Friday, 16 June 2017

It's been a while.

I've been locked in a very private battle with a personal health condition. Lately my focus has been on my wife, my family, my friends, my home and my work.

Recently my wife and I went away on a weekend break to a small east coast harbour town in Northland NZ called Mangonui ("big shark" in the Maori language) The harbour was given this name  after the story of one of the first voyaging canoes to visit this harbour 1000 years ago. it is said that this canoe was guided into the harbour entrance by a very large shark.,

As we settled into our harbour side accommodation I casually picked up a Boating New Zealand Magazine off the coffee table and began to flick through the pages. This was the May 2016 edition.

At the index page I noticed an article with a photograph of one of my friend Gary Dierking's Wa'apa designs. I went to page 40 and read this article.

I appreciate your credit and your friendship Gary!

"Home grown hydrodynamics" Written by Lindsay Wright. Reproduced with permission of the Author.

Wa'apa on Coromandel harbour.

Image result for gary dierking
Designer/builder Gary Dierking.

Home grown hydrodynamics
       It’s not only oysters that flourish in Gary Dierking and Rose Turners’ tidal Coromandel neighbourhood.
   There’s also a flow of boats and boating ideas, some drawn from millennia of seafaring wisdom, that emanate from their waterfront property.
   In the corrugated iron shed adjoining their house, Gary Dierking designs, builds and experiments with the range of proas which has built him a worldwide fan base.
     Strange surroundings for a farm boy brought up in Wisconsin, USA – but one, near the heart of Oceania, that has become his turangawaewae (place to stand).
  “I started playing with model boats on the farm pond when I was about eight years old,” he recalls quietly. ”I couldn’t get them to sail properly – so I built some plywood outriggers and realised that they sailed a lot better – and steered more directly.”
     He did what many boat crazy boys from inland USA do – joined the coastguard – and was posted to Wake Island in the North Pacific, where he worked in electronics and avionics. 
   “I saw the locals zipping around in their traditional vessels and that started my deep admiration of Oceania’s seafaring traditions. These people explored one third of the globe in boats that were tied together with string. “
    That realisation led Dierking’s questing mind to start wondering whether traditional Oceanic ideas still made sense – and could still be used to fast boats that were seaworthy and fun to sail, yet cheap and easy to build.
    “To people stuck in our Western world mindset, proas look flimsy and unstable….but they are the vessels that made the ancient peoples’ voyaging possible. One reason the proa succeeded, with the ama (outrigger) to windward, are low stresses from the rig  which made them good for building with low tech materials.” 
     Dierking talked to island people and read widely about Oceania navigation and boat building – then demobbed from the USCG and returned to San Francisco  where he contacted multihull designer Jim Brown for plans to build one of his plywood Searunner 37 {11.3m) designs.
   Once the boat, Bird of Dawning, was finished Dierking set sail for Saipan, in the Marianas Islands, where he began work as a boatbuilder.
   A handful of traditional navigators still lived in the islands of the west Pacific and Dierking once again immersed himself in their knowhow and that of local boatbuilders. ”Some big waka were still making interisland passages, ”he explained. “ I realised that these people weren’t just travelling in a survival module in a hostile environment – the ocean – like we do. They lived on the ocean – they belonged there…and had done for generations.”
   After 10 years in Saipan, he was offered a job with Hawaiian high speed multihull guru, Rudy Choy and did four years applying the benefits of modern technology to rapid racing catamarans. “ In the 1980’s, Rudy built a 60 foot (18.3m) cat to beat the Transpac race record from San Francisco to Hawaii. She had alloy cross beams which cracked under the strain – so we built composite beams out of spruce, birch and plywood which were lighter and stronger. The next race the beams held up and the boat, Aikane X-5, took the record.”
    “But I didn’t get to sail on the boat, ” he sighs ruefully, “they bought in a bunch of rock stars for that.”
     Meanwhile,  Rose  was yearning for her home town, Coromandel  so, in 1990, the couple followed the course of Kupe south to Aotearoa.
      Dierking soon settled in his new hometown, working as a boat builder on commercial boats tied to the main wharf and developing ideas and designs for better boats.
    His proa design portfolio grew – I was trying to develop a new way of going cruising – you sail places in your big boat then, in a couple of weeks and for a few hundred dollars, you can build a proa on the beach and go exploring, to places you can’t go with the big boat,” he explained.
    The Dierkings built their own proa on the beach in Savusavu, Fiji (“they have good marine plywood there and Fijian kauri for structural timbers – all we took was glue, nails and a two horsepower outboard”) .   
    The couple left that proa in Savusavu for fishing, exploring and skimming over the reef during their regular visits.
   About 500 sets of  Dierking’s plans have been sold for proa projects in Canada, the US, Mexico, Brazil, UK, France Spain, Poland, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
    “The sort of people who build proas aren’t the kind who aren’t likely to follow plans – they would all have had their own ideas – so I doubt whether there’s two boats the same,” he laughed. One boat was built with a traditional Brazilian rig.
   One Kiwi builder finished his proa then, within a week or two, sailed over 200 nm around the Hauraki Gulf in her.
   Dierking has designed a range of boats, both tacking and shunting (going about by swapping the rudder and the tack of the sail from one end of the waka to another) designs inspired by Oceanic tradition with a dollop of modern technology. Depending on the rig, they sail at 12 – 13 knots and tack through 90 degrees.
   Proa people make contact through his website, his book: Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes, or word of mouth. A friend emailed recently to say a pdf of the book was available on an Iraqi boating website. “It’s on a Russian website too – that’s technology for you,” he grinned.
    Other ideas that have hatched from Dierking’s shed are an 18 foot (5.5m) strip planked macoracarpa steam launch , several experimental asymmetric hulls and Tipairua, a 25 foot (7.6m) voyager for the Te Toki Voyaging Trust in Kawhia.
   Just above the tideline is an old Lightning catamaran with an elevated deck attached. “It does 13 knots with a nine horsepower outboard,” he says, “but it just dies with more than two people aboard, so I’m going to rebuild the hulls this winter with more volume – more buoyancy.”
 Spidery model waka (variously called vaka, Va ‘a, Vava depending on the island of origin) from  Pacific countries are on display throughout their house and Dierking delights in pointing out different hull forms and shapes, explaining the conditions and roles they were developed for.
  “I took one of my proa surfing at Whangamata – just to see what happened, ”he smiled. “Well….we got rolled… pitchpoled… swamped and dumped. But the boat survived. That convinced me that lashing is the way to go – a bolted and screwed boat would likely have wrenched itself to pieces.”
    Russell Brown, the son of Jim Brown who designed Dierking’s Searunner trimaran, stopped in New Zealand during a trans Pacific cruise in JZerro – his 36 foot (11m) proa but was disappointed by many Kiwis scathing reaction to his boat.
   “People just don’t understand proa….they look flimsy and complicated. You have to wrap your head around a completely new way of thinking. People just can’t think beyond having a big hunk of lead bolted underneath their boat,” he says.
    Dierking shares credit for some of his ideas with Northland proa sailor/builder Harmen Hielkema. “He’s been sailing proas since he was 18 – there’s not much he doesn’t know.”
    More ideas came from the 2009 New Zealand Proa Congress at Whangaparaoa. “Almost every proa in the country was there ….designed and built by aviation engineers, doctors, designers….what a great meeting of minds.”
    Kupe, or any of the great Pacific navigators, would have felt right at home.  

