This Sailboat Will Blow Your Mind! The Not-So-Lost Art of Polynesian Navigation

This Sailboat Will Blow Your Mind! The Not-So-Lost Art of Polynesian Navigation

I’ve often wondered about sailors of the past.

What did ports look like before the invention of break walls? How did they keep themselves entertained without podcasts and how did they manage to navigate the world without GPS and radar?

Could I have survived a week in their soggy, salty shoes at sea? Undoubtedly, the answer is NO.

To say our ancestors have paved the way for us techno reliant sailors would be a gross understatement. But long before Ferdinand Magellan, sextants and magnetic compasses, there were Polynesian Navigators.

Little did we know, we were about to get an intimate introduction to not only the Cook Islands, but to the not-so-lost art of Polynesian Sailing.

After spending time with the Marumaru Atua crew, hearing stories from their 19 day passage and seeing the intense bond that was formed between them on that passage…well, it’s infectious! Each crew member had some sort of connection to the Cook Islands or Māori ancestry that drew them to the vaka. The ages were varied as was their sailing experience. For some, this was their first passage.

traditional polynesian vaka sailing in south pacific
traditional polynesian vaka cook islands welcome home
vaka crew cook islands welcome celebration

We’ve seen the traditional Polynesian Vaka before but had no idea just how powerful they are both symbolically and performance wise (24 knots!).

I came across this quote from the Cook Islands Voyaging Society secretary Cecile Marten. It’s a beautiful explanation of the societies mission and one we deeply relate to.

“We have shared the culture of traditional sailing and navigation with so many people and we volunteer our time because we are passionate about the vaka and what it represents. The vaka is a metaphor for our earth; if we look after our vaka, the vaka will look after us.

The same goes for our ocean and our lands, if we look after it, it will in turn look after us. The vaka reminds us to look to the past at our ancestor’s traditional practices which are self-sustaining, they co-existed with nature, not exploited their resources.

Every second breath we take comes from ocean. Not only that, our people are at the front line of climate change, and without a healthy ocean, humanity can’t survive. We are the guardians of our living ocean.

Our identity is anchored in a vast sea where our ancestors voyaged to find new homes, our home, and now your home. It is our responsibility to protect these resources for our future generations.”

From the welcome home ceremony to sharing a beer with the crew, it was one helluva start to our time in the Cook Islands.

Now, I can’t get the idea of volunteering to one of the organizations out of my head. So, its officially on the bucket list. I can’t pass up the opportunity to learn, contribute and be a part of such an ancient art. Even if it’s just scrubbing the bottom in the harbor. 😉

Nikki Wynn on the bow of traditional polynesian sailing vessel in cook islands south pacific
cook islands female polynesian dancer
cook islands polynesian dancers performing at ceremony

The next generation of navigators

Want more information about the vakas and the organizations who keep them floating and educating? Here ya go!


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🎶AWESOME tunes:

  • Local Cook Island Music from: Taakoka, Tara Kauvai, & Engara Gosselin


  • Anchorage: Avarua Harbour, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
  • Date: June 2019