I recently returned to Canada after working in Namibia, one of the least-densely populated and driest countries in the world. I didn’t sail during my time in Southern Africa; in fact, I don’t think I’ve been on a sailboat for 3 years! Why would I suddenly commit to cruising through the Pacific?
Well, I was refreshed in the awe and joy of sailing last week when some good friends invited me for a day of sailing. We had a blast zooming around the harbour on Lasers and a Hobie Cat; these are speedy, agile, wet & wild sailing boats for 1 or 2 people. If you lose focus in stronger winds they do not forgive you!
As soon as the breeze hit my sail, my memories kicked in and soon enough I was back in the groove of trimming the sails, gybing, reaching, getting out of irons, sailing rudderless, going on trapeze, and sometimes even avoiding luffing***. There’s a thrill when a gust of wind fills the sails and accelerates silently without an engine. There’s a freedom in choosing a route on the ocean with no established roads or paths.
Piggy in 2005
Sailing 420 dinghies in 2005.
Reflecting on Lake Malawi. That’s a Laser on the right!
For me, the best part is feeling a connection to several thousand years of sailing history in every corner of the world. Our society is based around connecting communities via water, and only in the last century have we preferred steam and diesel to the wind. There is a feeling of awe and magic every time I hoist a sail.
*** If you’re not a sailor the terminology is pretty wacky. But don’t worry! It only takes a few afternoons of fumbling around before anyone can learn to sail.
Or perhaps, “where can we go?”
We are initially sailing for Hawaii but the real destination is the South Pacific. Given the expected wind and ocean current, we expect to sail to Tahiti in the Society Islands. This will give us a safe port during the cyclone season (November to April), and relatively easy sailing when heading for New Zealand. See the map below for locations of the island groups.
Culutural regions of the South Pacific (click for bigger image)
My understanding is the region was settled by an Eastward migration several thousand years ago (mind-boggling), but that is the limit of my geographical knowledge. So here is a brief summary of interesting details for the different island groups:
- Hawaii: 8 major islands, most populous and largest area after New Zealand.
- Johnston Atoll: An uninhabited, former navy base just south of Hawaii. Used for nuclear testing, now a national wildlife refuge.
- Jarvis Island: An uninhabited island, claimed by the US in 1858 for guano mining. Production ceased after 21 years; the island was claimed by the UK, then the USA again, and has since become a national wildlife refuge.
- American Samoa: A territory of 5 volcanic islands and 2 atolls, the smaller eastern half of the island group.
- In the 1890’s, a civil war between Samoans and colonial interests of Germany, America, and Britain was concluded after a cyclone destroyed warships stuck in a standoff. The Western half of the islands were given to Germany in 1899; this group became independent in 1914. Known for rugby skills.
- 4th smallest country in the world. 3 reef islands and 6 atolls with 10,000 people. Highest point: 4.6 metres above sea level. Known for how climate change is steadily submerging it.
- One of the very few countries in the world to resist European colonization (Kingdom of Tonga).
- Pitcairn Islands
- Technically a British Overseas Territory. Settled by mutineers from the HMS Bounty in 1790; population is now about 50. Known for being the most remote inhabited island in the world. Genetic diversity likely limited to 4 males of the original mutineers.
- New Zealand
- Cook Islands: Population of around 20,000 spread over 15 islands, and sees about 100,000 tourists per year.
- Niue: One of the world’s largest coral islands, 1400 people in 260 square km. The name translates as, “Look, a coconut!”
- Tokelau: 3 atolls, population of 1400. Only a few metres above sea level.
- Kermadec Islands: Uninhabited nature reserve.
- Easter Island
- Stone heads carvings and a population that deforested the island. Administered by Chile.
- French Polynesia
- Austral Islands: southernmost region of the group. The last region to be populated in the Pacific.
- Marquesas Islands: easternmost group, experiences occasional droughts. After the Pitcairn Islands, likely the most distant island from a continent.
- Society Islands: Two administrative divisions: Windward and Leeward Islands. Includes Tahiti and Bora-Bora, which claims to be the most beautiful island in the world.
- Tuamotu Archipelago: the largest chain of atolls in the world; area of Western Europe.
Simplified regions of Polynesia. Click for Wikitravel information.