Recommended reading:  We, the Navigators by Dr David Lewis; Canoes of Oceania by A.C.Haddon and James Hornell; The Last Navigator by Stephen D. Thomas.   

1 comment:

  1. Nice to reacquaint myself with some of these topics. If I recall correctly, Toroa was used with a stationary mast at some point, wasn't it? I think that's where I got the idea to try that on my proa -- I was reminded of this from some of the Russ Brown photos where Toroa seemed to have the static (opposed to canting) mast set-up.


Toroa by Harmen Hielkema & Mike Toy.

Header Photo: Toroa at Rawene by Julie Holton.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Roelof Hielkema who instilled in me the willingness to learn.
These pages are intended to inform and add to the growing body of knowledge concerning the Canoe Culture of the Pacific, past, present & future, from the Tupuna, the Ancestors of the Pacific cultures to the people of the world.

These pages contain Images and text relating to our two proas, Toroa & Takapu, some history relating to our experiments & experiences.

The dissertation that I posted on this blog in April 2008 "Takapu The Proa" was written by me in 1997 in response to an assignment that I was set whilst studying for my design degree. The dissertation covers many issues that a proa enthusiast may benefit from reading about.

Waka define culture as culture defines waka

Waka reflect the individuality and uniqueness of a society which in turn is governed by the geography, geology, topography, climate, location, resources, isolation, origin, flora, fauna, flotsam, jetsam, etc.

Waka are our link to the past, they have shaped our present and define our future.

Waka are the vessels of knowledge, physical and mental development, freedom of bondage to the land, key to our inquisitiveness, expressions of our ingenuity and courage, our love of shape and form, the seat of our power.

Waka are the source of our material culture, from which all processes are derived.

Waka are who and what we are.