Hafa adai, Marianas community: With care for the indigenous community of CNMI, the Okeanos Foundation and Carolinian master navigator Ali Haleyalur write this letter in response to the most recent article in Marianas Variety about Okeanos Marianas leaving Saipan. We write to set the record straight out of respect for the many successes of the Okeanos Marianas local crew and the many ways they positively contributed to CNMI. We hope our letter to you inspires an open and constructive dialogue that helps bring your community together.
The Okeanos Foundation supports Pacific communities wishing to use traditionally-based sustainable sea transportation as a platform for economic empowerment and independence based upon revival of open ocean sailing to meet day-to-day needs. Master navigator Ali is not employed by Okeanos but is partnering with Okeanos because the work of the foundation is urgently needed to help remote outer island communities in Micronesia and specifically his home state of Yap.
From September 2017 to December 2018, Okeanos invested more than $350,000 in the voyaging community of Saipan, during which time several people were paid full salaries with health insurance, other part-time salaries and many received professional sailing, safety and captains training.
Okeanos invested heavily in the Okeanos Marianas sustainable sea transport start-up, sponsoring many free sails of the vaka motu from Saipan to Yap, Guam, Chuuk and other outer islands in the Marianas while training and employing local sailors and servicing outer island communities with sustainable sea transportation.
Now as Okeanos prepares to depart the CNMI—sailed away by master navigator Ali who is bringing the vessel to Yap—we wish to stop and reflect on the good work of the local Okeanos Marianas crew. A list of their contributions can be seen in the articles and descriptions of their activities below.
We wish the CNMI’s canoe family the very best. We prepared the below list of their positive impacts in the hopes that the CNMI canoe family can build upon their successes to support their future voyaging goals.
Maiden sail from New Zealand to Saipan – fall 2017
Okeanos Marianas braved over 4,000 miles from Auckland to Saipan, training Chamorro and Carolinian sailors along the way. Okeanos Marianas arrived on Saipan on Oct. 2017, greeted with cultural ceremonies performed by members of the CNMI voyaging community.
Rota and Guam – November 2017
Rota marked the first of several CNMI outer islands visited by Okeanos Marianas. The vaka sailed to Rota in October 2017 as a training exercise for crew members and for cultural engagement with the Rota community.
In November 2017, Okeanos Marianas sailed from Rota to Guam to spread the message of cultural revival and recruited crew members. As a commitment to providing sustainable sea transportation to these communities, the crew arranged to bring bicycles to Rota for participants of a local triathlon, as well as lumber for the construction of another canoe on Saipan.
Yap Canoe Festival: December 2017
For the first time in eight years, the CNMI was represented at the Yap Annual Canoe Festival through Okeanos Marianas. For 21 days, Okeanos Marianas sails to Yap for the Annual Canoe Festival under the guidance of master navigator Sesario Sewralur, son of Micronesian Pwo master navigator Mau Piailug.
Okeanos Marianas also stopped in Guam along the way, joining the traditional Carolinian sailing proas in the Festival Parade of Canoes and gave the public a chance to board Okeanos Marianas and take a short ride.
Free sails to Tinian: February 2018
Okeanos Marianas offers free rides to Tinian for the Pika Festival.
Sarigan, Anatahan and Rota: March 2018
The crew sailed to the Northern Islands as an education opportunity for the crew to practice their sailing skills. Okeanos Marianas stopped on Managaha along the way, teaching SDA Kindergartners about the canoe.
During their sail to Rota, Okeanos Marianas focused on training primarily women crewmembers. “We will be holding job interviews there for part-time crew and the mayor asked us to hold a swimming class. We are also bringing cargo, this time including ingredients for the bakery, brandy among them for a special cake,” said one of the crew.
Pagan: April/May 2018
The crew of Okeanos Marianas sailed to the sacred northern island of Pagan, led by nephew of grand master navigator Papa Mau Piailug, captain Cecilio Raiukiulipiy. The voyage was joined by renowned Carolinian navigator Ali Haleyalur, who was asked to sail on 500 Sails’ proa Neni.
Satawal and other Yap/Chuuk outer islands: July 2018
Okeanos Marianas voyaged to the remote Caroline island of Satawal, revered as a mecca for traditional navigation. The Yap outer island is the birthplace of pwo master navigator Mau Piailug.
Disaster relief operations to Rota & Tinian: November 2018
Okeanos Marianas held an open house in which members of the community were able to tour the boat as well as learn about the components and mechanics of the canoe.
Poluwat Lagoon sail
In the summer of 2019, Okeanos Marianas participated in a lagoon sail with women and children from Poluwat, an outer island of Chuuk that is home to some of the oldest and revered traditional navigators in Micronesia. For many, this was their first time on a twin double-hulled sailing canoe.
Chief Aghurubw Day
On Chief Aghurubw Day, Okeanos Marianas sailed with schoolchildren to Anatahan, the first island north of Saipan. Most of the participants had not been to that island in decades.
On a four-day sail, Okeanos Marianas voyaged to Sangan and Anatahan. The crew stopped in Managua to teach Seventh Day Adventist Kindergarteners about the canoe and entertained them by blows of its conch shell.
Science and research platform
To inspire young explorers, engineers, and scientists of the Marianas, a workshop was set up through contributions. Representatives of the Northern Marianas Technical Institute, Northern Marianas College, the Public School System (through Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance), CNMI Bureau of Environment and Coastal Quality, Okeanos Marianas, Underwater World Guam, and University of Guam Marine Lab were selected as facilitators.
Once the facilitators were trained, 18 students were taught how to build and operate machines. The students were able to build six underwater robots. Transportation for this workshop was provided by Okeanos Marianas.