For several of the younger members of the 15-strong crew of Te Matau a Maui Voyaging Trust's waka heading to the Chatham Islands it will be a time of discovery.

The waka set out on its journey yesterday and will be one of discovering traditional sailing techniques and of discovering their own abilities and strengths.

The waka's navigator Piripi Smith said the voyage had been four months in the planning and would become an annual event which would educate youth as well as forge closer ties with the Chathams.

"The main purpose is to give young crew members some offshore training experience - we have an island off our coast so it would be silly not to use it."


That "island" is 424 nautical miles southeast of Napier and all going well Mr Smith hopes they will arrive in three to four days.

"It all depends on the winds - we have been watching wind conditions closely lately and we may have to do some tacking."

Two local men will skipper the waka.

Tawhana Chadwick from Kohupatiki will take charge on the voyage over and Wairoa man Rahania Tepuke will lead the return journey.

Mr Smith said about a quarter of the crew, aged from 18 to 50 and including three women, were inexperienced at open sea sailing and wanted to gain experience.

One of them, Poihakena Dudley from Hamilton Tainui, had open-sea experience having been on the waka's 18-month Pacific voyage two years ago, but wanted to expand his traditional navigation skills.

"Navigation is by stars, moon and the swells," Mr Smith said.

The sunrise and sunsets were vital times as they allowed navigators to calibrate on the horizon.

"We take bearings and line the swells up to where the sun is."

And although the weather may not be the best he was confident the bright full moon would still show.

While the navigation will be traditional, for safety purposes the waka does possess a few modern additions like GPS and satellite phones for communication - although they are the domain of one person in the radio room who was not in communication with the working crew.

Along with the frozen food aboard, along with fresh fruit and vegetables and the "practicality" of gas cooking, the crew would be seeking some traditional kai along the way.

"We will have lines over the side and hope to get a few tuna."

They will spend about five days on the Chathams and use it as an opportunity to forge relationships with the populace.

Mr Smith said the trust had the vision to create voyages similar to those carried out by the Spirit of New Zealand where young people could become involved

in both adventure and their country's history.

"There are several Chatham Island young people who go to school here - we will give them the opportunity to sail back to their own island."

There would also be voyages along the eastern coastline.

On a voyage to Wellington last winter they encountered 50 knot winds.

"But we reefed down and sailed through it comfortably."

Depending on the winds and seas the crew hopes to return to the Ahuriri mooring around Anzac Day.

They were farewelled by friends and family after a karakia and waiata at the dockside just after 4pm yesterday and until they return those farewell waves and smiles would be it for communications.