands, the nearest Immigration official was in Honiara, and the costs of getting 10 people to and fro was astronomical. But then a small miracle happened. For the first time in 18 years, new Immigration and Customs officers were scheduled to fly to their new posts at Lata by October 25. That was the day Meph and I arrived there. Now we just had to transport these officers to Duffs.

Priscilla of Immigration and Veronica of Customs, were willing to ride the 130 n.m. of open ocean from Lata to Duffs in a fiberglass canoe with an OBM (outboard motor). Furthermore they were authorized to give us a 30 day clearance period for our departure from Solomon Islands, and that clearance allowed us to depart from Taumako rather than Lata. After we paid 3000.USD for the transport and per diem of the officers, the crews were free to depart Taumako whenever TePalapu blew during the month of November.

We were further blessed that the S.I. Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Climate Change, and Disaster Management budgeted 7,000.USD to pay for the per diem of 6 Taumako crew members during a 2 week period. That is the length of time we anticipated it would take to sail to Vanuatu, reunite with family and communities there, build a shelter for our canoe and show people there how to care for it until the tradewinds return in June, 2017, and then travel from North to South Vanuatu and fly to Honiara, then Lata, and then go by OBM canoe from Lata to Outer Reefs and finally back to Taumako.

Additionally the Ministry of Culture and Tourism promised to write a letter of support and try to find other ways to give support, and Solomon Airlines offered us a 7 percent discount on flights for the crew. The Ministry of Police, Marine Division hoped to send a patrol boat to be our escort vessel as a part of their annual SOLVAN program in Vanuatu. Furthermore the Minister of Lands in Vanuatu promised to provide transport for the crew from Vanualava to Port Vila, and a tent to shelter the TePuke until June 2017. That is when a crew would have to fly back to Vanuatu and sail the canoe back to Duffs. We were informed that other Ministers and government officials planned to charter a plane to Vanualava to welcome us there…and pigs were being bought for a feast. We began to hope that at least one official from Solomons would go be a part of that welcome committee.

Our private donors had already given generously to cover costs of EPIRBs, satphone airtime, and other safety gear. I had my credit card ready to make up the difference. We thought we had all that we needed from the outside. Now it was just a matter of loading a canoe and sailing for Vanuatu as soon as TePalapu began to blow.

Archbishop blessing

Archbishop of Solomon Islands blessing the new Te Puke

Two New Te Puke

The first step was to building two new voyaging canoes. The elderly supervisors and students worked at a furious
pace all year. The first TePuke was launched in June. The new Archbishop of Solomon Islands led the blessing (see above image).

The first TePuke was named of “Vaka Causey” in honor of a generous supporter of voyaging education from Hawaii. Vaka Causey was ready to sail, the safety gear was at hand, and the crew was keeping daily contact with Ambrose Miki. When TePalapu wind came, at any time of day or night, they would rush to Vaka Causey, and set sail for Taumako.

The main hull of a second TePuke was completed and already well dried when I arrived at Taumako on October 28. Roughcut timbers for all the big parts were stacked and drying. Lengths of seasoned Hau bark hung drying— ready to be twisted into cordage. Piles of Betel trees were ready to be split for lengths of decking. A fat Pulopulo trunk, for the ama, was flanked by breadfruit trunks for the side floats, and several flexible Hau saplings for the booms.

The wind-wise Chiefs, Jonas and Fox, said it would be at least 2-3 weeks before TePalapu came. They had about 80 workers enthusiastically working from early morning to dark every day…intent upon completing the second TePuke before TePalapu came. They figured that if they could complete it before the wind came, then two canoes could sail together for Vanuatu. If there were not enough clearances or funding for two full crews then one of the TePuke could stop at Vanikoro Island, which is located about half way from Taumako to Vanualava Island in North Vanuatu.

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy Jones

The old man in the photo to the left is known as “Tagua” at Duff Islands, where he was born and raised. His official name has been Jimmy Jones since he went away to attend a boarding school in Vanuatu. He never was able to return to Duff Islands. Jimmy’s wife is at the right of the photo. Jimmy’s grandson, Luke Vaikawi, is standing between the two of them.

