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French Polynesia

The Vaka Project is an International effort to restore the ancient art of Traditional Navigation in the island people of the South Pacific. Rodrigo Olson was in charge of the building of the first boat and training the crew whilst Belinda Braithwaite filmed the project's progress. Following the ancient Vaka design as closely as possible, the deck was bound together with timbers and strong rope, nets were hand-knotted and according to island tradition, details were hand-carved.  Islanders from Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands and beyond arrived in Auckland for training in handling these strangely beautiful craft. With no electricity, running water or modern gadgets, navigation was by the stars and life on board tough but exhilirating.

Was Polynesian exploration and settlement intentional or accidental as the result of drifiting off course or on one-way voyages of exile?  For long years scholars had argued whether Polynesian navigators had the ability and the vessels to master the vast Pacific. The argument heated up in the 1950s and 1960s. The "accidental drift" theory was shot down by computer simulations of wind patterns and ocean currents which concluded that a drifting canoe had no chance of reaching Hawai'i, Easter Island, and New Zealand from other parts of Polynesia or Micronesia.

The route between Tahiti and Hawaii passes through three ocean currents and requires sailing slightly against the wind both ways. Could the ancient voyaging canoes perform well enough to windward to make round trips? Hōkūle‘a's 1976 round trip voyage proved that they could. And the navigation experiments conducted in 1976 and in subsequent voyages have proved the adequacy of Polynesian navigation."

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Vaka Project video

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