The foam sandwich proa built with the help of Derek Kelsall near Waihi has been launched in Saipan with all due ceremony.
The project is hoped to spark the creation of more of the traditional boats which were an eye opener for the first Europeans who saw them back in the eighteenth century.
When ships like the Endeavour had a cruising speed of about four knots, and a maximum of eight knots, the islander double hulled canoes were astonishingly fast by comparison.
A recorded speed of a Gilbertese flying proa touching 17 knots, and a Carolines outrigger boat averaging 12.5 knots over the 1200 nautical mile voyage from Guam to Manilla are still considered exceptional speeds.
“It’s certainly not the only foam sandwich proa, but it’s certainly the only kind to an ancient design,” says Derek.
Using the original Sir George Anson expedition drawing from 1742 and new technology, the proa is a reconstruction of a traditional Chamorro canoe.
“There are modern proas. I did three or four 25 years ago. They were quite popular for a little while as a way of getting quite a long boat for the least amount of money.
“To some extent that still applies, but this is still the only example of foam sandwich combined with the old traditional bamboo, and whatever cloth you have got around for the sails.
“It was a very interesting project for me, combining the old and the new and getting the best out of both in many ways.”
The project is being steered by Peter Perez in an effort to revive the sailing traditions of Saipan and Guam. The 500 sails project is inspired by the record of the arrival of the sailing ship San Pedro in Guam in 1575, where it was greeted by 500 outrigger canoes.
The project is to recreate a fleet of 500 canoes for the people of the Marianas.
“Ten years later and we finally have one,” says Peter on the launch video. “Dancers escorted it down, I watched when the bow hit the water. We didn’t know how it was going to behave. We got on this thing, it was solid and it sailed like a dream, it was so easy.
“Shunting, we were worried about that, it was like eight seconds and we were going the other way. It was beautiful.”
Proas are sailed by changing the hull direction, instead of tacking.