Luke is a Commander in the Royal Solomons Police and has had a long career as a Captain of the Maritime Police patrol boats. This photo was taken in 2015 when Luke was in Vanuatu as part of the planning committee to open the border. He took the chance to fly to Vanualava to try to find Jimmy Jones. They only had a couple of hours together.

At Taumako during November, I was able to show this photo to many of the family, including Jimmy’s brother John Smith. Jimmy’s mother died at Taumako long ago, and his father died recently in Australia. Jimmy looks a lot like Wilson Longopuni, who passed a way a few years ago. Wilson crewed on a scow for many years with Kaveia, and the two of them made many trips to Vanuatu.

Te Hano Noho

On November 1st Duff Islanders welcomed the second visit of the first cruise ship to ever visit them. Nathan, the Heritage Expeditions leader, kindly brought Simon, Meph, and a lot of voyage rations, on the ship from Lata, Santa Cruz Island, to Duffs. He also agreed to take Meph to Vanualava, where she would coordinate for our arrival in the TePuke. While the ship steamed to Duffs, Simon and Meph screened the roughcut of Part 1 of our documentary film We the Voyagers. The expeditioners proved a very apt and enthusiastic audience.

When they visited the TePuke worksite a large crew was hard at work cutting the edges of the biggest outrigger structures to fit each other. But they stopped to answer many questions about the design and the performance capabilities. One man also asked “Where does one toilet?” “We are scraping the viscous film off the breadfruit trunk floats that are attached to the central ama…so when you walk out on it to toilet you will not slip” came the answer from an English speaker. Duff Islanders quickly made friends the visitors from many countries, and most communication was done with enthusiastic gesturing and lots of laughter. Chief Jonas gave a superb model TePuke to Nathan so that expeditioners could study it further on the ship.

Simons children had been waiting months for him to come home and did not want him to re-board the cruise ship to go to Vanuatu. So he handed his satphone to Meph as she jumped In a launch with the expeditioners. She carried on to Vanualava, because we thought it would be important to text or call during coming days or weeks. We wanted to tell the Vanualava community when the TePuke was departing Duff Islands…and then to tell the Taumako community when the voyagers had safely arrived. Also, if there were an emergency we would be able to call Meph. What actually happened was very different.

Day and night Taumako rang with the clacking and tocking sounds of working adzes. First the edges of the big parts were cut to fit together in the riser box and crossbeam assembly of the outrigger. This assembly is called Te Hano Noho, which might be translated as “the founding structure.” The main hull was huge…a bigger canoe than anyone could remember since the 1950s. The crossbeams were monstrously long, and the four sides of Te Hana Noho were expansive and heavy.

Jonas & Nathan

Jonas (right middle) with Nathan (left middle) holding model TePuke

Fitting parts of the Hano Noho

Fitting parts of the Hano Noho

Mesi & Dixon

Mesi (right) and Dixon (left) lash leaf panels to frame of shelter

The workers were intensely focused. Their aim was to make this TePuke ready for sea in the shortest time ever known in the oral history of building TePuke! That is to say, ever since the Taumako born, pan-Polyesian culture hero, Lata, made the first TePuke, the length of time it took to make one was at least a year and a half. This gang was looking to make two in one year!

The workers included many more women and children then men. Every day they went to gardens, prepared meals, wove the sail, held pieces steady for carpenters cutting them with adzes, and cared for the infirm elderly and the babies.

The men worked methodically to fit the riser box sides to the gunnels of the main hull, and the crossbeams to the upper edges of the riser box. Young men lifted the huge timbers up into place on the canoe, and then lowered them back down again for more trimming. Children delivered frequent cups of hot, sweet, lemon tea, and huge meals of fish, crabs, slippery cabbage greens, sweet potatoes, yams, wild taro, and ripe breadfruit. Then children washed the plates and pots.

Auntie helps girls learn to weave sail

Auntie helps girls learn to weave sail

fitting riser box parts to gunnels

fitting riser box parts to gunnels

shaping Te Hano Noho

shaping Te Hano Noho

The assembly of Te Hano Noho was accomplished in a week. The next week they made 12 sets outside and the 6 windlasses inside the Te Hano Noho. Then they started lashing the rest of the big deck and outrigger structures to the outside. 1200 meters of coconut cordage over 100 meters of rattan vines were used. Upon completion a pig and wild taro was baked in the earth ovens and served to all the workers and community.

