Getting the damaged vaka Marumaru Atua back into the water could cost up to $250,000.
That’s the “worst-case” scenario presented to the Cook Islands Voyaging Society by New Zealand maritime expert Robin Williams, who was brought to Rarotonga to review damage to the ocean-going vaka’s starboard hull, damaged by fire in September.
The vaka has been sitting on the edge of the road above Avatiu harbour since being lifted from the water a few days after the fire, while the group plan a rebuild of their vessel they affectionately call their “mama”.
Williams donated his time to the Society and delivered his findings last Thursday afternoon.
He says a full rebuild would be needed to get the vessel back in the water, to “as good as new” condition, and to continue its Cook Islands Maritime certification.
Williams said the cost of having the vaka’s hull repaired in the Cook Islands would not be a viable option when they could have it completely rebuilt for around the same amount in New Zealand or Australia.
If a repair was completed on the island, the fibreglass moulding would need to be done in a temperature-controlled environment, not currently available on Rarotonga, Williams added.
The entire hull would need to be cleaned out before shipping if the Society decided to have the vaka repaired overseas and this would add to the costs, he said.
At the heart of the repair is the inner core of the fibreglass hull that was irreversibly damaged by heat, and will need to be completely replaced.
Although it looks alright from the outside, the inner core of the hull’s wall is another story.
Williams likened the rebuild to assessing the repair of a car following a crash, and having to make the decision to write it off, instead of paying for a costly repair job.
Inside the vessel, the fibreglass damaged by fire hangs down like flimsy sheets of material.
According to Williams the Society’s best option is a rebuild of the hull in New Zealand.
Their fundraising efforts so far have left the Voyaging Society around $235,000 short of what will be needed.
Members hope government will help pay the bill, or that a “white knight” will come to its rescue with the outstanding amount needed.
Voyaging Society secretary Cecile Marten says an application to the Japan Grass Roots funding was submitted before the fire and the Society had hoped that they would consider a revised application to repair the vaka.
However, the Japanese Embassy in Wellington says it would need justification as to why the Cook Islands government could not help repair this “national treasure”. Marten says if our own Cook Islands people and government can’t show their support it would be difficult to convince a donor as to why they should assist.
“Personally I am very frustrated and saddened that we have been gifted this amazing educational platform that has sailed the Pacific representing the interests of our people, highlighting climate change and impact on our oceans, but we haven’t yet got the support behind us to repair our vaka.
“In 2014 we have sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Pacific leaders on board. We sailed to Sydney to raise awareness that our ocean home is under threat and in severe stress.
“We have shared the culture of traditional sailing and navigation with so many people and we volunteer our time because we are passionate about the vaka and what it represents. The vaka is a metaphor for our earth; if we look after our vaka, the vaka will look after us.
“The same goes for our ocean and our lands, if we look after it, it will in turn look after us. The vaka reminds us to look to the past at our ancestor’s traditional practices which are self-sustaining, they co-existed with nature, not exploited their resources.”
“Every second breath we take comes from ocean. Not only that, our people are at the frontline of climate change, and without a healthy ocean, humanity can’t survive. We are the guardians of our living ocean.
“Our identity is anchored in a vast sea where our ancestors voyaged to find new homes, our home, and now your home. It is our responsibility to protect these resources for our future generations.”
Around $12,000 has been raised through the Cook Islands Voyaging givealittle page, and the New Zealand High Commission have also recently pledged $10,000 towards replacing safety gear, says Marten.
“So that’s a bit of good news.”
British conservationists David and Sarah Gordon, have also generously donated $20,000 towards repairing the vaka after reading about the damaged hull in a Te Ipukarea Society newsletter.
The Cook Island Voyaging Society now hopes government, as well as private individuals, especially locals, will give generously to the cause of getting their “Mama” back in the water where she belongs.