Migration canoes to flying foils

A Maori Waka at Waikato; photo supplied by the author

Migration of the Maori people

Waka is the Maori word for a vessel or canoe. A waka hourua is a double-hulled ocean-going canoe used over many centuries for migration of the Maori peopple across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The design used is still relevant to sports and recreational boats of today.

Maoris can trace their ancestry back more than 2,000 years to indigenous people of maritime Southeast Asia who started island hopping from Taiwan through Melanesia to the Polynesian islands.

Legend passed down by word of mouth is that, around 1200 AD, a chief called Kupe eloped with Kuramarotini, wife of Hoturapa, in his great canoe Matahourua to escape after murdering her husband. Sailing south-west from Polynesia he chased a great octopus and discovered Aotearoa – the ‘land of the long white cloud’, now called New Zealand. They later returned home and started a further migration over centuries to their current homeland.

New Zealand wood

Totara is an endemic, lightweight wood tree of New Zealand with high natural oil content that protects it from rotting, ideal for construction of waka hourua canoes. The Maoris cultivated and protected them over time. They felled them with ceremony and planted a replacement to honour Tane, the god of the forest.

The great canoes made from solid trunks were fitted with masts and sails made from natural hemp: an enabling technology allowing Maoris to expand the migration to escape from famine, over-population and warfare.

Today’s sports and recreational boats

Imagine how many there are sitting in marinas around the world. Ranging from massive pleasure boats – many owned by Russian oligarchs – to small dinghies and tenders. Look around the Kent coast and see how many you have within a short drive from home.

Sailing Clubs in Kent
Elite Sailing Club, Chatham Marinawww.elitesailing.co.uk
Medway Yacht Club, Lower Upnor, Rochesterwww.medwayyachtclub.com
Whitstable Yacht Club, Whitstablehttp://wyc.org.uk/
Tonbridge Town Sailing Clubhttps://www.tonbridgesailing.org/
Minnis Bay Sailing Clubhttp://www.minnisbaysailingclub.co.uk/index.php/about-us
Downs Sailing Club, Dealhttps://downssailingclub.co.uk/
Bough Beach Sailing Club, Edenbridge http://www.boughbeechsc.org.uk/
Wilsonian Sailing Club, Hoo, Rochesterhttp://www.wilsoniansc.org.uk/

Are modern boats sustainable? Global warming and preservation of our maritime environment demand we now review their design to make them greener and learn from past practices. The Royal Yachting Association has recognised this and has issued advice and guidance for sailing clubs and the boat construction industry to consider.

Multi-hulls, like the waka hourua, may become the norm for some classes of boat. How do we return to use of the natural environment – wind, sea and sun – to make our boats greener?

Diesel powered boats

Diesel engines are used extensively by powerboats as inboard marine engines and outboard motors. They are also used in larger sailboats to supplement wind power and extend range. We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and, ultimately, do without them. Greener technology options are becoming more available.

Hydrogeneration is one. This uses an impeller (reverse propellor) on a submersible leg, like an outboard motor. When under sail, its rotation produces an electric current via an AC/DC converter to charge batteries and supply electricity to other services. When not under sail, the charged batteries power an electric motor to drive the propellor.

Added benefits are lower weight and a quieter propulsion system. Torqeedo are the market leader in hybrid yachts using emission free electric propulsion combining hydrogeneration and an element of solar power. Learn more here.

An advance on this is to have a large bank of solar panels to provide the battery charging current, combined with a power management system. Reliance on solar power and batteries alone is possible but limits the range and speed unless either sails or a large number of the most modern lithium-ion batteries is stored onboard.

Alva Yachts and Greenline Yachts are building both multi-hulled and single-hulled solar powered cruising yachts. Silent Yachts have been building a range of luxury electric catamarans with two or three decks that can be customised to a buyer’s requirements. You can see them here.

Hydrogen – energy of the future

Another form of storing energy is needed. Hydrogen is a very dense, but light, fuel of the future. It can be used to supplement the energy provided by solar and wind power and, possibly, replace them. It could be stored onboard instead of diesel fuel and re-filled from marina storage facilities or produced onboard by electrolysis of seawater, compressed and stored in the tanks.

A large racing catamaran was repurposed to become an energy technology demonstrator vessel. Since 2017 the Energy Observer has been exploring all combinations of electric and hydrogen power for boat propulsion and electric supply during a trip around the world. You can learn all about it here, courtesy of Distant Shores TV.

Floating Garden of Eden

For those still able to afford the top end of the market there is the VY-01 110 metre super yacht with 470m2 of solar panels, fuel cells powered by hydrogen and re-charged by a bio-methanol process from the garden-like interior. With a range of 3,240 nautical miles it would be a veritable floating Garden of Eden. So far, this is just a concept for the future

High-tech foils

Let’s get down to sail only. To make a small sailboat faster and more exciting we need to get it out of the water – well, almost! A lightweight boat can lift itself out of the water just by wind power. The drag forces slowing the boat down are then mainly in the air not the water. Foils can be fitted to small motorboats.

However, multi-hulled foils can achieve speeds up to 45 knots with a comfortable ride, less heel angle and more righting moment. Tacking (turning) the boat is also simpler. High-tech foils are here already and there are several, recognised classes of them as racing boats.

This Easter weekend, the Mar Menor large saltwater lagoon near my home in Spain will be the venue for the 2022 WASZP European Games. The weekend will be preceded by four days of coaching for WASZP class foil sailors and the weekend is the start of an EuroCup series finishing on Lake Garda in Italy in July.

Our maritime future

Sports and recreational sailing has a sustainable future if we can adapt our boats to take full advantage of the natural environment that they operate in. We may even see more people spending their time island hopping, just as the Maoris did over centuries of migration. Maybe some will become permanent migrants – nomads. There are several residential cruise ships already offering the experience of travelling the world from the comfort of your own luxury home. Such migrants would not be in limbo, always waiting for a decision on their future. They would be living the life of their choice.