Then the shelter, a leeward deck, and dozens of connectors between the crossbeams and the outrigger floats were crafted and lashed. Cover-boards were fitted into the top edges of the main hull, and secured with lashings and toggles. The seams were caulked with dried, pounded, coconut husks, then sealed over with glue from scrapings of bark mixed with breadfruit tree sap. Carved images of the bird who helped their culture hero Lata build the first TePuke, were lashed onto each end of the mighty vaka. The divot in the back of these carvings is the step for the windward boom of the sail. Then it was time to starting calling for TePalapu.

Calling TePalapu

There is an old Polynesian saying ‘When there are voyaging canoes, the wind comes.’ But it is also good to pray for helpful interventions from ones ancestors. On November 14 Ambrose fired up his OBM and went to the northernmost island of the Duffs Group. There he cleaned the grave of Old Man Lala—his in-law great grandparent. Ambrose told Lala that we wanted to Holau Vanuatu, and asked him to call the TePalapu wind to come in good time.

If the wind is to blow normally and helpfully, it is also necessary that there be healthy community relationships. On the 12thth of November Ambrose’ father, Chief Jonas, and I started talking with Chief Fox Boda about a broken relationship between him and his sister, Vaka Taumako. Their father was the late Chief Kaveia. But Fox and Vaka Taumako were tragically estranged for over three years. They disagreed about what land she had a right to after her father died, and how many pigs had been contributed to the memorial. Gardens were destroyed on the disputed land. Both had cursed the other and then not paid the full fines. The raging animosity had affected everyone in Duff Islands.

The spirit of Kaveia was certain to be distressed about this, which could easily result in unfavorable winds. A reconciliation was urgently needed. At first neither of the aggrieved parties would accept any conditions set by the other. The negotiations continued for weeks. Finally, on November 15th there was a breakthrough. The land issue was solved, and then a step by step process of compensation payments, was worked out. On November 17 both parties agreed and began to reconcile. With that crew felt free to go ‘talk with Kaveia’ at his grave… to tell him about our plan to Holau Vanuatu, and our need for TePalapu wind.

That same day, eight woven mat panels were laid out in the distinctive and elegantly aerodynamic shape of Lata with his arms over his head, and then sewn together. Then the booms were lashed together and, just before dark, the sail and rig was raised and tested.

lofting the outer sail panels to shape

lofting the outer sail panels to shape

weighting down the panels

weighting down the panels

sewing the panels

sewing the panels

folding and sewing the outer panel over a bolt rope

folding and sewing the outer panel over a bolt rope

softening coconut husks for caulking

softening coconut husks for caulking

spreading sap and bark glue over caulked seams

spreading sap and bark glue over caulked seams

baking the daily feast foods for workers

baking the daily feast foods for workers

lashing on coverboards

lashing on coverboards

weaving sail ties

weaving sail ties

Community joins in launching the new Te Puke

Community joins in launching the new Te Puke

Test Sail Or Departure?

November 18th workers and families pushed the new TePuke into the sea. That night a weak TePalapu arrived, but it was not strong enough for sailing. It did strengthen a tad when the evening tide came in, but was still weak. So, the next morning crew members poled the TePuke across the lagoon to the edge of the passage. The idea was to test her at sea, and if the wind strengthened more on the evening tide, and if the TePuke needed no adjustments, then the crew would sail for Vanuatu. With the provisional farewelling of dozens of family, the sail was raised and the TePuke sailed through the breaking waves into the open sea.

The wind was no more than Force 2 on the Beaufort Scale …not a cresting wavetop in sight (4-6 knots). Once the TePuke was sailing the crew was sorely tempted to go for it. But there was a serious problem. The crew was having trouble steering. Fox took charge of the large steering blade and identified the problem, “The pole (Kaufoe) on this is too short.” Jonas and Ambrose replied “We have a spare pole that is longer.” Fox jumped overboard and they lashed the longer Kaufoe onto the blade.

Ambrose struggled with the big steering blade (Foe Vaka), while Dixon worked with the small one (Foe Ama). “This old Foe Vaka is too light! I cannot keep it down below the hull even with constantly pushing as hard as I can.” Reported Ambrose. Ambrose is a big strong man, and experienced steersman, so no one doubted that the Foe was too light. The crew struggled for the next 2 hours. But even 3 steering blades could not turn the TePuke downwind enough to head directly for Vanuatu. Another factor was that the ama and floats were still wet and heavy. They dragged too much and caused the vessel to turn to windward. Eventually we turned back, satisfied that we knew what adjustments to make.

