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Voyaging Canoe Project

The ancient Polynesian voyaging canoes are masterpieces of aerodynamic and hydrodynamic design - certainly the finest achievement of a culture that knew no metals. They were greatly admired by the first European explorers who saw them. Modern wind-tunnel tests have confirmed the efficiency of the sail and rig, and modern replica boats are beginning to revive some of the skills of sailing and navigating them. The remarkable feat of populating all of the islands of Polynesia indicates the importance of the voyaging canoes to Polynesian culture. The canoes were considered to be living things and members of their clans. 


Yet in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 250,000 Pacific Islanders now live, the voyaging canoe Makahiki is the only descendant from this highly developed and beautifully functional branch of naval architecture.

Photo of the completed Makahiki

3 Axis Drawing of the Makahiki Design

The design of Makahiki was evolved in the Santa Cruz Islands, an isolated group of small islands in the far Western Pacific.  Thousands of these boats were built and sailed for fishing and interisland trading, from well before the earliest historical records until the 1960's.  Trips of several hundred miles of open ocean were frequently made, and skills of navigation were highly developed.


The ancient design has been reproduced in modern materials with a minimum of changes, and this boat is a functional equivalent of the ancient design.  We are now at the stage of fitting the boat out and refining the details of rigging and equipment.  The culmination of the project will be in learning to sail Makahiki to her full potential, training crew members, and using and displaying her to further PICA's goals.


Makahiki will be a source of pride to people who trace their ancestry to the islands of her origin, and her beauty and sailing performance will open the eyes of others to the remarkable achievements of a culture which may have been dismissed as primitive.  PICA will use this boat as a trainer and a floating classroom, where many people can be exposed to Polynesian arts, cultural values and traditions, as well as salt spray and exciting sailing. We will learn important lessons of seamanship, teamwork, and history as we rediscover and preserve the skills we need to bring this ship of our ancestors to life.

For Class Information, contact:

David O. Coy

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