Ana the sea voyager

Ana Fifi ta steers the Uto Ni Yalo out of Bau landing. Picture: IAN CHUTE

The vaka (Tongan for sailing canoe) changes you, says Ana Fifita. She is a member of the Uto Ni Yalo crew and had been sailing on contemporary Pacific voyaging vessels since 2011.

Originally from the village of Matamaka, on the island of Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga, she comes from a boat building family. She got first stint at voyaging through a former employer.

“I was on another vaka before joining the Uto ni Yalo,” she said.

“I was working as a whale watching tour guide in Vava’u and my boss at the time met with one of her friends who was looking to include Tongan girls who would be interested in sailing on the vaka.”

The woman was already involved in the burgeoning vaka revival, and she asked Ana’s boss if she could join.

“It started from there, around the end of 2010 and early 2011.”

She said her maiden voyage was quite scary because it was her first time sailing on the open ocean.

“The first voyage was from Fiji to New Zealand, and we encountered a storm on the way.

“I was scared at first, but you get used to it. Ana has been involved with ocean going canoes for over a decade now.

“When you stand on the vaka and sail on it, it becomes your home and the crew your family.

“It also feels like our ancestors who sailed across the Pacific Ocean thousands of years ago are with us.

“It brings us back to something that was done by our ancestors, and we are keeping that alive.

“I love sailing, and sailing on the vaka using traditional sailing and navigational techniques makes it much more special. The Uto Ni Yalo is one of a fleet of seven vaka built in New Zealand to a Tahitian design for the Pacific Voyagers project aimed at preserving the traditions of ocean voyaging between American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga, and Western Samoa. The Uto Ni Yalo has six sisters, all are the same size and design.

“The first vaka I sailed on was the New Zealand vaka.

“I sailed from here to New Zealand, to an island in Tahiti though the Marquesas, and then to Hawaii.

“I got off in Hawaii then re-joined the vaka in San Diego (California) and sailed all the way around the Pacific again.”

Being a part of something as special as the Uto Ni Yalo and her sisters has a bit of magic. Ask anyone who has graced the decks of these amazing ocean-going vessels and they will tell you that the vaka have mana (magical powers).

“It changed me and my view of the ocean. “When I first joined, I just wanted to enjoy sailing but when you keep sailing and you know more about the ocean, when you come across the problems like pollution and rubbish floating in the middle of the ocean, that changes you even more.

“It changes the way you view the ocean, even the world, from how you viewed it before.”

She says one of the biggest lessons she learned in the vaka was that not everything happens when we want it to.

“I learned to be patient because we are always on vaka time, we get there when we get there, it depends on in the wind.

“I learned about traditional navigation, even that changed me too, and made me care about the ocean a lot more than I did before.”

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