By ELLEN TIAMU
THOR Jensen and brothers Sanakoli John and Justin John are now slowly making their way back to Tawali in Milne Bay from Port Moresby, surely on their way to receiving the historical honour of being the first people to sail around the island of New Guinea in a traditional canoe. Tawali Resort is where their journey began over a year ago. The small canoe they have has only a plastic sail and wooden paddles.
There were four people on the canoe when they left Milne Bay on 30 August last year but one of them (Job Siai) had to leave the team at Vanimo for health reasons. The remaining three sailors continued on despite setbacks that delayed their trip and caused them to sail in bad weather.
Thor, Sanakoli and Justin had been travelling for one year, 20 days – a distance of 5,600km –when they paddled in to the marina at the Royal Papua Yacht Club last Tuesday. They left Port Moresby on Saturday, and are certain of completing the round trip in two weeks if the winds are favourable.
Thor is from Denmark while the brothers Justin and Sanakoli are from Milne Bay. Their canoe is called, Tawali Pasana, or reef flower in the Milne Bay language.
“It is great to see that we are nearing the goal and the dream is actually coming true, it shows that if you dream big you also achieve big and hard work and perseverance pays off in the end,” Thor said.
“My personal goal from the start of creating a modern portrait of PNG to share with the western world is also is about to be complete.”
In a way, they’ve also succeeded in proving that traditional skills and knowledge still holds great importance in modern PNG, and not least they have had an amazing experience and made many new friends along the way.
Justin and Sanakoli are looking very much forward to see their families again. But they are also handling this voyage very professionally and as experienced sailors, they won’t lower their guards before the Tawali Pasana is safely back in Milne Bay.
“I know that a lot of people are of the opinion that Justin and Sanakoli should be regarded as national heroes, for their bravery and perseverance and for representing PNG internationally by achieving this world record.
“Their story is an inspiration for the youth, manifesting that anything is possible for Papua New Guineans that dare to aim big – just look at the Hunters win last week. Stories like these are cornerstones essential to building a great nation,” Thor said.
But their journey has not been sailing smooth.
“The whole voyage has been amazing but the beginning was probably the wildest, just because everything was new and I had no idea if we would actually succeed,” Thor remembers.
“Also I didn’t know Justin and Sanakoli and Job I had only known briefly. But they turned out to be great guys, and slowly we were learning the rules of the road and how to go about this adventure.”
“Bam Island 40km out of Sepik river mouth was amazing, very remote and special. It was one of those places I had seen on a map back in DK and wondered how this place and its people might be. Going there was a dream come true, and that what this voyage is all about fulfilling your dreams no matter how impossible it might seem at first.”
“We had some bad experiences at sea, we almost sank at the Bonbongara reef (in Finschhafen). Out of Wasu there was a lot of piracy and the police had just caught two the evening we arrived there, so we were worried about that part of the coast, but luckily we only met friendly people.
“We almost had another capsize in Cendrawasih Bay (West Papua), in the middle of the night after three days of sailing at sea. That was a scary experience and I could tell by looking at my companions faces that this was a very serious situation, but we luckily didn’t sink or drift to the Rocky shores further down in the bay.”
“We were struggling for food several times, luckily Justin and Sanakoli are such good fishermen, and people were friendly to give us bananas and sago.” “Last stretch from Kerema, we had only sago and a bag of rice, luckily people helped us with food there as well, but we were very happy to have a big greasy meal when we arrived in POM.”
“We ate rice and tinned fish as staple food. When we got money we also get nicer things. One thing we always have is lollies, as to have some sugar when at sea.”
“From Agats to the strait of Yos Sudarso island (West Papua) took a lot longer than expected and the last three days there we were surviving on mud crabs and ‘green’ well water.
The water was sickening but they kept their hopes high despite the tide and wind going against them.
“Repairing the canoe was a regular job, mostly the sails needed sewing, as they are of normal plastic, like you buy in hardware stores. But the deck planks inside the canoe also rotted away and needed replacement.
“The sowasowa, fork supporting the mast also cracked and Justin cut a new one. Also the mansiti or sheets that control the sail had to be replaced. The biggest task was probably the outrigger that was rotten and got changed in Bukava village, in Morobe.
“We always received support where ever we went and people was always helpful, they really wanted us to succeed.
Navigating the Yos Sudarso Strait was terribly tiresome and slow for the trio. Deep mud on the shore and rivers full of crocs, coupled with strong currents and very high water made the journey that would have taken three days on a good day, turn into ten days. Finding good clean water there added to the hardship.
Thor fell off the canoe just on the second day of their journey, but managed to swim to his friends, who had stopped the canoe for him, in high waves.
“My new friends looked shocked, not least because we had two tápalas (fishing lines) trailing behind the canoe. After that, they told me to stay inside the canoe. It gave me a good respect for the canoe and was a warning to be careful.”
Sanakoli also slipped off the canoe in a dark stormy night off the coast of southern Papua. Luckily, Justin caught his hand or else Sanakoli would have been hard to find in the black moonless night.
Justin fell off once because his steer or Jabijabi wasn’t fastened properly, it was on our way in to Merauke. There was no big drama there as the canoe was stopped for him to set back up.
“The GPS broke on a crossing from Numfoor island to Manokwari (West Papua), the wind was unsteady and the current pushed us out towards sea, so I had to use map and a compass to calculate our drift and this reassured me that we didn’t have to worry about drifting too fast out at sea.”
“This shows that it is important to know your theory on real maps and don’t rely on electronic instruments,” Thor cautioned.
“We invite everyone to celebrate the completion of The World’s First Circumnavigation of the Island of New Guinea in a Traditional Sailing Canoe, at the national Kenu and Kundu festival in Alotau (4-5 Nov), where we will be the main event as we sail in escorted by an armada of canoes and boats.”
“I hope to find more companies to join our sponsors – Consort Express Lines, Pacific Maritime College, Stanley Hotel and Suites- to become part of a reward ceremony for Justin and Sanakoli at the canoe festival.
By ELLEN TIAMU