Voyaging with Faafaite

To start at the beginning, I have been volunteering with the Polynesian Voyaging Society for the past few years.  A new sailing canoe (wa’a) was donated to the organization to be used as a companion vessel for Hokule’a.  She was named ‘Hikianalia’ which is the Hawaiian name for a star (Spica) that rises together with Hokule’a (Arcturus) in Hawai’i.  You can read much, much more about this at Hokulea.org.  Hikianalia was built in Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand).  Crew was chosen from PVS to help bring the new canoe home to Hawai’i.  The first leg was from Auckland to Tahiti.   I was chosen as a crew member on the second leg, from Tahiti to Hilo, Hawai’i.  The Tahitian wa’a, Faafaite, was to accompany Hikianalia from Auckland to Tahiti and the week before departure found themselves thin on crew.  Since I was mostly packed for my leg and had all the necessary foul weather gear and warm clothes to handle the chilly spring temperatures in the southern hemisphere, I volunteered to go as crew on Faafaite.  The only real trouble was that I had a few days of relief work at a local veterinary clinic to finish up before I could depart.  Also, last minute plane flights were not easy to find.  It turned out that the trek to meet up with Faafaite and Hikianalia was nearly as much an adventure as the voyage!


Coastline of southern Viti Levu, Fiji

The most reasonable flight I could find was on Air Pacific and required an overnight stay in Fiji.  I flew into Nadi on October 8, booked myself into a hotel, and treated myself to a massage.  I also discovered that my cell phone did not work at all, and I played around with wifi for quite a while before I was able to get a text to Cat, a fellow PVS member who was also sailing on Faafaite and was my only contact to the canoe.  She let me know that a crew member, Fati, planned to meet my flight in Auckland and accompany me to customs.  The next morning I returned to the airport to continue my trip to Auckland.


Approaching Aotearoa


Coastline of Aotearoa

I landed in Auckland and made my way through customs easily despite the fact that I had an entire dry bag full of gluten-free food.  It is definitely easier when you speak the language fluently (English, which is unfortunately the only language I speak fluently).  I waited outside international arrivals looking for a Tahitian crew member.  I even wore my crew t-shirt to be sure I could be found!  After an hour and no ride, I managed to call Cat from a pay phone.  Lucky they still have pay phones in some places!  She didn’t realize I had no way to receive texts, and plans had changed and we were leaving immediately and the immigration I needed to get to was for the canoes.  SO I changed some money, hopped in a cab, traveled to the waterfront, and started looking for canoe masts.  I did not see the canoes, so I asked at several information kiosks, called customs and immigration offices, and wandered along near the ferry terminal pushing all my gear on a trolley.  Nobody had any idea where I could meet the canoes.  After finding another pay phone, I found out from Cat that they were just arriving downtown Auckland, and none of them knew via land where to tell me to go as they had only been there via the water.  A few minutes later, Hikianalia came into view.  Now I could watch where she went and try and figure out how to meet them.  She docked inside a large area, many blocks long with double fences, razor wire, and locked gates from the street.  I asked a guy unloading cars from a transport trailer how to get in and he directed me down the street further- go to the next light and turn left.  There I asked several more people who were heading through gates, but none could let me in and directed me to the main gate, a bit further down the side street.  A nice customs guy finally showed me the main gate– at the end of the road with a large sign reading ‘NO PEDESTRIANS’.  So I pushed my trolley up to the gate, avoiding the container trucks, and the lady at the booth asked “Are you Brenda?”  Woo Hoo!  Another guy hopped into a van, I loaded my gear, and down to the canoes we went.  Faafaite was just coming into sight.  I made it.

Awaiting Customs inspection departing Auckland

Downtown Auckland from the deck of Faafaite

Downtown Auckland from the deck of Faafaite

I delivered a few items to the Hikianalia crew, greeted everyone quickly, and hopped over the side rails onto Faafaite as soon as they tied up.  I added my passport to the stack, met my new crew, stashed my gear below, and within half an hour we were on our way to Tahiti! I was in Auckland a total of 3 hours! The weather was amazingly calm, though chilly.  We were treated to the first of many bird visitors, a departure cheer from a woman on a hillside with a large Hawaiian flag, and an amazing sunset.