Ambrose pulls halyard to secure windward boom to mast.

Ambrose pulls halyard to secure windward boom to mast.

Joslyn comforts her daughter before departure. Her daughter wanted to go too

Joslyn comforts her daughter before departure. Her daughter wanted to go too

Fox shows that the Kaufoe is short

Fox shows that the Kaufoe is short

crew lashes on a longer Kaufoe

crew lashes on a longer Kaufoe

Dixon bails water from main hull

Dixon bails water from main hull

The next day crews went out to cut more floats for the ama and a spare Kaufoe for the steering blade. It was a good thing that we did not sail on for Vanuatu the day before, because early that morning the very light TePalapu changed position. By that afternoon the wind took position at TeHakahiu and blew very strongly straight from Vanuatu! Jonas studied the clouds and said “when it comes strongly from there It will be at least a week before the wind position can move around that way (counterclockwise) back to TePalapu. “Don’t worry,” Jonas said “It will come round and it will blow well enough to sail for Vanuatu.” I noted that it was December 20th and the Immigration clearances were good for 10 more days.

During the weeks of work completing the TePuke I tried to call Meph daily on the satphone. Only once did we manage to exchange a few words before being cut off. Meph said she was going to Santo because there was no ATM or way to use credit cards in Sola. After that call my satphone notified me that there was no more airtime for me to call or send texts.

But on December 20th I did receive a bad-news text from Honiara. The per diem funds for crew were not released by Solomon Islands Ministry of Treasury for unknown reasons, and both patrol boats were out of the water for lengthy repairs. There would be no escort.

On November 24th a text from Vanuatu, stated that Meph was back at Vanualava but would take the next flight to Port Vila to go home, and that the Customs officer was going to leave Vanualava on the next flight. If we arrived at Vanualava after he left then we would have to fly him back to clear in.

So the costs were rising. I could not use a credit card there, and Meph would not be there to help us. Ambrose, Simon and I agreed that I should go to Lata and try to get some cash to carry on the TePuke. If successful I would try to get the dates on the clearances extended into early December. That same day, December 24th, Jonas predicted that TePalapu would blow in 6-7 days.

November 30 And December 1 Decisions

It was crazy for Ambrose and me to depart Duffs for Sta Cruz 6 days before we believed TePalapu would come. It takes one or two days each way, and changing conditions often make for delays. But what choice did we have? If there was more support to be had then Ambrose could possibly get back to Duffs in time for the next TePalapu…which we hoped would come before November 30th.

Ambrose’ 40 hp OBM and the last 30 gallons of petrol on Taumako brought me to Lata on the 25th. There I learned that the clearances could not be extended without action from Honiara and new signatures of all crew. Neither was the ATM working in Lata, and the bank had no money. So I took a loan from Honorable Stanley Tehiahua and flew to Honiara on the 26th.

In Honiara, the ATMs were down too. But I found a bank with only a 2 hour line, and got enough money to buy a drum of fuel and put it on the next ship to Lata, and 500 units of airtime for the satphone I left with Simon at Taumako. I then learned that my credit cards would lock up if I did not move money and pay them off by November 30! I caught the next flight to Port Vila where Meph offered me the extra bed in her hotel room. The next morning our flights from Port Vila to Nadi were very late, but, crossing the dateline, we arrived in Honolulu (by way of LA) that same day—the night of November 27th. The next morning we flew home to Kaua’i.

On November 29th , I got a late night text from Simon. It was November 30th there. An ideal 15 – 20 knot TePalapu winds had just arrived. They could depart when the tide came up early the next morning. But, as we all knew, the clearances would expire at midnight.

Simon asked “Will the crew be accommodated if they sailed to Vanuatu?” I had to say “I do not know,” because there were no longer clearance officials in Vanualava, and arrangements for accommodation had been made for November, not December. Also Treasury had never released the per diem funds from the Ministry. “What about transport home?” Simon asked. I had to say “Without Minister Ralph of I cannot now confirm that transport to Port Vila will still be provided, and I do not have enough credit left on my credit cards to pay those airfares.”

