An epic voyage in the 48' open canoe ‘Climate Challenger’ is now well underway. The voyage is designed to raise awareness of climate change and sea levels – two related issues of significant environmental and humanitarian impact in the Pacific.
Official Climate Challenger voyage launching
Wednesday 29 August – The people of Manus and all honorary guests gathered together at Lorengau town’s NBC Beach to farewell and wish us well before our long and risky journey around the Pacific.
There we were welcomed and heard speeches from Piwen Langarap of Manus Environment Community Conservation Network, Theresa Kas and Robyn James from The Nature Conservancy and the Governor of Manus; Hon Charlie Benjamin.
During the speeches, although the rain came, support for the crew did not waver. All of the speakers and people gathered showed their utmost support and gave their blessings to us for our voyage before Governor Benjamin officially cut the ribbon signifying the beginning of the voyage.
The guests were taken for a short sail on the Climate Challenger before being returned to the beach before we set off. The wind picked up, and even blew the guest’s tent down – a good omen. We’ll be seeing all you Pacific brothers soon!
Thursday 6 September - This morning we sailed the 40 km from Pere to Baluan Island, and, with favourable south-west winds, have now set off for Kavieng, New Ireland, a distance of 360 km.
Baluan Island to Kavieng
Friday 7 September - Only a few days into our voyage, we are currently crossing the longest section of ocean so far - Baluan Island to New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. After spiritual ceremonies on Baluan, we left the island at 5pm. Overnight the seas were quite rough, with a swell of 2-3 metres, little wind and a lot of rain. There is a small problem with the rudder which we will fix when we get to New Hanover late this afternoon hopefully.
We have a new map on our blog showing our latest position making it even easier for you to follow us on our journey. Once again thanks for all of your support!
Saturday 8 September - Over the past 24 hours our travel to Kavieng was slowed by rough seas and a broken rudder. One of the canoe’s oars is now serving as a makeshift rudder – we will replace it when we arrive in Kavieng. We are currently about 10 km from Tingwon Island, where we plan to stop and do some awareness.
The sun has come out this morning. The boys are relaxing and chewing lots of buai and we are eating some yellowfin tuna we caught yesterday afternoon. The rough weather meant we were also unable to communicate with the shore support team until this morning.
Sunday 9 September - We are very happy to tell you that our voyage has grabbed the attention of The Nature Conservancy’s Planet Change Blog – dedicated to enhancing the conversation on climate change and inspiring actions of all sizes.
It is really great that our voyage is getting worldwide attention on this important issue of climate change, adaptation, and experiences of climate change from a Pacific island perspective! Lets hope the developed nations do something to curb their emissions to stop our islands from sinking!
Paddling to Kavieng
Tuesday 11 September - Two days ago we reached the tip of New Ireland so we are now in Kavieng fixing our rudder (with the help of the National Fisheries College), doing minor repairs, charging batteries, checking emails and doing some sightseeing.
Yesterday we made a convoy with eight other boats from the Manus community living in Kavieng to the local market where we put on a show for local NGOs, government officials and the public. We blew our tapur (cone shell), beat the garamut and danced in our traditional attire. It was an exciting day and all the crew were buzzing. A few days before, we were not so enthusiastic….
After leaving our home villages of Pere and Baluan islands, saying sad farewells and summoning the spirit of Sir Paliau Maloat to guide us on this voyage, we encountered a very strong wind about 100km from Baluan. It was dark and we were manoeuvring well, but all of a sudden our rudder snapped off. From there we had no choice but to use the outboard motor.
For the next day and a half we battled with strong wind and rough sea, sailing when we could. Tingwon Island was ahead of us, but by that time we had exhausted all fuel and water reserves.
We had to change our plans to push on through to New Hanover Island while the wind was favourable. Just before we reached New Hanover, the wind changed direction so we got the paddles out and paddled in the dark, putting the sails up whenever the winds turned.
Once we reached the western side of New Hanover, we searched for petrol and water. We were first greeted by a man called Manase in his small outrigger canoe- a godsend to us, who saw us coming and guided us back to his village, Namaseleng, where we were warmly greeted with buai from a community that had never seen a canoe as large as the Climate Challenger before.
After restocking our water and fuel supplies we set sail arriving at Kavieng on Sunday afternoon. Once everything is in order (including a new rudder) we are expecting to depart Kavieng for Lihir Islands, New Ireland, tomorrow.
Tuesday 18 September - After Kavieng, we set sail for Lihir Island a small island with a large gold mine operated by the Australian based mining company Newcrest, which at this time are also prospecting for gold on our own island of Manus.
We arrived at Lihir Island late last Thursday night 13 September and were greeted with a dinner made by the Manus community. During our stay on Lihir we shared our experience of climate change adaptation in Manus and performed our traditional garamut dancing at Lihir International School to coincide with 37th Papua New Guinea Independence celebration.
On a less positive note, when the we saw the scale of the gold mine on Lihir island and the impacts it is having on the people and environment, it really hit home for us. This could soon be a reality on our own island of Manus where Newcrest is currently prospecting and proposing to open another large gold mine.
When crew member Pokakes Pondraken saw the mine he commented, “It is a monster. I hope it does not happen in Manus (Worei), as it will destroy our reefs and spawning aggregation sites”.
The tailings are dumped out at sea and there is a lot of sedimentation and run-off, which invariably affects the coral and marine life. It is a disaster for the environment. We also noticed a lot of steam and gas rising out of the mine which is attributed to the geothermal activity of the volcanic island, and most probably contributes to climate change too.
Bobo, Babase and Buka
Friday 28 September - We are now on Buka Island, well and in good health. It has been a risky, challenging and adventurous trip so far after completing almost 600 km from Manus to Buka before we leave home ground (water!) and head into international waters for the first time on this voyage.
We left Lihir with an extra crew member – Bobo from Kavieng, whose parents are from Manus and Kavieng, and who joined us for the Lihir to Buka leg of our journey. Sadly, he will be leaving us shortly to fly back to Lihir but wished to take up the challenge and travel with us on this adventurous voyage across the Pacific.
Anir Island (Babase Island)
The journey to Anir (Babase) Island was rough, and we lost a box full of supplies containing axes and all cooking equipment overboard. We spent two nights at Anir and during that time we played climate change awareness films, shared Mbuke Island’s climate change adaptation experience and of course performed our Manus dancing. Over 100 people came to watch and listen and villagers told us they have observed climate change impacts in their gardens.
The community of Babase had never seen a canoe as large as the Climate Challenger and several people wanted to buy it. Manuai has promised to return at some stage after the trip and help them build their own one.
Matsungan Island, Buka Island
We arrived Matsungan on Buka at 9 am Tuesday. The team was greeted by the chief of Matsungan and welcomed to the island with the traditional practice of feet washing. Culturally, the washing of feet is supposed to bring luck to first time visitors to the island (and maybe wash away bad luck!). We had a short program in the evening where we gave awareness on climate change and showed off the Manus garamut dance.
Buka Town, Bougainville
We arrived at Buka town at 11 am Thursday with a rousing welcome by the Manus community and Bougainvilleans. A refreshment was hosted by the Manus community followed by a dinner hosted by Josephine Manuai Nakin and family, a long-time Manus business woman on Buka Island.
We have been filming all of our adventures and encounters. It is really amazing to see the crew having no fear. Every day we strategise, reach consensus and act. The journey so far has made us more resilient, adaptive and innovative. It is a great experience for us. Sometimes, we give up hope when our prayers are not answered and we encounter rough seas, but then we have come to realise that it is all about testing our faith.
The challenge ahead is ‘are we able to complete the voyage?’ Only the wind will tell.