This morning the MV Brigitte Bardot had a once in a lifetime opportunity to sail amidst 7 vakas (traditional sailing canoes) out of the port of Honiara, Solomon Islands.
The plan came together on Friday and we reached an arrangement to swap crews for the sailing expedition, thereby allowing crews from either side to experience the other. A lot of interest has been brewing over our presence at the Festival of Pacific Arts and while we have had visitors from the vakas all week, a chance to actually be out at sea on the Brigitte Bardot seemed to generate a lot of excitement.
The Vakas are part of a project called Pacific Voyagers. The idea behind the project is to train and crew the vakas by the local islanders of the South Pacific, in an attempt to wean them of their reliance on fossil fuel and to usher in a new sustainable way of commuting between the islands. However, in our conversations with the crew over the past week and this morning with the managing director and benefactor of the Pacific Voyaging Society, I have learned that this project envisions numerous goals from developing ambassadors to re-learning traditional recipes to discovering ancient food storage techniques to bringing one common voice for the Pacific Ocean. The vision aims to address a lot of the current and future issues of the Pacific Ocean under one umbrella and we wish them all the best in their endeavour.
I weighed anchor at about 9 am and waited at the mouth of the port, while the dinghies ran trips back and forth between the Brigitte Bardot and the Vakas. At about 10 am, we saw the vaka crews springing into action. And I use the word springing very deliberately because here on the island everything suddenly springs up and happens- something we now jovially call “Island Time". The crews hoisted the sails and soon the ballooning sails carried the vakas past the breakwater and into the vast ocean beyond. The vaka sails have very interesting traditional art work on them and it was a beautiful sight to see them.
The Brigitte Bardot sailed with the Uto Ni Yalo, the Fijian vaka for most of the way. It was an interesting contrast to see the vessels side by side because it represented two entirely different approaches to a common goal- CONSERVATION. While SSCS is attempting to train and empower locals to reclaim their waters and fishing rights, the Pacific Voyagers are carrying the story of the islands around the world, as well as bringing home and rediscovering the ancient ways of sustainable living. While the Brigitte Bardot is a fast and sleek diesel-powered interceptor vessel, the vakas are propelled by the wind and powered by the sun
Over the past week, I must admit, the interaction of the SSCS crew and the Pacific Voyagers crew has been a highlight of my life. When we arrived at Honiara, Solomon Islands, we had hoped to meet with people from the islands that were being represented at the Festival of Pacific Arts and use that as a platform to launch Operation Requiem. However in addition to that, meeting the crew and talking to them about their amazing three year journey, has been an education and has given us a deep insight into the culture, the life and the environmental issues of the South Pacific.