Outrigger Sailing

Sailing has been an important part of human discovery for thousands of years. More than 3,000 years ago, people from Southeast Asia used canoes to travel hundreds of miles across the ocean to the islands of Samoa and Tonga, which are located in the South Pacific Ocean. Those ancient people made new homes and came to be called the Polynesian people. The Polynesians continued to use canoes and sailing to explore and settle new lands. They traveled as far as Hawaii and New Zealand. Canoes and sailing are still an important part of the culture in the Pacific Islands.

  • A special type of canoe was used by ancient Polynesians to travel long distances over the ocean. These were called voyaging canoes.
  • These canoes are made of two long wooden single canoes connected by wooden or rope structures with large sails.
  • Each canoe was called a hull. The pieces connecting the hulls were called crossbeams.
  • Each boat could hold 24 people, food, livestock and plants.
  • This is called a two-hulled design or double canoe. It gives the canoes more stability in rough waters.
  • The double canoe design also made the voyaging canoes stable and strong enough to be able to carry very heavy loads
  • Voyaging canoes could be as long as 50-60 feet.
  • Each hull was carved from the trunk of a single tree.

Creating traditional canoes is important to Polynesian culture. Hawaiian craftsmen use local plants to create these boats that can travel long distances across the open ocean. Making all the pieces of these voyaging canoes is a complicated process, but the knowledge has been passed down for generations. Every piece of the canoe has to be made by hand using local resources, and it can take a very long time. For example, ropes and cords are often made from plants like coconut trees. Just making one coconut cord can take more than three weeks and involves soaking the fibers, beating them with wooden mallets and tightly braiding them so the ropes can be used to secure things on the canoe.

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