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The Great Vaka Visit

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If you go down to Treasure Island in the next few days you may think you have gone through a wormhole into the past and then landed somewhere in the South Pacific. Moored off the white sand beach created by the causeway entrance to the old navy base, with the steep green sides of Yerba Buena as a backdrop, are six beautiful traditional Polynesian ocean-going canoes.

The historic flotilla of Pacific voyaging "Vakas" arrived in San Francisco late last week. There was a traditional welcoming by hundreds of local Pacific Islanders on Sunday, following a brief sail back out of the bay so that these great boats could come back in under the golden gate with their full sails set.

The pictures at the organizing groups website are beautiful - check them out.

The voyage, which is named Te Mana O Te Moana, or "The Spirit of the Sea," has come all the way from New Zealand for most of these crews, covering as much as 10,000 miles depending on how much tacking they had to do since they set off in April. They came through Tahiti and the Cook Islands before making landfall in Hawaii in late June. They then sailed here over the last month.

The vakas are called "Faafaite" from Tahiti, "Uto Ni Yalo" from Fiji, "Marumaru Atua" from the Cook Islands, "Gaualofa" from Samoa, "Te Matau a Maui" from Atearoa/ New Zealand, and two Pan Pacific canoes: "Hine Moana" and "Haunui" with Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu crew members.

These are replicas of the boats that were used by Polynesians over hundreds of years to travel from island to island, allowing them to populate places as far away as New Zealand, known to indigenous people as Atearoa. According to legend, that last epic voyage south probably took place in the 1200s, when 7 of these canoes rocked up on her shores from some point north.


The arrival of the vakas should serve as a reminder that we here in the Bay Area are on the edge of the world's greatest ocean. The folk on these boats are of it; often their cultures are described as water-based more than land-based. Maybe that's why they have been able to sail six months in an open boat across the sea!

And you could say the same about San Francisco -- after all a light fog coming off the waters of the Pacific douses us day and night. Oakland is a major port to the great economies on the other side of the ocean and it was home to Jack London -- America's original Pacific Voyager. There are many Pacific Islanders living in the Bay Area and a great history of cross-pollination with Hawaii and the islands beyond.

We can learn a lot and share a lot with our neighbors too. The mission of this voyage is to revive the art of traditional navigation and re-connect communities to one another. They are also trying to highlight environmental threats to the ocean especially the problem of ocean acidification brought on by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mixing with the sea.

Ironically, it may take an outsider to our ocean paradise to make us realize what we could be missing out on if we don't take care of her. The voyage is funded by a German philanthropist Dieter Paulmann who told Pacific Island Report, "he hopes the voyage would help people realize that everyone in the world was effectively in the same boat, when it comes to saving the ocean and the environment".