Big Canoe

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Sun 25 Oct 2015 23:47
The Big Canoe on the Grass Behind the Beach in Anelghowhat Bay
 
 
 
 
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We saw this lady the first time we came ashore. Today we asked about her.
She is/was a government sponsored initiative to build and journey with sail and paddles to the Loyalty Islands, part of New Caledonia. She was completed nine months ago and she was indeed test sailed around the bay but with Cyclone Pam the project has been delayed, hopefully not abandoned.
 
On our visit to the Cultural Centre in Port Vila we read the following information.
The revival of sailing. Since Independence in 1980, there has been a steady revival and interest in the art of sailing in Vanuatu. In that year a group from Atchin Island off north-east Malekula built the first large double-ender sail canoe in almost a hundred years and sailed it to the Pacific Arts Festival being held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. In the early 1990’s, the Vanuatu Fisheries Department started a program to re-introduce sailing to remote areas in an effort to support the traditional canoe building skills found throughout the country to assist with fisheries development of rural areas. With support from that program, numerous communities in Vanuatu, from Aneityum Island in the south to the Torres Islands of the north have revived sailing.
In 1995 two ten-metre canoes were sailed to Port Vila to commemorate the opening of the new National Museum, one canoe from Maewo Island and the other from Atchin Island. In 1998, a group from Aneityum sailed the ten-metre Dayspring IV to Port Vila as part of the Presbyterian Church’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations.
More recently, the Vanuatu Cultural Centre has assisted in the revival of some of the ancient traditional sail designs that had been lost for almost a hundred years. In 1999, the community of Anelghowhat of Aneityum reconstructed from their collective memory the oceanic lateen sail formerly used throughout most of the southern islands. This reconstruction, woven entirely from pandanus leaves in the traditional fashion, was on the canoe that took part in the Te Ngaru Matua [The Ancient Wave] Oceanic Waka Festival held in New Zealand in March 2000. The style of canoe cut for this event was also the style formerly found on Aneityum and lost about thirty years ago.
The ‘wing tip’ or oceanic spritsail of central and northern Vanuatu was also revived as part of the Te Ngaru Matua event. This sail, unique to this part of the world was fitted to a traditional canoe from Lelepa Island of north Efate and complemented the canoe from Aneityum.
Canoes, both sail and paddle, remain an important part of island life for transport, fishing, trips to the garden and island travel throughout the archipelago. Its contribution to Vanuatu’s cultural heritage, traditional and formal economy and sense of self-reliance, identity and independence warrants further recognition and support to ensure the skills and natural materials are maintained into the future.
 
 
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Bear looks miniscule standing behind her and compared to what we are used to seeing spuddling about the bay, she is massive.
 
Inter-island voyaging and trade canoes. Inter-island trade depended on the large carved and planked outrigger canoes formerly found throughout the islands. These were the ships of the past, fitted with sail and having crews of up to thirty men. These canoes were considered sacred, as were the trade voyages they went on. In some areas of Malekula, up to a hundred tusked pigs would have been sacrificed by the time one of these inter-island canoes was launched. In this way, the canoe was sanctified and empowered with a name, a grade in the traditional hierarchy and a spirit to ensure successful voyages. On the northeast of Malekula sanctifying rituals included the placement of a stylised bird on the canoe ends to indicate its owners rank.
Styles of inter-island canoes varied considerably from one island to the next from north to south in the archipelago and reflected the cultural diversity amongst islands. Generally, they were built up from a carved log used as a keel with washboards [planks] sewn on to increase freeboard. Various types of tree resins and techniques were drawn on to caulk these sewn joints. The particulars of the canoe’s construction were often specified by the areas ancestral cultural hero, as were the taboos associated with its construction and use. In some areas a different language was spoken while at sea.
The types of wood used to construct the hull varied amongst the islands following the different trees preferred and available. Trees commonly used included durable woods such as breadfruit, rosewood, ironwood or softer, lighter woods like whitewood. A large sail canoe may include a dozen different woods carefully chosen for each particular characteristic including strength, flexibility, lightness and resistance to cracking, weathering and insect attack.
Successful inter-island voyages also required extensive local knowledge currents, tides, winds and weather prediction as well as knowledge of the stars and other navigational techniques.
 
 
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Built solidly in the traditional way.
 