Ambrose and the crew were daunted by the risks. Under current laws the crew members could be jailed, the canoe confiscated, and who knows how many weeks or months it might take for the crews to get home? With no money what would they eat? With no communication how would their families know if they were alive? Also, if they made the voyage without clearances it could confuse politically complicated government plans to not require passports of visas for citizens of Solomons to cross the border.

We were aware that there could more dangerous weather if the crew decided to sail in December. Once the Cyclone Season began, TePalapu winds can come as the front end of a cyclone, which would put their very lives would be at risk. Even if the weather forecast were good there is no guarantee that conditions would be safe. They decided not to go.

I watched the satweather and Simon confirmed that the TePalapu wind blew perfectly for over 2.5 days. But the TePalapu wind came late at night when the tide was low, and the TePuke could not have sailed out from Taumako until the tide came up on the early morning of December 1st.

I did the math. With 15 knots of wind this big TePuke should easily make 10 knots of speed. If they only made 6.2 knots speed the TePuke should make it to Vanualava in 2 days. But it wasn’t to be. The TePalapu wind did come on December 30, but the crew would have missed the clearance deadline by a few hours, and they could not risk being stranded, or even incarcerated, in Vanuatu. They did not go.

Was Kaveia Wrong?

I am more than a little bit dismayed that the success of Holau Vanuatu came to hinge on us not being legally or financially prepared to sail on the first few hours of December 1st I struggled to accept the irony that a suitable TePalapu came suddenly on the night of November 30th when the tide was too low to launch the TePuke.

Back on Kaua’I I reviewed in my mind that conversation when Kaveia asked me what month it was, and what month came next. I suddenly realized that I had made a big assumption about what he was saying. Kaveia was not clear on details of the Gregorian calendar. When he said “the right TePalapu comes in November,” did he mean to be so precise about the 30 days of November that he would not have sailed for Vanuatu on December 1st?

In fact, the new moon occurred on November 28th in 2016 in Solomon Islands. But people with normal eyesight cannot normally see a new moon (with the naked eye) until the next day or two, when there is a wider crescent of light. It was cloudy and raining on the night of November 30th at Taumako. I think Kaveia would have known there was a new moon because he paid close attention to lunar phases. Is it irrelevant to wonder if he would have sailed from Vanuatu on Dec 1st? In any case, it was me, and the Immigration authorities, who had thought it was ok to commit the crew to the November 30th expiry date. One lesson we learned in 2015 is that next year we should get clearances that are good for at last a few days into what we call the month of December. Next year the new moon will occur on December 3rd and we should be free to depart at least until then.

One question our experience brought up is whether it was unusual for the good TePalapu wind to come when it did. In 2015 it came November 16-19. Elderly Taumakans say it used to come and last for 10 full days in a row. In fact it did that when David Lewis and I first anchored my sailboat at Taumako in September of 1993. Kaveia called that instance of TePalapu perfectly, and had he not been correct the boat would have been hard-pressed to escape from where we left her for 10 days while we visited with Kaveia at his home 2 km away. Data that the international science community has gathered suggests that starting in November of 2016, the western Pacific began to undergo a rapid shift from El Nino to La Nina patterns. This may have been a factor in the timing and the short duration of our TePalapu.

In any case we cannot conclude either that Kaveia was wrong or that his weather knowledge is no longer relevant. We will just have to try again next year, and next year I will have a more nuanced understanding of what the guidance might be that Kaveia gave.


For the last three weeks I have tried to get my heart and mind around what happened. I dreaded telling our long-suffering supporters that Holau Vanuatu is now deferred until 2017. I can only hope that we can raise the funds for school fees, rations, and communication costs so that the crews of two TePuke can continue training to make voyages.

If so, the result of our efforts will be greater international awareness of the benefits of re-opening ancient searoads and making more flexible border arrangements. I hope for growing commitments to support islanders in reviving old voyaging routes and making reunions between their long-lost families and communities. By building and sailing ancient vessels Taumakans see a way to use the past to build their future. They know that modern ships have never served many of their needs, and that petrochemical technology is never going to become sustainable.

