For over a decade, photographer Julien Girardeau was fascinated by the traditional multihull ships of French Polynesia and dreamed of bringing sailing canoes or pies back to life.
I arrived in French Polynesia as a cook and photographer on the research yacht Tara, just passing by. But I ended up settling here for a decade; partly because of my passion for sailing cakes, and also because for the photographer Tahiti and its islands are a real blessing.
When you think of French Polynesia, you should definitely imagine traditional multihulls. Before arriving, I had read about navigating the stars and the ancient history of the Polynesians who swam across the Pacific and settled the islands of the Polynesian Triangle.
I had planned to spend one month on Tuamotu and told myself that I would be interacting with the locals and sailing with them on their epic outriggers.
While living in Fakarawa, an atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago, I became friends with my neighbor Ato. Once I asked him: "Ato, where are all the sailing canoes?"
He told me that when engines first appeared in French Polynesia, along with the papa (white people) and the nuclear test program in the 1960s, the locals were quickly impressed that they had so much readily available power. It was no longer necessary to control the sails, it was not necessary to build complex boats ...
The nuclear test program needed a manpower, and many Polynesians were recruited. They started making something new for them: money. The islanders embraced modernity and sailing canoes soon disappeared.
Once, when we were exploring one of the motu, I asked Ato: "Maybe we can build a sailing canoe?" He immediately answered yes.
After Tara, I returned to Fakarava and we founded a non-profit organization to pursue the dream of returning traditional multihull ships to the island.
Va‘a Itistarting small
Va'a Iti means "small canoe" in Tahitian. As our first project, we developed a single trimaran for a hotel in Bora Bora.
We wanted a model with a Polynesian appearance, but very easy to use.
Working with Alexander Genton, a talented local shipbuilder, we have built a canoe based on the V1 canoe, which is a sports rowing canoe with one outrigger.
Single-seat canoes with outriggers are a Polynesian institute and champion Polynesian rowers dominate the podiums of international competitions.
It was my first canoe construction, and the design turned out to be a success, although I realized I was referring to the old sea dog I met a long time ago in Saint Malo when he said, “When it comes to boats, the best way to end up as a millionaire is it's to start a billionaire! "
But what I got as a result of this project was much more valuable than money.
The next construction was a larger Va'a Motu for a hotel whose owner wanted a modern version of a traditional canoe for his beach club.
This 20-foot long canoe was built from cowrie wood using striped decking, and the frame was made from carbon fiber windsurfing masts. There is no rudder, so the sailor drives the canoe in the traditional Polynesian way - with the help of an oar in the water.
Dream, Te Maru O Havaiki
Te Maru O Havaiki means "Hawaiian Shadow" and is a dream come true - or, no doubt, a fantasy that I had when I first visited the Pacific Ocean.
Now I understand that for the locals of French Polynesia, what has passed is the past. Here people think about what is happening here and now.
The future and the past are not so important, this is a different perception of life. People on the islands say: "They have time, but people from busy cities have hours."
Te Maru O Havaiki is a 30-foot Va'a Motu (canoe with outriggers) designed by local architect Nicolas Gruet and built by Alexander Genton.
The construction made it possible to train two young men from Fakarava, and one of them, Toko, held out until the very end of the construction. He proved to be an excellent laminator and also, oddly enough, was able to handle a 30-foot canoe, which is not easy for a beginner to handle. The people of the Pumotu tribe are incredibly easy to float on the water.
The project received sponsorship from the French Marine Conservation Agency, which provided us with almost 40,000 euros. They liked the local values and traditions, but the most interesting for them was the scientific element of the project.
For them, we had to map the Fakarava Lagoon using kites equipped with cameras!
For over two months we swam almost every day, circling the lagoon from east to west and north to south, sometimes pitching tents for two or three nights to explore further.
On each sortie, we learned a little more and gained confidence while sailing with the same crew.
We're starting to dare to add a little more windage. The canoe is fast, but unstable on one tack. Each time we tack, we remove or set the reef, this is a delicate balancing act.
Others, more courageous than us, swam with only two people, and then were able to turn with the help of the boom. Three people is good, but you have to play the riffs ... Four is better, five is perfect. "
In the end, the State Maritime Inspector, after checking the stability, decided not to register this vessel because it was too unstable. He is not a yachtsman, not a Polynesian, but just arrived from Dunkirk, where his job was to license cargo ships.
I don't think he understood the importance of the shape of our canoe, and it was painful at the time, but understandable in hindsight.
A canoe in this configuration, with one ama, will not be a safe boat on the 100%. Instead, we'll turn the canoe into a trimaran.
The Va'a Motu Association met again to re-elect a new board in April 2021.
We will now write the second chapter, but this time on a trimaran.
Te Maru O Havaiki continues to tell the story of the evolution of multihull ships.
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