Climate Challenger Sails Home, Plans Sequel

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Act

Editor’s Note: Back in September, Planet Change shared the story of Manuai Matawai of Pere Village, Papua New Guinea, and his dream of sailing the Pacific in a traditional outrigger canoe to spread the word about climate change threats facing island nations. Today, we check back to see how the crew fared on their voyage, and what the future may hold for their awareness campaign.

It was a journey full of music and celebration with new and old friends, of stories from the past and of shared lessons for the future. And it is a journey likely to continue.

After a sailing voyage of more than two months and 1,500-miles (2,400-kilometers), the crew of the 48-foot Climate Challenger canoe returned to their home port on Manus Island in December. Their expedition from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands and back was supported by AustraliaAID, The Nature Conservancy and other partners.

Led by Captain Manuai Matawai, a Nature Conservancy conservation officer in Pere, the crew of 10 men put to use the traditional sailing knowledge of their Titan ancestors. He says the epic voyage made him learn to adapt to any weather condition.

“I think I have a spiritual connection to nature which thus made me more resilient. I hope to complete my voyage soon,” Manuai says.

When not sailing by the light of the moon or the stars, the crew was often fishing, playing cards or searching for an island to appear on the horizon. As Manuai notes in a video about the trip, “This is a multi-purpose canoe. You sleep. You eat. You can do anything on a canoe.”

Once ashore, the crew was greeted as honored guests in the island communities they visited. They often performed traditional dances or contemporary music, shot video about their experiences, presented their climate adaptation program, and even pitched in to clean up beaches.

They were also open to learning from the islanders, so new lessons could be further shared. On Simeruka Island, for example, the Marau villagers told the crew about seaweed harvesting, an alternative livelihood pursued since 2009 that may reduce fishing pressure on local coral reefs. Used as a pharmaceutical and preservative, the seaweed reaches maturity after six weeks, and is harvested to dry in the sun.

The Climate Challenger crew found that their itinerary stretched longer because word of the voyage spread, and more villages, particularly in the Solomon Islands, wanted the vessel to visit. Many communities have seen coral bleaching, coastal erosion, gardens not growing well and changes in weather patterns, and appreciated the information about conservation and climate change. Eventually, this led to the crew’s decision to suspend their voyage for now.   

“Instead of heading to Nauru and continuing on to the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, the Climate Challenger will be heading back to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea to continue the voyage next year,” Manuai explained on the crew’s blog in early November. “Because the trip has taken longer than anticipated, we are now heading into cyclone season in the Pacific and would be attempting to cross the largest stretches of ocean so far in the voyage which is just too risky.”

The rest of the Climate Challenger voyage is now planned for summer 2013, if the crew can secure adequate funding.

Below is an excerpt of Manaui’s post about the crew’s homecoming:

It was around 8 a.m. the 5th of Dec, 2012; we set sail making 10 knots as we sailed into Pere, our home.  I could see a crowd of waiting friends, families and loved ones flocked the shore of Pere village and could hear echoes of garamut filtering through my ears as we sailed in. On the reef were 4 canoes decorated with sago palms waiting to escort us to the beach front. It was the seafaring canoes performing traditional guard of honor. I kept my video camera rolling, filming every action. We also dressed in our traditional attire dancing to the beat of garamut as we sailed in.

It will be a big welcome celebration, I thought to myself. The beat of garamut rocked Pere as dancers dressed in traditional attire dancing in to meet us as the sea faring guard of honor escorted us ashore. The flower girls rounded us putting laces around our neck and proceeded to meet village Chiefs, councilors and church elders lined up to receive us. In every corner I could hear people shouting and cheering.  Everyone is so proud and happy to see us back safe. I kept on shooting videos getting every action. Crews were rounded up by their immediate families shaking hands, chatting, crying and could see tears of joy everywhere. 

It was a proud moment of my life.  The challenges, the sleepless night and stressful hour are over but the voyage is not over yet. It is indeed a relief. We are finally back home and reunited with families.

Visit Planet Change to learn about plans for the Climate Challenger, or check the crew’s blog for updates and to learn how to support the rest of the sail.

Lisa Hayden is a blogger for The Nature Conservancy

Featured Photo © Manuai Matawai (The Climate Challenger canoe departs Kia for Buala.)

Top photo ©  Manoi Paliau (The crew entertains the crowd at Numanuma village in Wakunai District.)

Photo 2 ©  Manuai Matawai (A young resident of Wagina is taught how to plant a mangrove.)

Photo 3 ©  Manuai Matawai (Harvested seaweed and the Climate Challenger in the background.)

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