Waka crews set off on 10,000-mile ocean journey

By Yvonne Tahana

People celebrate the departure of Waka Tapu, from the Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland. Photo / Steven McNicholl
People celebrate the departure of Waka Tapu, from the Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Johnson Tumai-Totorewa, 17, wasn't worried about the potential for 20-metre ocean swells as he embarked on a 10,000-nautical mile voyage on a waka hourua, double hulled sailing canoe today.

When his waka Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, and its elder sibling Te Aurere reach Rapanui/Easter Island in October it'll be the start of the cyclone season. He's not worried about that either.

The Mangere teenager, who said the trip was the first off the North Island, is the youngest of 23 sailors. But the only thing giving him twinges was how it would feel to miss someone, he said with a smile.

"My mummy. I'm a mummy's boy but everything else - well, I have confidence in all those around me. Most of all for me I think it's going to be awesome following in the footsteps of our tupuna."

The trip has been the dream of Hekenukumai Busby, the master waka builder who built both vessels.

At 80 he is won't do the full trip but hopes to hop back on board as they get closer to the eastern tip of the Polynesian Triangle. Today, Mr Busby along with the Royal New Zealand Navy, a couple of hundred whanau and well-wishers farewelled the canoes with song and haka, the sounds echoing out over glassy Waitemata water.

Ngahiraka captain Jack Thatcher, senior navigator, said being based down at the viaduct had given the crew a chance to talk to Emirates Team New Zealand members - mostly the groups shot the breeze, sailors talk, he joked.

He is hoping for a good push from westerly winds on the first leg. Crew members will understand what being alone on the ocean and navigating by the stars, ocean currents, birds and marine life will be like once the waka pass Great Barrier, Mr Thatcher said.

"The biggest challenge will be Sunday morning because we'll be out of sight of land...that's when the enormity of what they're about to do will hit home. But they need to realise that we've just done ten months of training and they'll be good.

"We're following te ara kumara [the migration of kumara] some have suggested we might keep going to South America, not this trip but there's every chance we'll do that in the future."

Stanley Conrad is captaining Te Aurere which is crewed by men only, while its sister-ship has a mix of women and men.

Te Aurere and Ngahiraka

* 17.5 metre long

* Made of kauri, weigh between 7-11 tonnes

* Expected to take six to eight weeks to reach Rapanui/Easter Island

* Travelling up to 100 nautical miles a day

* Crewed by 23 18-62 year-olds

- NZ Herald

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