Styles of Sails. At the time of European contact, there were two main categories of sail found in Vanuatu. The southern islands of TAFEA [Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Aneityum and Erromango] used an oceanic lateen style of sail. This type of sail is considered to have been refined by the Micronesians, adopted by the Polynesians and introduced to southern Vanuatu some eight hundred years ago during the Polynesian back-migration to the Western Pacific. This type of sail is shunted [changed from end to end], which allows the outrigger to always face the wind as opposed to the European method of tacking through the wind. It was lost fairly early after European contact but it has been revived on Aneityum Island.
 
 
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A little fishing canoe we see out and about every day.
 
The central and northern islands of Vanuatu used a sail called the oceanic spritsail. A more descriptive name is the ‘wing tip’, as it resembles the wings of a bird. Europeans called it the ‘butterfly’ sail when they first saw it. The ‘wing tip’ is unique to this part of Vanuatu and is found nowhere else in the world. It survived until the early 1900’s when European sails displaced it. It resembles the extremely efficient delta-foil shape utilised on high speed jets and is known to develop additional power through creation of ‘vortex lift’.
The Shepherd Islands from north Efate to southern Epi, being culturally distinct with evidence of other Polynesian influences had their own variation of the oceanic spritsail, it being more triangular in shape.
All of the larger inter-island canoes were always sailed with the outrigger facing the wind. Its tendency to fly in a strong wind was balanced by shifting cargo and crew weight out over the outrigger itself. The sail rig of the oceanic spritsail could be changed to the opposite end of the canoe, if necessary during a trip, but as most voyages were less than a hundred miles, this wasn’t normally necessary. For the return trip the mast would simply be shifted to its new position before departure. There was always a strong tradition of weather specialists who foretold the weather by reading winds and clouds as well as influencing the weather through ritualised practices.
 
 
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One of the support beams.
 
Styles of sails in Vanuatu today. The types of sail found today are all based on European styles that were introduced about a hundred years ago. The European spritsail is the most common type of sail found today. Areas where it is still used include Lamen Bay on Epi Island, the Maskelyne Islands of southern Malekula and some islands in the Banks Group. This style of sail was introduced in Aneityum in the 1990’s and has become popular. Increasingly, some of these islands use a small triangular ‘leg of mutton’ sail as well.
The small islands of northeast Malekula, once a great centre of sailing and trade, now use a European ‘balanced lug’ style of sail. This sail allows the outrigger to always face the wind as was the case traditionally with central Vanuatu’s large ‘wing tip’ rigged canoes. The introduced ‘balanced lug’ sail somewhat resembles the oceanic lateen sail that was traditionally found in southern Vanuatu, but differs in that the sail is not shunted when changing tack, but simply swung around the mast.
In some areas, coconut leaves are arranged on canoes as temporary sails to take advantage of following winds.
 
 
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Sad to see one or two nails. All the strapping would need to be replaced before this lady could set off. 
 
The demise of inter-island canoes and disruption of traditional trade. The arrival of the Europeans had a drastic impact on traditional shipping and trade in Vanuatu. Starting with the sandalwood trade around 1830, it became dangerous to be caught offshore in a canoe. Canoes would be rammed and shattered so as to capture the crew and cargo to be traded to their neighbouring enemies for sandalwood. The ‘blackbirders’, in general an equally unscrupulous bunch, began arriving in the 1860’s to recruit or sometimes enslave for Queensland and Fijian sugarcane plantations. They would target the large canoes found offshore as a source of easy ‘recruits’ by ramming them and hoisting the crews aboard their ships bound for Queensland.
Many early missionaries were intolerant of traditional practices and forbade canoe voyages associated with traditional trade and rituals while finding their work easier if the ‘natives’ were a little less mobile. The whalers, copra traders and planters arrived in the mid to late 1800’s to alienate land, trade in firearms and spirits and to introduce the European whaleboat with European style sails. They also introduced disease, coupled with labour trade, severely depopulating many islands. As the first Europeans always arrived by sea, their disruptive influence was first felt in the coastal areas. The maritime skills of the old canoe builders, sailors and navigators were one of the early victims of European contact.
 
 
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The outrigger is carved from one tree trunk.
 
 
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Some trees would have to be taken out of her way to get her into the water.
 
 
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A lick of varnish and a little TLC, we wish the lady safe winds and a following sea.
 
 
 
 
 
ALL IN ALL QUITE A VESSEL
                    A VERY SMART LADY