The first modern-day Chamorro canoe to sail for the Northern Islands was set to arrive on Pagan yesterday.
The 500 Sails organization, which owns the Neni vessel, joined the flotilla arranged by the Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport LTD that set sail for the Northern Islands early Sunday morning.
The trip is significant because it would make Neni the first Chamorro canoe in scores of years to make it to the Northern Islands. It is currently unknown if there are extant records of any Chamorro canoe making the trip to the Northern Islands.
According to 500 Sails executive director Pete Perez, the journey to the Northern Islands would take about 40 hours, depending on the wind.
“Neni is the fastest of the canoes…she’s like a rocket…I think it’s going to take the canoes somewhere between 28 and 40 hours,” he said.
Neni was built from a traditional Chamorro canoe design, very close to the specification of a drawing in 1742 called the “Ansen drawing” of a Chamorro canoe. Neni has already been out on the open ocean.
“She went to Tinian and it took her four hours to get there and 11 hours back,” Perez said.
Perez said the people who are sailing Neni are experienced proa sailors who are confident that Neni will make it safely to Pagan; one of them is master navigator Ali Haleyalur from Lamotrek, Yap. Proa is the local term for a canoe.
“She’s [Neni] going on a very serious voyage and may even be some of the toughest seas in the world but we’ve got good weather, it’s the right season, we have seasoned navigators and voyagers on her…they are very competent and we are going to be there with them to all look after each other,” he said.
Haleyalur was originally tasked to sail a canoe called Tasa from Saipan to Guam, to Rota, and then back to Guam but he was later convinced to sail Neni to Pagan.
“I am not worried because I know I can do it, except if the sea gets too rough to handle,” Perez said.
He pointed out that the ancient Chamorro people used traditional canoes all the time and the average size was even smaller than Neni and were still able to travel between the islands.
“These canoes are designed to sit on top of the water and because of the outrigger and the haul, they counter-balance and they float on top of water so it doesn’t have a lot of draft…its like a mosquito on top of the water,” he said.
Neni and the Okeanos Marianas are set to arrive back on Saipan next week.