For ten years now, photographer Julien Girardot has been creating traditional multihulls in French Polynesia. He decided to share his unusual story and dream, which he is actively implementing.
A small start to a big story
My story started suddenly. I arrived in French Polynesia aboard the research yacht Tara. Then I was a cook and a staff photographer. This trip seemed the most ordinary, nothing foreshadowed global changes. When I went ashore in French Polynesia, I knew I was here for the long haul.
As a result, I spent the last 10 years on these distant islands. And there were two good reasons for that. Firstly, I have long since fallen in love with traditional Polynesian multihulls. Secondly, Tahiti (which is part of French Polynesia) is a paradise for a photographer like me. You have no idea how many pictures were taken during all this time.
The first thing that comes to the mind of a sailor or yachtsman when thinking about French Polynesia is the traditional multi-hull Polynesian boats. Before visiting the islands for the first time, I read several books about navigating the stars of the indigenous peoples of the islands and their interesting history. Polynesians were able to cross the Pacific Ocean using only the stars! And although this is a hackneyed fact, it still strikes my imagination.
I planned to spend one month in the Tuamotu archipelago. Then I decided that I would interact with the locals and have a good time with them, riding all these interesting boats. And indeed, even then I tried several types of local watercraft. But they were all under the engine. While living on Fakarava, an atoll in the Tuamotu, I became friends with my neighbor Ato. Once I asked him: "Ato, where are all the sailing canoes?"
A great past and an ambiguous future
Ato told an interesting story. In the 1960s, not only the nuclear testing program came to French Polynesia along with “papa'a” (white people). A positive aspect was the arrival of internal combustion engines for boats of all colors and sizes. Naturally, the locals were extremely impressed with the power of the engines. It turns out that it is not necessary to manage sails and build complex boats ...
As the nuclear testing program proceeded, the "papa's" needed manpower, as there weren't enough soldiers brought in. Then they decided to involve local residents in the work.
Of course, the Polynesians did not work for free. But it was at that moment that the locals discovered something new for themselves - for their work they received hitherto unknown money. Aboriginal people embraced modernity. Thus, money and ICE came to the world of Polynesia, but traditional sailing boats left.
I thought about the words of my new friend for a long time. This story took me completely and did not let go. One fine day, Ato and I were working on the motu, small islands that surround the central island of the atoll. At some point, I asked Ato: “Maybe we can build our own sailing canoe?” Ato happily agreed.
Upon returning to the main islands of Polynesia, we founded a non-profit organization. Her goal was to fulfill the dream of reviving traditional Polynesian shipbuilding on the islands.
The main thing is to start!
We decided that it would be a good idea to find investors among the locals. The hotel on Bora Bora became such an investor and the first customer. The hotel representatives announced their conditions - a single-seat trimaran with a "typically Polynesian appearance", but very easy to manage.
We coped with this task without much difficulty, even taking into account the fact that we were not great experts in shipbuilding. We were assisted by a local talented shipbuilder Alexander Genton.
The next project was an outrigger canoe, a classic sports boat. This was my first canoe building and the design was successful. Even with the success of the second project, I finally understood something.
A long time ago in Saint-Malo I met an old sea dog who came up with the catchphrase: “When it comes to boats, the best way to become a millionaire is to start boating when you are a billionaire.”
Fortunately, the experience gained was unimaginably more valuable than any money. The next boat was a larger boat called Va'a Motu. It was ordered by the owner of another hotel. He wanted a modern version of the traditional canoe for use at the hotel's beach club.
This canoe was supposed to be 20 feet long (6 m). We chose kauri wood as the material, and the frame was made from carbon windsurf masts. There is no rudder, so the sailor steers the ship in the traditional Polynesian way - using an oar in the water.
Now I understand that for the locals of French Polynesia, the past remains the past. The future is no more important than the past. The only real value is the present. Here people think about the present.
The future and the past are not so important, this is a different perception of life. Locals often joke: "We (people on the islands) have time, but people from busy cities have hours."
And this is noticeable in everything. Here even time seems to flow in a completely different way. We worked slowly and measuredly. At the same time, they always met deadlines. And I, and Ato, and Gronton - we have always been, as they say, in the moment. This is an amazing experience that helped me better understand what I want from life.
Alexandre Gronton teamed up with local naval architect Nicolas Grouet. Together they created Te Maru O Havaiki, a 30-foot Va'a Motu (outrigger canoe). We also took part in its creation
The construction of Te Maru O Havaiki also provided an opportunity to train two young people from Fakarava. One of them, Toko, worked until the end of construction. He turned out to be an excellent laminator. He was even allowed to "field trials", where he rather awkwardly handled a 30-foot canoe. In fairness, Toko was still holding his own well - it is very difficult for a beginner to manage such a canoe.
This project received sponsorship from the French Marine Protection Agency. The agency gave us almost 40,000 euros. They were delighted with local values and traditions. But the most interesting for them was the scientific element of the project. The agency asked us to map... a map of the Fakarava lagoon with camera-equipped kites! It was an amazing experience!
For more than two months we swam almost every day. We circled the lagoon from east to west and from north to south. We sometimes had to pitch tents for two or three nights to explore further. During each outing we learned a little more about the islands…
In the meantime, we have a little creative rest. Everyone is minding their own business, but we often see Ato and Alexander. Very soon we will start a new chapter of our small company - in the development of a trimaran and several small canoes.
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