It will take regional cooperation to help island communities to help each other deal with effects of climate change. Right now there are several hundred Duff Islanders hoping that their elderly relatives in Vanuatu do not die before family members can see them again. There are two TePuke and 17 crew members who plan to sail to Vanuatu on the first good TePalapu wind during the “November” moon cycle of 2017. In 2017 there is a new moon on November 16th. And the next one on December 17th.

Plans for 2017 Voyages (see maps below)

On June 8, 2017, Temotu Provincial Government will have its annual 2nd Appointed Day (independence) Celebrations. Deputy Premier Stanley Tehiahua and other government Honorables intend to bring together Duff Islands TePuke, an Anutan fiberglass Wharram cat, and other would-be voyaging revival groups from around Temotu. This will afford planning for collaboration between the people of different islands who want to build canoes and welcome voyagers to their communities. The goal is to renew and re-establish partnerships and networks of traditional voyaging throughout Temotu, and beyond.

The Solomon Islands Ambassador to Fiji and Vanuatu, Honorable Patteson Oti, has met with high officials of both governments to plan a 2017 celebration of the newly defined border. The venue is Vanuatu, and TePuke will be especially welcomed, with per diem and transport needs of crews supported. We hope they set the timing for early December, so that a TePuke or two will have the best chance that TePalapu will blow in time for them to arrive in Vanuatu in time for event. Some new protocols for border crossings by residents of Solomons and Vanuatu will be in place by then, and officials are saying that no passports or clearances will be required for citizens of these two countries.

Starting on November 1st of 2017 the Lata Voyaging School students will be standing by to make Holau Vanuat. They will have more support to do it, and there will be more chances to follow the guidance of the late Kaveia, and other elders who are still at Taumako and other islands of Temotu. The ancestors and the elders have offered, and are offering, all that they experienced. Their students are prepared to go to sea when the ancient winds of reunion do blow.

Join Us, and Help

To do this work Duff Islanders must have communication with the outside. That costs about $4000.USD/year. They need rations for the crews that cost $4000. per year. The children of the workers need to pay school fees for their children if the children are to go to school at any level. There are no paying jobs at Taumako, so adults must go to Honiara to do wage labor. In that case they cannot participate in making canoes or voyages. Some school fees may be paid by Tokoni Fund. The remaining fees for January 2017 total $7,500

Please help with a cash donation if you are able. You can donate through Paypal or by cheque by clicking this link.  If you have questions, please write to me.



The route from Duffs Group to Lata is from Taumako in upper right to “Ndeni” in lower left. The Outer Reef and Reef Islands run from are nearly in the middle to the upper left

The route from Duffs Group to Lata is from Taumako in upper right to “Ndeni” in lower left. The Outer Reef and Reef Islands run from are nearly in the middle to the upper left



Heritage Expeditions

Heritage Expeditions joins the Vaka Taumako Project

The “Spirit of Enderby,” a 50 passenger cruise ship of Heritage Expeditions, will visit Duff Islands (Taumako) on Nov 1st. They will be greeted by the crew of the TePuke that will sail to Vanuatu as soon as the favorable Te Palapu wind blows.

Heritage Expeditions

Heritage Expeditions

Thanks to Heritage Expeditions, Dr. Salopuka and Heuionalani Wyeth will give presentations aboard and travel with the ship to Sola, Vanualava, where they will coordinate for the Holau Vanuatu voyagers.

Heritage Expeditions regard their role as “ Ambassadors for conservation, pioneers of discovery, and leaders in expedition travel to the world’s best-kept secrets.” This is the sort of cruise ship we can recommend whole-heartedly!

Sailing With Lata/Laka: Presentation at East West Center

Come See how Ancient Polynesian Voyaging is still practiced today.  Drs. Simon Salopuka and Mimi George of the Vaka Taumako Project of Solomon Islands present from 12 noon to 1PM, Sept 8. Everyone welcome! limited seating, pay parking available on UH campus, sponsored by East-West Center Pacific Islands Development Program & UH Manoa Center for Pacific Island Studies. Read more

Video: Lashing a Te Puke voyaging canoe

In this video, students at the Lata Voyaging School lash the riser box onto a traditional Te Puke voyaging canoe using coconut fiber cordage. Read more

Hard at Work on the new Vaka

Simon just sent us these photos of the hard working crew of Taumako artisans building a new Te Puke at Taumako. Read more