Sailing for Change

By Lisa Hayden, The Nature Conservancy

A dream taking shape over the past two years in the mind of Manuai Matawai, a 43-year-old resident of Pere Village in Papua New Guinea, was realized last month when a 48-foot outrigger canoe set sail from the shores of Manus Island.

Manuai and nine other crew members have embarked on the first legs of a two-month journey with an important mission. The vision of Manuai, the captain and lead builder of the Climate Challenger vessel, is to honor the traditional sailing knowledge and culture of his ancestors by launching a voyage to raise awareness of how his island, world, and life are changing with the climate.

Many Pacific Island communities are coping with rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change. In addition to sharing climate change adaptation practices and exploring the link between culture, faith and nature, Manui says he wants to “document the suffering and pain faced by the vulnerable Pacific island communities and reach out and advocate on what can be done about it.”

Following months of preparations, a test sail in late August and village celebrations, the crew departed from Pere on September 6, sailed 40 kilometers to check in at Baluan Island, and then set off on southwest winds for Kavieng, New Ireland, a distance of 360 kilometers. After having to repair a rudder early in the journey, the crew is preparing to enter international waters.

Manuai will be documenting the journey with a video camera. When internet access allows, the crew will periodically update their location and share stories from their journey on The Climate Challenger Voyage blog site. You can follow the progress of the Climate Challenger’s crew at their voyage map.

Their goal is to sail more than 10,000 kilometers over two months from Melanesia to Micronesia, stopping at many Pacific islands along the way – among them Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Ponape, Yap, Palau, the Hermit Islands – and then return to Manus.

Image Credit: Seiorse Carthy (The 48-foot traditional outrigger canoe Climate Challenger underway.)

Manuai and the crew built the hull, a traditional dugout canoe, from pencil cedar, which, according to their web site, is a tree whose timber is “strong, light, hydrodynamic and resistant to marine organisms.” A modified version of the traditional Pere outrigger design with two sails, the canoe’s red cedar planking “is fastened together using dowel from the mangrove tree, nails, screws and fiberglass, and sealed with a traditional putty made from tree sap.”

The 10 members of the crew have various reasons for participating, from 23-year-old Joseph Ambou of Baluan, a sailor and cultural dancer who wants to experience a long Pacific voyage, to 50-year-old Pokakes Pondraken of Pere, a navigator, fisherman and cultural advisor, who wants to explore other islands and share climate change adaptation with other Pacific islanders.

The crewmen are members of the Titan tribe of about 20,000 people, seafarers who make up about a third of the population of Manus, Papua New Guinea. All share pride in their common cultural heritage, a way of life intimately connected to nature.

“We will carry four sails with us (including two spares) which are just plastic tarpaulins,” they write. “For navigation, a combination of modern GPS and traditional methods will be used. The sun, moon and stars, wind, waves, current and presence of birds and dolphins will guide us.”

For added safety on the long voyage, the vessel will also be outfitted with satellite phone, navigation lights and a 2-way radio.

“Our ancestors were long voyage canoe builders, sailors and traditional navigators, so the ocean is our way of life and very important to us,” says the Climate Challenger Web site. “The voyage demonstrates how we are connected to ocean and the spirits.”

Lisa Hayden is a writer for The Nature Conservancy. This post is adapted from a recent blog on Planet Change, devoted to enhancing the conversation on climate change and inspiring actions of all sizes. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Image Credit: Poyep Matawai (Canoe builder and captain Manuai Matawai of Pere village).

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Care member
Care member2 years ago

Thank you

Olga Lustosa
Olga Lustosa2 years ago

What a project! I wish I had the chance to visit these places.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago


Elsie Hovav
Elsie Hovav3 years ago

Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story.
bon voyage

Nils Lunde


Elena T.
Elena Poensgen3 years ago

Thanks :)

John B.
John B.3 years ago

Thanks for the inspiring story.

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider3 years ago

bon voyage!

Sue H.
Sue H.3 years ago

Bright blessings to Manuai and his Climate Challenger!

Olga Lustosa
Olga Lustosa3 years ago

This is a dream sailing!