Peia Patai (Tua`ati) – Cook Islands Voyaging Society Life member


Peia Patai (Tua`ati) aka Cap

Several years ago Master Navigator Papa Mau Pialug chose Peia and Tua Pittman who had been studying traditional navigation together for decades to carry the Pwo (pronounced Pau) title. Tua was invested during a ceremony in Pialugs Micronesian island, but Peia was unable to attend. In July 2011 in Kualoa, the birthplace of Hokulea, Peia was invested with the PWO title by Nainoa Thompson amongst his friends and family and PWO navigators. There are only 12 PWO master navigators from the north and south Pacific, two are from the Cook Islands a huge accomplishment for a tiny country. Peia is also one of two Cook Islanders who hold their Yachtmaster Offshore and Ocean certification which is required to captain the vaka.

Peia’s family hails from Mauke/Aitutaki. Peia is one of our most experienced voyagers. He has sailed with Hokulea, Te Au O Tonga, Marumaru Atua and recently captained Hawaiian vaka Hikianalia from Rarotonga to Pago Pago. He does not have an easy job, he is responsible for the safety of his crew and vaka. Families and friends, rest assured Peia will keep your loved ones safe and sound! Why does he do it? In Peia’s own words, I don’t have a good answer to that, I guess It’s just something I do. I could be at home having a cold beer with my friends, or time with my family, but when the Vaka is leaving the harbour in Raro I just have to be on her. As a young fella there was a paddle in our home, hanging from the roof, my older brothers, all my family just knew it was mine, why? I don’t know. Its just what I remember, was it a sign? I don’t know, but here I am. When he sails Peia wears his boar tusk around his neck, the significance of the boars tusk he always wears?, when I was first going [on a voyage], Nga Nga said give it to me I will prepare it for your trip. He carved the bone and plaited the necklace, since then (1990’s) I wear it every time, it is part of me, until the voyage is over then back in the cupboard it goes…until the next Voyage. Why does he voyage? I know we can’t change the whole world but I do hope that each trip we’re making can help.

I hope that one person out of a hundred may see what we’re doing and try to help make a positive change. If that happens I’ll be happy. The ocean indicates how healthy we are as a Pacific people. It’s very important that we protect our ocean for the benefit of our children and their children. I can’t do nothing. If I do nothing today, then my kids will blame me tomorrow for not trying to make a difference.

Peia is currently Okeanos Foundation Vaka Fleet Commander.  Peia has trained Pacific Islanders from more than seven countries to become open ocean sailors since the Auckland-based Okeanos Maritime Training Program first began in February 2018. Captain Peia’s work is core to Okeanos Foundation for the Sea’s mission to empower islanders to regain control of their ocean transportation and create a network of fossil fuel-free sailing canoes operated by Pacific people servicing their remote island communities.  Captain Peia works tirelessly as Okeanos’ fleet commander and crew trainer preparing sailors to professionally and safely operate the vakas across the open ocean. Some crews have successfully ventured more than 4,000 nautical miles from Auckland, sailing Okeanos vakas to the Northern Marianas, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Micronesia.

The fifty-foot vaka motus are inspired by Captain Cook’s 18th Century drawings of Polynesian sailing canoes. Like the vakas of Peia’s Maori ancestors, the canoes have traditional crab-claw sails and double hulls bound together by rope lashings. For safety, efficiency, and reliability, the vaka motus are outfitted with modern hybrid engines that run on a combination of solar power and coconut biofuel. The vessel is even equipped with a desalination unit that produces 60 liters of potable water per hour.

“These vakas are a combination of traditional design and modern technology, merged together so that our people can run them,” says Captain Peia, who seeks to bring economic independence to islands that are otherwise reliant on expensive, imported fossil fuel. “That’s why I’m working so hard to get this opportunity – so that my people can benefit from it.”

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