2011-08-10 "South Pacific islanders visit S.F. Bay, by canoe; Contingent from South Pacific isles arrives in replicas of ancient boats" by Carl Nolte from "San Francisco Chronicle"
SAN FRANCISCO -- Half a dozen canoes from islands of the South Pacific landed on the beach at Aquatic Park today as part of a weeklong visit to San Francisco - the first stop on the coast of what these Polynesian sailors call "Turtle Island."
Turtle Island is their term for the mainland of the United States, and the canoes are on a 15,000-mile ocean journey from New Zealand and various Pacific Islands. The canoes are replicas of the traditional vaka moana canoes Pacific people used to explore and settle the tropical islands of the Pacific and New Zealand centuries ago.
The canoes, each about 70 feet long, carry a crew of 16 sailors from some of the smallest countries in the world, including the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.
They began their trip in April from New Zealand, and sailed on the first leg to Hilo, in the Hawaiian Islands, navigating by the stars, as their ancestors did. However, the modern voyagers have canoes with hulls made of fiberglass instead of wood, and equipped with solar panels to power onboard equipment.
Though the ancient mariners steered by the stars, their descendants communicate on the Internet. The expedition has a website - www.pacificvoyagers.org - and they are on Facebook and Twitter as well.
The six-canoe flotilla came in through the Golden Gate a week ago and seemed surprised by the stiff winds and fog in the bay. The sailors held an open house over the weekend at Clipper Cove at Treasure Island and offered rides on the vakas to about 1,000 people.
Tuesday, they greeted visitors to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and let landlubbers peer into their canoes and listen to sea stories - mostly about their adventures, the environment and pollution in the ocean. Their message, they said, is "we are all in one canoe."
One of the canoes - the Vaka from the Cook Islands - will sail to Pier 39 at 11 a.m. today, where the sailors will be greeted by Henry Puna, the country's prime minister.
Puna and the canoe and its crew will be the centerpiece of Cook Islands Day at the pier. The event will include drumming and dance performances.
The islands, which were formerly a dependency of New Zealand, are a territory of only 92.7 square miles spread out over 15 coral islands.
The six canoes will sail from San Francisco on Thursday, for Monterey.
The flotilla will be in Monterey on Friday until Aug. 17 and then sail for Malibu on the Los Angeles County coast. At Malibu, they will link up with representatives of the Chumash tribe of Indians, who were noted for their own seagoing canoes.
The South Seas canoe flotilla will also visit San Diego and Baja California before heading back to the Pacific Islands later this year.