Here are a few pics of parts of the wa’a (click on pictures for larger views):

On all the wa’a (there are 8 now including Faafaite and Hikianalia- see PacificVoyagers.org for more info on the wa’a) there are sleeping quarters / berths in the hulls, 7 or 8 on each side.  Hikianalia also has a head (bathroom) and galley (kitchen) below, one on each side of the canoe towards the back.  Faafaite has storage in those areas and the head and galley are incorporated into the hale on deck.  The head is in the front by the forward mast.  You have to use buckets of water to flush.  Getting those buckets of water from over the side rail can be a very tricky and wet experience when the waves are crashing over the deck!  Many thanks to my crewmates, especially J-B who often pulled a bucket for me!  Steering is done by means of steering paddle or ‘hoe’.



On every wa’a, each crew member is part of a watch.  We generally have 3 4-hour watches: 6-10, 10-2, and 2-6.  AM and PM, so each person has 2 4-hour watches in a 24 hour period.  Each person also has their individual kuleana or responsibilities- cook, sail repair, electronics, fisherman, navigation are a few examples.  On Faafaite I was the medical officer.  We all shared with cooking and cleaning and whatever else needed to be done whether on watch or not, as it was a fairly small crew of 11.  Faafaite is a singing canoe, so there was much music and I learned several songs in Tahitian!

Fati our resident Panda

Fati our resident Panda

Cat, our Tigress

Cat, our Tigress

Luckily as the medical officer I had several animals to  care for, making me much more comfortable, ha ha!  Not  pictured but also present were a wolf, a monkey, and a sloth.

Each watch has a watch captain, someone with more experience who makes the decisions.  On my watch, this was Matani. Rainui was the third person to make up our 10-2 watch on this voyage.

My watch mates Rainui and Matani

My watch mates Rainui and Matani





In Tahiti, the official language is French.  Each island group also has its own language, for example Tahitian on Tahiti.  French Polynesia is made up of several different island chains (Austral, Marquesas, Tuamotu, Gambier, Actaeon, and Society Islands including Tahiti) and each has its own dialect or language.  Since our crew was from several different island chains, they generally spoke French between themselves.  I don’t know any French except ‘hors d’oeuvres’ and ‘c’est la vie’ which are not particularly useful on a canoe.  At first I was not sure what would happen on our watch, but it turned out that Rainui spoke very passable English after a few days of encouragement.  Many crew members spoke excellent English, so conversation was easy.  In a moment of excitement or trouble, however, the French went flying and I stayed out of the way until I figured out what was going on or until someone asked for my help!

Our crew consisted of 7 from Tahiti, one from Aotearoa, and three from Hawaii.  Titaua Teipoarii was our skipper and it was his first voyage as skipper, having just finished courses and testing while in Auckland.  He is from the Austral Islands.  Chad Kalepa Babayan is a long-time voyager and pwo navigator from Hawaii island and was along for guidance.  Moeata, Fatiarau, Matani, Herve, Rainui, and J-B are all from different islands in French Polynesia and all have been sailing on Faafaite for a year or longer.  Most were part of the crew two summers ago that voyaged to Hawaii, where I had previously met them.  Tamati is from Aoteoroa and has been sailing on one of the Maori wa’a this past year.   Cat and myself are both from Oahu and are PVS crew members.  It was a fun crew, and all got along famously with everyone chipping in whenever needed and offering to cover watches if anyone was overly tired or feeling poorly.

The plan for the sail was to stay as close as reasonably possible to Hikianalia in case of any problems since this was her first voyage.  We planned to head east until we reached near the longitude of Tahiti, then head north.  The trade winds in the southern hemisphere near Tahiti are from the southeast, and this plan would enable us to be sure not to be unable to reach Tahiti due to very strong or very easterly winds.

We had very low winds for the first few days, then a good storm with rough seas for 2 days.  The next week was filled with amazing down-wind sailing with up to 20 foot seas behind us.  Surfing the canoe was very fun and we made excellent time, often reaching 12 or 13 knots.  The last 3 days were rough again as we headed more north and the wind and swell were on our beam.  We arrived at Matavai Bay, Tahiti, at about 2:30 am after 16 days of sailing- a very fast trip for the distance and area!

Hikianalia arrived a few hours later, just after dawn.  We then waited aboard for customs, beached / anchored near shore, and were treated to lovely welcoming ceremonies and a feast.  The rest of the crew for the second leg of Hikianalia’s journey had arrived several days earlier, and we were all happily telling stories and eating until mid-day when we moved the canoes to Papeete Harbor.

I am very grateful to the Faafaite crew for making my first voyage such a treat.

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