The Samoa Voyaging Socety (SVS) works to promote positive Samoan cultural values, respect for the ocean and nature, individual and social responsibility, discipline and integrity.

The SVS considers that the reintroduction of traditional sailing in Samoa will provide opportunities for youth development (sports, leadership), environmental awareness, cultural development and, potentially, tourism opportunities such as whale watching and adventure tours.

SVS is developing hands-on educational and training programmes in traditional sailing and navigation. The programmes will target young Samoan youth including school children, school leavers and other interested groups. The task of learning traditional sailing and navigation skills also develops leadership and discipline among the youth, leading to well-rounded young people capable of contributing positively to the growth of this nation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Overnight Sail from Apia - 21/22 February 2011

The day of our farewell from Samoa was rapidly approaching. With almost 20 new crew-in-training, many of whom had never sailed before, we urgently needed some experience. Our chance finally came on the 21st February.

For those waiting on the va’a the day was long, hot and slow. Marc, our captain, was busy the whole day trying to get crew visa applications submitted. By late afternoon it wasn’t clear whether we would have our sail at all. But finally at about 6pm everyone was on board. This was to be our ‘exposure’ sail. For most of us, the first chance to feel what it’s like to crew the va’a on the open ocean.

After a meal of coconut rice and bananas we gathered around, gave thanks and prayed for a safe return. Then, just as the sun was beginning to set behind Apia we raised sails and slipped quietly out past the breakwater and beyond the reef. Soon the lights of Apia came on behind us, snaking their way up the hill around Mt Vaea and up to the top of the pass. The lights were to be our backdrop for many hours, gradually sinking towards and eventually below the horizon as we put in distance from them.
Our sailing instructions were simple: sail away from Upolu! There was a constant and reassuring easterly tradewind blowing throughout the night. By sailing north-northeast we had the wind sitting just fore of the starboard beam all the way out [that is, the wind was blowing across the va’a from just less than 90 degrees to the right of our direction of sail – slightly to the front of an imaginary line running perpendicular to our direction of sail (the beam)]. With no outward destination we held our course according to the wind as much as to any precise bearing.

We were divided into three watches of three hours each. I was on first watch from 8pm-11pm. After 11 I would be on standby for the 11pm-2am watch, then go below deck and rest from 2am-5am in readiness for my next watch. There were six on my watch, including the watch captain (responsible for the va’a whenever the captain is absent). With only occasional adjustments needed to the rigging our main task was to take turns on the foe – the four metre long pivoted rigid wooden pole that is both tiller and rudder on the traditional va’a. Handled from on deck it curves down into the water between the hulls, where it opens into a rudder paddle. In rough weather it may require several crew on the foe to maintain a heading. In gentle conditions like tonight one was enough, but we paired up anyway so that we could experience handling the foe as a team. To keep our bearing we shifted the foe to keep the va’a ‘s heading constant relative to selected reference stars. If our reference star disappeared behind clouds we would switch to another. Simple principle, but physically hard work, especially for a novice like me! One important lesson: if possible, choose a reference star that is close to the horizon -it’s a long time to stand straining your neck skywards!

With my watch over I could relax and take in the spectacular night sky. At 2am the moon was rising and the lights of Apia almost gone. Unfortunately I could not sleep. Below deck it was hot and stuffy and the hulls amplified the sound of the waves sliding between them. No doubt you would adapt, but for me for now the whole experience was too new and exciting.

At 5am we were back on deck for our next watch. As darkness became dawn then a glowing sunrise we could not see land in any direction – a great feeling to be on the open ocean. Early in the watch we about-turned and made back for Apia. We had sailed 45 Nautical Miles out to sea.

On the way home there were a few squalls about but they passed us by. We made it back to Apia harbour just in time for lunch.

The perfect introductory cruise.

Owen Martin

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