Massive Sailing Canoe Takes Shape on Lamotrek

Contact: Waa'gey

Box 254 Colonia, Yap

FM 96943

(691) 950-1151

Photo 2 Adzes are used to slowly remove wood forming the hull.jpg

contact@waagey.orgAdzes are used to slowly remove wood forming the hull

Men on the remote Pacific Atoll of Lamotrek are hard at work, carving  and shaping a massive sailing canoe. In addition to preserving their  native traditions, they may be carving their way into the record books  as they work under a tarp by the open-air mens' house on the beach.

Voyaging canoes in the Caroline Islands (modern day "Micronesia") are  made from hollowed-out tree trunks for the keel. Planks are then fitted  and tied in with rope made from coconut fibers to complete the sides.  These graceful crafts appear symmetrical. Both sternposts and stems  protrude up from the keel in forks that shoot up like lizard tongues. An  outrigger is used to steady the canoe and the mast and sail are  adjustable, rather than fixed. Remarkably, this allows for sailing to  windward up to 75 degrees off the wind. The design used today is  identical to that detailed by Spanish missionaries in the early 1700s  who called the Carolinian canoes “flying proas.”

Canoes produced on the Outer Islands - those small islands and atolls  that stretch between the Micronesian state capitals of Yap Proper and  the Chuuk Lagoon - are limited in size. Trees growing in the rough soil  of the remote atolls don’t reach the height and width require for very  large canoe keels.  In this case, the men and boys of Lamotrek received a  massive tree from Yap Proper to serve as the canoe’s hull. That hull,  roughly 40 feet in length, could make the new canoe a record breaker.

The project was envisioned and coordinated by Waa’gey, a community based  organization headquartered on Yap Proper that serves Outer Islanders  across Micronesia.

Waa’gey collaborated with the Lamotrek Youth and with master carvers  Xavier Yarofaliyango and Brono Tharngan. Young Outer Island men on Yap  Proper cut the tree down and prepared it for delivery to Lamotrek aboard  the State Supply Vessel. The US-based Habele organization provided  financial support to compensate the landowner, provide tools, and ship  the canoe aboard the state vessel.

Photo 1 Carvers Shape Canoe Hull on Lamotrek Yap Micronesia.jpg

Carvers Shape Canoe Hull on Lamotrek Yap MicronesiaThe canoe is historic for reasons beyond it mammoth size. It may be the  first canoe ever that was cut down by Outer Islanders in Yap proper,  carved down to reduce weight and sent out to an Outer Island for final  construction. Voyaging canoes of this type made regular trips between  islands across the Carolines until the Japanese ordered an end to the  practice in the 1920s.

Carvers on Lamotrek plan to donate the canoe to the community at large,  ensuring the craft will see regular use through travel within the  lagoon. The length and width will also be a major asset for men on  community fishing trips during preparation for traditional ceremonies  and parties. Unlike fiberglass hulled boats with outboard engines, fuel  and spare parts shortages won’t be an issue.

Carvers hope to complete and launch the historic canoe this summer.  Volunteers and supporters from both Waa’gey and Habele plan to attend.  Once the traditional vessel has completed its sea trials, plans will be  made for longer-distance sailing. “I’ve heard rumors and rumblings about  an eventual open ocean voyage from Lamotrek to Saipan,” reported one  source close to the project. “Just the fact that such a journey would be  possible is a big deal!” Such a trip would serve to reenact a  well-documented voyage in 1787 when three chiefs from Lamotrek arrived  in the Marianas after ten days at sea.