PERSONS OF THE YEAR

Peter and Emma Perez

Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport Limited managing director Emma Perez poses for a photo with the 40-foot, double-hulled Polynesian canoe that is the Okeanos Marianas. (KIMBERLY PEREZ)

It is a romantic, even a quixotic, notion. But imagine hundreds of traditional canoes sailing on the Saipan lagoon, their sails flapping in the wind.

That is the mental image in the mind of the Perez couple behind the Okeanos Marianas, the idea of reviving a cultural norm that has been lost to the indigenous Chamorro culture for hundreds of years.

Husband-and-wife Peter and Emma Perez may technically only be half Chamorro, but that does not measure their love for the Chamorro culture. The Perezes are advocates for the restoration of the Chamorro maritime traditions like traditional navigation, and the building of traditional Chamorro canoes.

In 2012, the Perezes established the non-profit organization called 500 Sails in order to execute projects that promote and enable the construction and safe sailing of traditional Micronesian vessels in the Marianas.

Emma Perez is the 500 Sails board of directors president and is also the managing director of the Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport LTD., the company set up to headline the effort to revive the sailing tradition. Its first vessel is called Okeanos Marianas, a 50-foot, double-hulled, traditional Polynesian vaka motu (canoe) built from modern, state-of-the art materials.

Perez said the Okeanos Marianas came to life through a friend who suggested that she and her husband get in touch with the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea.

Perez saw not only the islands’ need to re-establish its seafaring traditions, but also the need of sustainable transportation. She saw the opportunities that a vaka could open up for the Marianas so she and her husband got in touch with Dieter Paulmanm of the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea through Skype and discussed the requirements to get a vaka specifically for the Marianas.

Perez said it took approximately one year of preparations, drafting a business plan, and more before the Okeanos Marianas became a reality for Saipan.

“It all started about a year ago. Okeanos Foundation for the Sea and 500 Sails had a Skype conversation,” she said.

It takes more than just an application to be given a vaka. There has to be a need and the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea saw that the Marianas was in need, she said.

“Okeanos Foundation for the Sea was looking for a place where they could put a vaka, where there could be a company, and where the canoe could be used for sustainable transport,” said Perez.

When the Okeanos Marianas arrived on Saipan from Auckland, New Zealand last Oct. 31, Perez was the most excited and she said it was because after exactly one year of waiting and preparing for the vessel, it finally arrived.

Perez envisions the Okeanos Marianas being used to bring the entire Marianas together, as well as the Pacific.

Perez has major plans for the Okeanos Marianas. This 2018, she and her husband hopes to get every child in the Marianas on the Okeanos Marianas to teach them about the importance of seafaring.

She also wants to establish a consistent travel schedule on the Okeanos Marianas from Saipan to the Northern Islands so that Northern Islanders will be given the chance to revisit their islands.

Perez is also in the process of training a full-time crew under the Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport LTD that will sail the Okeanos Marianas.

The Okeanos Marianas is also being eyed as a cargo ship between Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, and perhaps as a tourist attraction, using the Okeanos Marianas to represent the Marianas in upcoming festivals like the Flame Tree Festival and Tinian’s Pika Festival.

Perez said the Okeanos Marianas kick-started the year of the canoe. Since the arrival of the vessel, individuals from all over the Marianas are starting to get accustomed to the fact that the canoes are making a comeback. “2018 is going to be the year of the canoe,” she said.

The Okeanos Sustainable Sea Transport Ltd is its own entity. It is separate from the canoe federation, 500 Sails, and the various canoe organizations on Saipan.

Perez will be offering rides for those interested in experiencing a ride on the Okeanos Marianas while the crew trains. Interested individuals can reach Perez for reservations at 285-7342. Training sails will start in January and seating will be limited.

Kimberly Bautista Bautista
Kimberly Bautista is the youngest in the stable of Saipan Tribune reporters. She has covered a wide range of beats, including the community, housing, crime, and education, for the Saipan Tribune.

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