In April 2010, two voyaging canoes led by traditional navigators and guided by the stars sailed across hundreds of miles of open ocean from Lamotrek in the central Caroline Islands to Guam in the Mariana Islands. It was the first time in over a 100 years that such a voyage had been made. Two canoes, the Simion Hokulea and the Mathow Maram were selected by the Yap Traditional Navigation Society to make the historic expedition.
On April 14, the Simion Hokulea and Mathow Maram were loaded aboard the MV Caroline Voyager in Yap and transported to Lamotrek, a distance of approximately 600 miles. On April 26, the two canoes left Lamotrek and sailed across the 400-mile Metawaliwoal Sea to Guam.
This historic voyage,which was also for the purposeof training Yap Traditional Navigation Society (YTNS) students in the use of traditional navigational skills, was under the command of master navigator Ali Haleyalur from Lamotrek.Haleyalur captained the 33-year old Simion Hokulea canoe which was originally carved and owned by the renowned master navigator Mau Piailug.Master canoe builder Chief Bruno Tharngan from Yap captained the Mathow Maram, a canoe of his own construction patterned after the popow design common throughout the Caroline Islands.
There were a total of 23 crew members involved in the voyage from Lamotrek to Guam. The Simion Hokulea crew was made of up eleven students,Captain Ali Haleyalur, and myself, Eric Metzgar, whose purpose was to document the voyage for the YTNS archives.The members of the Mathow Maram crew were made up of ten students, Captain Bruno Tharngan, and Leo Racheilug,Chief of Satawal and a master navigator, appointed by Ali Haleyalur to assist Chief Tharngan with the navigation of the Mathow Maram.
After arrival in Guam four days later on April 30, the YTNS sailors were sponsored by the Traditions About Seafaring Islands (TASI) organization at their Sahwan Tasi Fache Mwan canoe house in Paseo de Susana. TASI was our generous host for two weeks until May 13, when both canoes departed Guam and sailed for Yap.
Mathow Maram and Simion Hokulea being loaded onto the MV Caroline Voyager in Yap
Crew members protect the canoes from excessive sun with tarps and palm fronds
Ali Haleyalur inspects the Simion Hokulea for possible damage during loading
A long crack in the hull will need to be repaired
MV Caroline Voyager with canoes on the forward hatch
A meeting of the captains and crews aboard the MV Caroline Voyager
Arrival at Lamotrek in rainy weather after seven days at sea
The Mathow Maram being towed ashore
The Simion Hokulea being offloaded
The two canoes at rest in front of Lugal canoe house on Lamotrek
Sailing to Guam: Captain Ali and Adrian Yarofaligil
Enjoying the view
Tobi Saufoa and Tony Pekalpiy below decks in the hull
Lorenzo Saremaliyoang and Justin Yechelpiy taking it all in
Santus Shigyan, Johannes Hashigluw, and Spencer Tafileluw in a rare quiet moment.
Justin and Ali checking the waves
Magnus Resemanglug, Tobi, and Johannes on the captain's bench
Chief Leo Racheilug, Master Navigator on the Mathow Maram, and I compare experiences on the voyage from Lamotrek to Guam
Master Navigator Ali Haleyalur
On May 13, the Simion Hokulea and Mathow
Maram departed Guam. Due to unfavorable
weather events and differences in sailing speeds it proved difficult for the two
canoes to stay together and they lost sight of each other four days later during a rain storm.
The Mathow Maram reached Yap on
May 17, after five days of sailing over 500 miles of open ocean. The Simion Hokulea passed Yap and reached
Palau on May 21, after 8 days of sailing approximately 900 miles of open
the voyage the location and progress of the Mathow Maram was monitored by the
Yap Traditional Navigation Society with a Google Maps tracker put on-board the Mathow
for that purpose. The Simion
had no such tracking device and was presumed missing on May 18, a day
later after the Mathow Maram reached Yap. Little to no wind on the 5th and 6th
days of sailing combined with strong currents prevented the Simion Hokulea from reaching Yap. When the Simion Hokulea was south of Yap, the 33 year-old canoe started leaking badly despite repairs made on Guam
before setting out on the voyage.
For the health and safety of the crew Captain Ali Haleyalur decided that
the best course of action was to sail one to two days down wind to Palau rather
then attempt the difficult up wind sail to Yap, which would have extended the
voyage another three to seven days depending on the weather. During this time master navigator Ali Haleyalur always knew
the location of the Simion Hokulea in relation to Yap and Palau, the crew still
had plenty of food and water to continue the voyage, and at no time was
lost. In such circumstances, Palau
has traditionally been used as a safety net by navigators to reach landfall. Ironically, it was the first such voyage on a traditional canoe from Guam to Palau in recorded history.
A documentary by Eric Metzgar is being planned after the raw film footage of the expedition is archived with the Yap Traditional Navigation Society.
Special thanks to JR Manuel (www.jrmanuel.com) and Cheryl Cunningham for permission to use their photographs.
For more photographs by JR Manuelof the canoes arrival and celebration festivities in Guamclick here.