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 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

Vaka Taumako Project at UC Irvine

Dr Mimi George of the Vaka Taumako Project will give the keynote presentation “Lata’s Wayfinding System and Climate Science” followed by Q&A October 18 at 7:30PM in Room 1030 of the Humanities Gateway at UC Irvine.

Then, at 8:30PM in the at McCormack Film Screening Room, join us for We, the Voyagers: Matou Nga Mokupuna o Lata, a sneak preview of the first of Vaka Taumako Project’s documentary series, followed by Q&A.

Join us October 18 – 19 at UC Irvine. More information, including voyaging project and climate science participants, the schedule of presentations, location and registration info can be found here. It’s free!

Ocean of Knowledge Poster

Ocean of Knowledge Poster

Vaka Taumako in Pacific Paddler Magazine

We’re in Pacific Paddler Magazine this month.  Mahalo!

Dixon Wia filming in 2013

Check out our Kickstarter!

Lata's Children - Hana Hou Magazine

Lata’s Children

We’re in this month’s Hana Hou Magazine! Read more

Heritage Expeditions

Meph’s Report from Solomon Islands and Vanuatu

by Meph Wyeth

Mimi and Meph spent most of November in Solomons and, in Meph’s case, northern Vanuatu. They hoped to participate in Holau Vanuatu, a voyage from Taumako to Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands. Traditionally vaka would sail this route during November. riding the Patapu (northerly) wind, and waiting out the cyclone season before returning home in May or June.

Originally planned for 2015, the voyage was scuttled by Cyclone Pam, which tore through Temotu Province and Vanuatu last year, causing significant damage in both areas. Life having returned more or less to normal on Taumako, VTPSI members worked hard during 2016 to make two new vaka ready to sail. Mimi and Meph arrived in Temotu on 26 October eager to join them:–

They were equally eager to meet up with the Heritage Expeditions ship “Spirit of Enderby”, which was cruising in the region. Mimi and Simon had contacted the company after learning that the ship had visited Taumako in 2015,and found out that a similar stop had been included in the 2016 “Secrets of Melanesia” cruise. In return for a presentation about VTP, the company generously agreed to carry Simon and Meph, along with a considerable cargo of food, to Duffs. Accordingly, Simon, Meph, and the food boarded the ship in Lata on 31October.

The evening’s entertainment featured a premier of the latest version of the VTP video production’s rough cut. Spirit of Enderby’s passengers and crew were the first real audience for this new edition. They really liked it; their intelligent questions and comments showed that they had paid thoughtful attention. Simon and Meph appreciated their observations.

The next day the ship arrived at Taumako, where passengers and crew enjoyed a boisterous welcome dance at Ngauta. They responded by inviting nga Taumako to join them in the Hokey Pokey. which proved to be a big hit We shall not be surprised if a local version becomes a part of the custom dance repertoire!

Afterward the visitors were escorted to Tahua, where they met Mimi, who had arrived on the island on 28 October. She gave them a tour of the vaka workshop and explained more about VTP’s plans for the voyage to Vanuatu.

As someone once wisely remarked however, “Plans are made to be changed.” Change they did.

What should have happened, had all gone according to plan, was that Meph and Simon would continue aboard Spirit of Enderby to Vanua Lava to await the vaka’s arrival and assist Francis Hickey with preparations for a grand ceremonial welcome. Mimi and Meph planned to keep in touch via satellite phone.

What did happen was that Simon’s children begged him not to leave Taumako, so he did not. Meph therefore went on to Sola, Vanua Lava, and waited.

…..and waited and waited. Unfortunately, the Palapu wind did not blow at Taumako, (although Sola experienced about 4 days of it). What also happened was that the sat phones’ performance was, to say the least, unsatisfactory. Except for one brief conversation on 3 November, they were unable to communicate with each other. Meph was finally able to contact Honorable Stanley on 21 November and learn from him that the vaka had not left Duffs!

Since she and Mimi were scheduled to return home on 27 November, and since flights from Sola to Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital, can be irregular, she left on 23 November. Mimi joined her in Port Vila on the 26, and they left for Honolulu the next morning as planned. The changes were not done yet, however.

A delay in their flight from Port Vila to Nadi meant that they missed their Nadi-Honolulu connection. This meant that Fiji Airways sent them to Honolulu by way of Los Angeles! A few more adventures awaited them before they finally arrived home on 28 November, but that is another story….

POSTSCRIPT: One of many delightful people aboard the Spirit of Enderby was master limericist Yoram, who summed up each day of the cruise with one or more of his poems. Here is his comment on the ship’s Taumako visit:

Vaca is the Spanish for cow

And I started to wonder by now

To sail like this

On all the salt seas

All I can say is WOW!

(Dedicated to Simon by Yoram, 1 November, 2016)


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!

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