Sailing into history


MILNE BAY brothers, Justin and Sanakoli John are among a three-men team that has braved the sea to try to make world history by being the first to sail and paddle and around the island of New Guinea in a traditional canoe.
The idea to make the hectic, and often times downright dangerous, trip around the island of New Guinea was hatched up by a man from Denmark. Thor Jensen had worked in tourism, and film, for some years before deciding to travel a bit. One of the places on his must-visit list was Papua New Guinea. That’s how he found himself at the Kenu and Kundu festival in Alotau in November 2015.
While still in his native home, the 36-year-old had pondered over the idea of kayaking around New Guinea. But at the festival in Milne Bay, a traditional canoe captured his imagination.
There too, he met local man Job Siai from Normanby Island and put forward the idea of the New Guinea in a traditional canoe. Job agreed. Sanakoli had just won one of the races at the festival and was handpicked. Sanakoli suggested that his brother Justin be the fourth candidate. The team was complete.
The four left Tawala Resort in Milne Bay on Aug 30 last year. They sailed in to Vanimo two months later. There, they discovered that Job had to return home because he was unwell.  Sanakoli and Justin accompanied him back to Milne Bay while Thor remained in Vanimo to sort out their papers that would allow them to travel to the Indonesian side of New Guinea. The John brothers returned to Vanimo and the trip restarted, this time with three men. A break of two months had thrown their plans into disorder as the Northwest monsoon blew and trying to sail through that in a small canoe was not easy.
Thor had earlier calculated that it would it would only take six months to go around the whole island. But six months passed. A year passed.
Excitement grew as Tuesday Sept 19 dawned. The three were nearing Port Moresby and couldn’t wait for their feet to touch terra firma. Thor, Sanakoli and Justin had been travelling for one year, 20 days already. The Tawali Pasana, sailed into Fairfax Harbor just a little after 10am on Tuesday, surprising a small team from the Royal Papua Yacht Club who were waiting to welcome them at around 12pm.
They have completed 5,600km of the expected 6,200km journey.
“I have never wished I was home,” said Thor of their trip.
Thor is hopeful that they will begin their trip to Tawali in Milne Bay on Sunday, a journey that might take them two weeks. If the winds pick up, Justin and Sanakoli could return to their families in less time.
The canoe, Tawali Pasana is eight meters long, and two meters wide -including the outrigger. Just by looking at it, it seems like something you wouldn’t even contemplate taking take out of a lagoon into the big, bad ocean. But, as they say, don’t be fooled by looks. This canoe, Tawali Pasana, or beautiful flower of Tawali, is no shrinking violet.
While it needed new masts and sails and other little technical adjustments along the way, it has managed to withstand the might of the ocean and the weather.
“I am proud and happy to make my country (PNG) stand out in the world through this trip,” Sanakoli said.
“I wanted to show that a traditional Milne Bay canoe can travel the distance.”
“It was also good to travel and see places,” Justin chips in.
While at sea, Justin is in charge of the rudder, Sanakoli takes care of the sail while Thor bails water.
Thor, Sanakoli and Justin have covered 5600km of the 6200 in total. They hope to make the final miles this weekend back to Tawali where they set off many moons ago. Thor has mixed feelings about the trip coming to an end.
“I’m sad to see that this is coming to an end.”
“It was a very big dream for me and it took hard work to get it off the ground. It was so good to see a lot of goodwill from PNG,” Thor said.
He wants to see this journey used to inspire young people. He also hopes that Justin and Sanakoli will be encouraged to travel around PNG and the Pacific to talk about sailing and how to keep traditions alive.
“Thank you to everybody who gave us food and water, coconut, and buai during our travel,” Sanakoli said.
Thor concluded that he didn’t have much choice but to eat what Justin and sanakoli ate. Bananas, sago, coconuts, crabs, fish.
In fact, I overheard him telling some school kids that his favourite is sago with coconut.

  • Next week; the thrills and spills of the journey.
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