Historians agree that the Fijian drua or double-hulled canoes were the finest blue-water ships built in this Ocean. They were recognised as the “fastest sailing boat in existence” and “capable of sailing nearer the wind than any European vessel” of its era.
Last Saturday I had my first opportunity to be more than a passenger or cargo on the Uto Ni Yalo sailing canoe. Following a successful Sustainable Sea Transport Talanoa at USP last week the Uto ni Yalo sailed from Laucala Bay to Lami, where she is now anchored. Four years after first blessing this vaka when she arrived in Fiji in 2010, I finally had a small crew role.
The “Uli” or steering oar was offered to me by Master Mario Mausio, who has sailed on the Uto Ni Yalo as far as Mexico. For the next three hours I stood with this heavy wooden oar in my arms, steering as traditional navigator and day skipper for the afternoon’s sail, Setareki Ledua, guided me and explained the role of the person who handles the “uli”. Using wind and then solar-powered motor we arrived in Lami’s Bay of Islands after a relatively smooth sail.
As I stood on deck with the “uli”, I began to have a true sense of appreciation of the work of the crew onboard this traditionally sailed canoe. Reflecting on their stories of 40-foot waves, storms and squalls I once again gave thanks to God for their safe travel across the Pacific these past years and for their commitment to ensure that the Uto Ni Yalo is something which Fiji can not only be proud of but also be a vessel of education and empowerment for the people of our nation.
As I mentioned in this column last week, the Uto Ni Yalo is expected to sail to the International Union for the Conservation of Nation’s World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. The voyage, “Mua: Guided by Nature” will follow a route that takes the canoe to Vanuatu, then Brisbane and down to Sydney.
This is an important event as it will be joined by vakas (canoes) from Aotearoa, Cook Islands and Samoa. Pacific leaders will be onboard as these traditional sailing vessels enter Sydney Harbour with the message of the Pacific to the congress.
However, the Uto Ni Yalo is not only for sailing around the Pacific and the world.
Part of the reason it has been gifted to Fiji is the vision of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust to use the vaka for educational and cultural purposes the benefit of the people of Fiji. This includes encouraging a return to the art of traditional voyaging, training and nurturing training future generations of voyagers, irrespective of age, or ability in traditional skills of navigation. It also means reviving and sustaining traditional Fijian canoe building, sailing, skills and customs.
Since early 2010, UNYT has trained over 50 sailors to New Zealand Coastguard standard (Day Skipper, Boat Master and Coastal Skipper). Over 35 of these trained sailors have already participated in voyages across the Pacific and beyond.
These sailors are now future leaders and “Ocean Champions” who have the ability to become Canoe Captains in their own right. The Uto ni Yalo has built up a huge support base both in Fiji at the village level and with Fijians all over the world.
As the Uto Ni Yalo prepares for its voyage to the IUCN World Parks Congress and the future work that the Trust has pledged to undertake around Fiji, the call is going out for those interested to become a crew member of the Uto Ni Yalo.
While a number of places on the crew will be filled from the pool of experienced crew, there may be some opportunities new crew to sail to Australia.
More importantly there will many opportunities in the coming years for crew to sail around Fiji as the Uto Ni Yalo engages in its community work as well as sailing in the wider Pacific Ocean. Even a day sail is an experience of a lifetime and the skills and confidence developed in training have life-long benefits.
Age is no barrier, neither is ability or gender. Senior citizens and the hearing impaired have been part of the mixed gender crew to sail on the Uto Ni Yalo.
If you are interested in training to be part of the crew and become a traditional voyager this is your opportunity. Visit https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-uto-ni-yalo-trust/crew-application-form/671678492918423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the crew application.
In the meantime the current community of the Uto Ni Yalo will begin work this weekend on getting the vessel ready with a working bee on Saturday from 9am to 1pm onboard.
There is hope that the Fiji Government will agree to support the work of the Uto Ni Yalo in preparation for its upcoming voyage and ongoing educational work.
For information in how you can support the preparations of the Uto Ni Yalo’s voyage to the IUCN World Parks Congress email email@example.com
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”
Secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission for the Methodist Church in Fiji, Rev. James Bhagwan is also voluntary Chaplain and Acting Secretary of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust.