Updated: Oct 25
After running down the runway to gain takeoff speed, the plane lifted off. Almost immediately we were over the ocean and I could see nothing but water as far as my eyes could see on the horizon. With curiosity, I scanned the surface of the sea trying to identify anything strange other than the waves, which were getting smaller and smaller as we climbed. I settled into my seat and thought “… we were sailing in this immensity for 27 days, in a space of 15 by 5 meters, there is nothing, absolutely nothing for miles around”. I filled my lungs with a breath of air that I let out softly, as I sank into a seat that I felt especially soft, comfortable and fluffy. The temperature was very pleasant in the plane cabin, which after that quick takeoff seemed motionless, as if suspended in the air. I was dry, my clothes were clean and after many days, I didn't care about anything, nothing of what was happening around me. I just closed my eyes and a thousand memories and emotions crowded into my mind.
A month and a half earlier, I received a surprising and pleasant phone call from Mario, my cousin. After the greetings, he went straight to the subject for which he was contacting me and fired “… I have an acquaintance from Rapa Nui who made a traditional boat in Chiloé, they are setting sail these days from Calbuco to Valdivia. The Navy asked them for a Captain at Sea for the stretch between Valparaíso and Rapa Nui and I remembered you, are you interested?”. The same two seconds for which I was left without air, Mario took advantage to attack again “… it is a gentleman from Rapa Nui who has a foundation and the objective of this is to recover the ancestral Polynesian navigation techniques to teach the young people of the island … would you go on the trip as Captain?”. I immediately felt that this experience was mine. In a fraction of a second, the idea filled me with enthusiasm and suddenly, I was captivated by the goal. I perceived that clearly this was reserved for me and also, I had the curious feeling that it was a script carefully prepared in advance. With that same clarity, the only lines I had to answer at that moment emerged spontaneously from my mouth and without even thinking about it, I hurried to answer “Yes… I would consider it a true privilege to contribute to them being able to achieve their goal, I'm going!”.
As is often the case when our passions rule us, my rational side suddenly appeared in this imaginary scene, chasing my spirit, which had already committed itself for the rest and had just left whistling and happy through the back door. I could only point him in the right direction so that he could catch up and I wished that from now on those two would not separate and would always agree very much.
So, from the precise moment I accepted the challenge, I understood that, as Captain, I would be the only one on board who could not only cite emotional reasons for being there, I had a serious and responsible job to do. The first step and for me the most important, would be to meet Lynn Rapu, who in addition to being the owner of the boat, would be on the trip as a crew member. I would have the opportunity to meet him, the rest of the crew and of course the boat on its upcoming stop in Valdivia.
The navigation through protected inland waters from Quellón to Calbuco had no problems. As I learned, the navigation from Calbuco to the Chacao Channel was carried out calmly and in good conditions, always escorted by a naval unit. Just out of the channel, the crew encountered a headwind that eventually forced them to accept the suggestion of the escort boat to return to protected waters and head to Ancud, a port where they rested and waited for the conditions to improve. After two days they set sail and the navigation developed apparently without major problems until entering Valdivia. Later I would find out that in that stretch the coexistence on board was in crisis. A worn-out crew and a Captain without the necessary skills were the main factors that led to a crisis that would have its consequences before the departure from Valparaíso and that would be my responsibility to handle, in order to get the crew to board.
Just a few hours after they docked at the Valdivia dock, I went to introduce myself on board in order to fulfill the first step that I considered fundamental. From the dock I asked for Lynn Rapu from a crew member who was working on deck. Uncle Lynn, they're looking for you! ... he shouted towards a group of people who were chatting animatedly more aft.
Lynn broke away from the group and came down to meet me while putting on a t-shirt. In his fifties, of medium height, long hair, tattooed body and with a picturesque goatee, Lynn seemed to me a very special kind of person, in appearance very simple, with a friendly and cordial manner, but at the same time capable of spontaneously projecting an interesting air of sophistication.
As we greeted, I invited him for a coffee in a nearby place so we could talk. We walked to the place and after ordering some coffees we talked about the navigation from Chiloé, the beauty of the river, and some other trivia such as restaurants in Valdivia and the climate of the region.
I knew he needed help to set sail from Valparaíso, however, he never asked me for it. It was clear to me that, perhaps due to cultural reasons, it was difficult for him to be direct and commit to someone he didn't know. On purpose, I didn't address the topic, hoping he would do it during our conversation, which didn't happen until we were ready to leave the coffee shop. Standing up, Lynn leaned forward, put his hands on the table, and dared to ask, looking me directly in the eye, "so, do we have a Captain?" As quickly as he did, I replied yes and, even though I warned him that at no time did he explicitly ask for help as someone more direct and frontal might have done, I added that I considered it a privilege to help him make his project a reality. Lynn seemed to me a completely naive guy, legitimately proud but simple, particularly reserved, obviously distrustful, but above all honest, very well inspired and deeply committed to the idea of helping his people. As I expressed to him at the time of assuming the commitment, I could not refuse to help them achieve such noble objectives, it was for me a true privilege. From then on I became the "Capi" for everyone, I felt warmly welcomed and very proud to be part of the team.
It was not expected that I would set sail with the catamaran from Valdivia, but I did help in the preparation of the navigation plan between Valdivia and Valparaíso. I had very little time to meet the crew, which I was very interested in before they continued their journey to Valparaíso.
I knew that I needed to gain their trust and build a bond before they left, as the level of trust we would achieve in the two days they would be in Valdivia would be essential to continue sowing at a distance during the days when we would not be physically together. To my surprise, I found them from the beginning to be a particularly open and warm group, which made it easier for me to get to know them and to create the relationship of mutual trust that I wanted to achieve.
The trust we built in that short period allowed me to get them on board and continue, in the most interesting part of the adventure in which they had been participating for quite some time. Some of them had been working with Lynn in Chiloé for a couple of years, building the boat.
Ten days passed during which I maintained sporadic telephone communication with Lynn and some crew members. The effort made during the stay in Valdivia was paying off. They called me several times to confirm that I was still willing to set sail with them. I didn't understand so much concern at the time, since I had already committed to joining them and nothing had changed. Later I would find out that it was believed that, just as with other people who had committed to joining them and then, citing different reasons, retracted, Lynn and some crew members did not have the certainty that I would still be available. This doubt was not only critical for Lynn, but also for some crew members who had decided not to embark if I was not going. This warned me of a wear and tear of the coexistence between the people, which, given the circumstances and without going into details, seemed to me to be expected and normal. It was, however, a situation that I would have to address before departure and handle with special attention during the navigation.
During these ten days I dedicated myself to studying the climatology of the region, designing a navigation plan, and completing a detailed risk assessment. This last analysis would allow me to identify the most significant risks to which we would be exposed and to design effective controls for each of them.
I thought that the crew's distrust would have been completely dispelled after several inquiries that I received from several of them asking me to confirm and reconfirm that I would go as Captain. Lynn then informed me that he planned to set sail on Sunday, March 31, which was four days away.
At that time, the Kuini Analola did not have the minimum equipment required by the Navy to authorize the departure, equipment that still had to be purchased, imported, installed, and finally approved by the maritime authority. It seemed to me then that we would not set sail in the present season and that we should wait out the winter in Valparaíso. With this in mind, I arrived at the port on Saturday, one day before the scheduled departure. To my surprise, the equipment had already been obtained and the Navy had put people to work over the weekend to facilitate the departure. So, unless an unexpected factor arose, this had become imminent. I didn't know if I should be happy because everything was going faster than I thought, or if I should worry for the same reason. In some way, I was carrying both feelings at the same time.
We were already in April, at the limit advised for crossing that part of the ocean in the direction of the island. For those who have paid attention to the synoptic chart of the South Eastern Pacific, the Semi-Permanent Pacific Anticyclone, which in the summer months of the southern hemisphere protects us from the fronts, weakens in April, allowing fronts to pass and invade the area we would be sailing. If we were to encounter a front with a lot of energy, we would face conditions that the Kuini Analola was very likely not prepared to withstand. Remember that it is an artisanal and precarious catamaran in many ways.
On that afternoon, the departure was scheduled for Monday, April 1st. On Sunday, one day before the scheduled departure, and having confirmed in all languages that I would be going on the navigation as Captain, Vaimiti (Miti) was still not sure if she was going. After a brief conversation in which I appealed to the long journey she had already taken to be there, she was convinced and quickly left for Santiago to pick up her clothes and sailing gear. Serafina (Sera) was in Rapa Nui, and only got on the plane when I told her that I was already on my way to Valparaíso to board. I had met both Sera and Miti in Valdivia. Also Claudio Ramírez, Benjamín, Herbert, Hoko and of course, Lynn. I was very pleased that they all finally decided to travel, in some cases it was a vote of confidence with which they favored and committed me. To those already mentioned, Hopo (Lynn's brother) and Felipe were added, who would have the mission of documenting the journey with photos and videos. We then totaled a crew of ten.
From that moment on and already in the port, I focused on completing the forms required by the maritime authority and communicating the navigation plan to them. The Captaincy of Valparaíso was kind enough to lend us a computer and a workstation. They also lent us a personal GPS unit and nautical charts for the crossing, which were of great help for navigation.
We agreed with the maritime authority that we should report our position at least twice a day (at 08:00 and 20:00) for which we had a satellite communication equipment that was still being installed at that time. We also had a radio beacon or EPIRB, in my opinion the most important equipment we would carry on board since, in case I deemed it necessary, it would allow me to communicate an emergency with ease and activate the corresponding protocol. The Navy put its technicians to install and test the equipment throughout the weekend, so that we would be in a position to sail according to plan. The hours passed quickly and almost without realizing it, we already had everything ready, or so I thought.
The big moment arrived, the ceremony began, presided over by the then Commander in Chief of the First Naval Zone, Admiral De la Maza, political authorities, many friends, family, port workers and tourists. The Navy band played The Nibelungs, after which came the speeches, exchange of memories, dances and songs from Rapa Nui. It was time to set sail in front of about two hundred people who followed the ceremony closely and emotionally. Only at that moment did I learn from Lynn that we needed to load some fuel tanks and that he would stay with someone else to buy vegetables in the port ... horror!
The ceremony protocol said that we had to cast off and set sail. Somewhat anxious, I looked at the audience, clearly everyone was expecting us to do just that ... to set sail! The tearful eyes of some excited attendees, some others overflowing with pride, inquisitorial like those of the sailors present, all awaited the climax of the ceremony, others, I must mention, were simply waiting for us to get going once and for all to complete their work. I had no choice, I should set sail and give way to the expected moment with three of the crew members and the famous vegetables still missing.
We cast off and advanced with the minimum engine power and no sails, maneuvering around the boats that were anchored in the bay until we lost sight of the pier, behind a fishing boat. At that moment, I felt a little more relaxed, since I thought that since they couldn't see us from the pier, I wouldn't have to keep "simulating" the departure.
My peace of mind didn't last long, as a boat appeared that does tours of the "warships" full of tourists. The boat followed us as if pushing us away from the coast. Finally, after a long half hour, the long-awaited vegetables and the three missing crew members arrived aboard a boat from the Valparaíso Lifeboat. We were all there and we could raise the sails. We had a south wind and a sea that was pushing us favorably towards our course, 340°.
The idea was to sail on a course that would take us north and, at the same time, gradually move us away from the coast. That track would take us in a circular trajectory following the edge of the anticyclone, taking advantage of the prevailing favorable winds around it. Finally, we were sailing, for most of the crew it was the final stretch of a long journey that had begun almost two years ago, when some of them moved to Quellón to build the boat.
For me, it was the beginning of a beautiful adventure during which I would have the mission of contributing to their dream, a great privilege.
I estimated that given the lack of experience we had among the crew, it was best to keep large groups and also reduce the amount of free time we would have when we were not on duty. Since I didn't know them very well, I asked Lynn to divide the crew into the two groups that would be on duty during navigation. I had no doubt that he would have the wisdom to create two balanced groups.
The wind was quite strong, close to thirty knots and the waves from the southwest were about three to four meters high. I couldn't stop thinking about the mainmast and how much we needed a stern stay. In order to reduce the force on the mast, we started the engine and left the jib up to keep the bow stable. I must admit that the Kuini Analola sailed very well in this way, with no significant effort and surfing the waves beautifully. We reached seven knots at that time, which was the highest speed we achieved during the crossing.
Lynn gave me his cabin so that I would be more comfortable. After several days, I don't think I was any more comfortable or dry, but I definitely enjoyed a certain privacy that, given the limited space and amenities, was a real luxury on board. The fact that the radio and power source were also located in that cabin made it a practical choice for me to sleep there. Above all, I saw it as a gesture of deference and consideration on Lynn's part to give me his place. These expressions of generosity and respect on the part of Lynn Rapu and the crew were repeated many times during the navigation, and they made me feel permanently committed to meeting their expectations.
The space where I slept was next to the "bathroom" on deck, it was one meter and twenty centimeters long by seventy centimeters wide, I am 1.88 m tall. It also housed the communication equipment and power sources, which is why it was full of connectors, knobs, and all kinds of things that should not be touched, pressed, or moved. Once I entered that kind of niche full of colored lights and real traps, I could no longer turn around or move much. The other members of the team who did not have the privilege of using the "suite" on board, an honor assigned to the Captain on this occasion, had to sleep below deck in one of the catamaran's hulls. Although it is true that they arranged their mattresses on a flat and wide surface on which they could stretch out and arrange themselves as they wished, they had to alternate in the use of the mattress with a member of the other watch. The place not only accumulated condensation on the walls, but seawater also made its way inside, through small but numerous and persistent passages through the hull. Every now and then, using buckets, the crew had to extract the water from the bilge, as the electric pumps, for a reason I never understood, were not only not connected, but were kept in their boxes. Special mention deserves the fact that due to the materials used in their construction and the particular design of the accommodation, these spaces are gigantic resonance boxes within which any noise or tap outside is magnified several times. This fact is not minor considering that a large part of the crew are in fact talented musicians. We carried two ukuleles, weapons as relentless as they are effective at preventing sleep, which were used constantly to keep the crew's morale in good shape. At first it was difficult, but after two nights I was tired enough not to hear them.
We maintained course and the sea and wind conditions did not vary significantly on the first night. Gradually it stopped being cold, at the same time that the humidity increased. On the third day, the sea conditions improved and the wind dropped to about 15 knots, always from the SSW. This allowed us a more pleasant navigation. We were able to dry our clothes, relax, and thanks to Hoko, who caught a nice tuna, enjoy a delicious ceviche at sunset. With this relative "relaxation", we were able to concentrate with greater attention on the most important aspects of safe navigation. We were getting into the rhythm necessary for any good ocean navigation.
Regarding domestic chores, it was very gratifying to note that in an spontaneous way each member of the crew always showed concern for cooperation. Dishwashing, bathroom cleaning, or the order and cleanliness of the places where we slept, were a permanent concern for everyone and it was not at all necessary to draw up a list of responsibilities or task assignment. When it was necessary to tidy up or clean the deck, it was enough for me to mention it for everyone to work hard to leave everything impeccable ... we had an attitude in the team that made everything seem easy.
At 8:00 pm on April 3, we were informed by radio that the "Coquimbo" boat of the Navy would go to meet us to make sure we were okay. In the early hours of the morning of April 4, we saw the lights of the boat to the southeast of our position. After a few minutes, the crew of the boat contacted us by radio and I agreed with their Commander that they would approach the catamaran with the first light.
At 8:00 am on April 4, we met up with the Coquimbo at coordinates 29° 00´ S, 074° 47´ W, approximately 200 miles from the coast. As we had agreed, as soon as the sun came up and we could see the boat about 200 meters away, they began the maneuver to launch a rubber dinghy. Minutes later, the dinghy arrived at our side with five people.
As soon as they could, three enthusiastic sailors jumped onto the catamaran and, after greeting us effusively, began to organize the obligatory photo. We were very pleased to appreciate the sailors' enthusiasm and the pride they expressed in what we were doing. This feeling, honest, humble, and noble of the sailors, was expressed to me on repeated occasions in different circumstances, by officers and personnel of the Navy before, during, and after the navigation.
After about twenty minutes of chatting happily with the sailors, they gave us some gifts and provided us with fresh water, baked bread, newspapers, etc. The Navy personnel returned to the patrol boat, wished us good luck, and set course back to Coquimbo. We were once again alone. Our minds focused again on our navigation and the immediate challenges ahead.
The normal routine on board was strongly conditioned by the guard shifts. We were already tired enough that most of us just wanted to rest in our free time. Hoko, who was the boatswain, also excelled every day by preparing and of course tasting ... "until he was completely sure", delicious lunches that never ceased to surprise us.
Hoko is the only one we could consider a "seaman" among the Rapa Nui crew, as he spends most of his time on the island fishing. He is also a virtuoso musician. Hoko and I had long and very pleasant conversations about how he and his wife have raised their children; in close contact with nature, enjoying sports on the beach, playing in the waves, and of course, sharing during tuna fishing, in the same way that his father did with him.
Since there are no manuals or texts used to transmit culture, it is done, to the extent possible, in a testimonial way, which requires someone to tell and another to listen, or, by sharing special activities between parents and children. During the four hours of watch, sometimes very animated conversations took place about topics that were sometimes somewhat conflicting, but always interesting. Other times the ukuleles came out and we started singing. Even though there were few boring watches, for obvious reasons, these only became more frequent towards the end of the journey.
The issue of controlling fresh water and the availability of fuel were critical to me. I entrusted Claudio (Ramírez), one of the three mainland Chileans on the trip, with the control of the consumption and availability of these resources. To his great qualities as a human being and as a great team player, he added an extraordinary ability to repair almost anything.
Claudio is not afraid to have to disassemble something, he can always put it back together and most likely, repair it successfully. Claudio is an entrepreneur and because his businesses have linked him to the island for a long time, he knows the culture and its people very well. He joined the crew from the construction of the Kuini Analola in Chiloé.
We are now about 500 miles from the South American continent, it is April 7th. At dawn, we saw the islands of San Félix and San Ambrosio on the horizon, formerly known as the "Las Desventuradas".
The navigation has been pleasant and has allowed us to dry clothes and sleeping bags on deck. The mood is good, everyone has focused on the tasks on board ... we try to keep busy and rest appropriately. Near these rocky promontories in the middle of the ocean, there is usually more marine life and activity. We have seen pilot whales very closely, and we have been accompanied by various types of birds and families of friendly gray dolphins that play under the bow.
During one of the nights near San Félix and San Ambrosio, a seagull crashed into our bow sail and fell onto the deck. Benjamín carefully picked up the stunned bird and put it in a basket in case it recovered. At dawn we were able to confirm with great pleasure that the patient was completely recovered so he was released. To this, as well as other facts related to nature, a special and positive meaning was given, a way of contacting the ancestors. This connection with the ancestors seems to be deeply rooted in Rapa Nui culture and is part of all artistic expressions, rituals, and festivals. Without a doubt, the great spirituality of the Rapa Nui people and, particularly of our crew, constituted a valuable strength during the navigation.
On April 9th, I was unable to communicate our position and contact any station using our satellite equipment. For three days the equipment simply did not transmit. As a consequence and in strict compliance with the protocols, the Navy issued a search notice fearing that something had happened to us.
Today, April 10, we saw a merchant ship on the horizon, we contacted each other by radio and it informed us that it would vary its trajectory to sail past us. It was the "Baltic Glory", a gigantic oil tanker flying the flag of the Marshall Islands.
It was quite a spectacle in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, this tremendous ship of more than three hundred meters in length passing less than two hundred meters from us to confirm that we were without problems and surely to take photos of this “rarity” that had been discovered.
Later we would find out that the Navy, along with giving the search notice, had asked the ships that navigated the area to inform them of our situation and condition if they came across us.
On the 11th, a CASA C 295 Navy aircraft flew over us at low altitude carrying out maritime traffic control tasks.
They communicated to us by VHF and we informed them that we were sailing according to plan and without any news, except for the failure of the satellite communications equipment.
Then they would tell me that we crossed a "satellite silence zone" generated by the poor satellite coverage in the southern hemisphere. This was a particularly exciting encounter due to its unexpected nature, its brevity, and the sense of shelter and security it provided us. Despite being very far and alone in the middle of the ocean, these eyes in the sky watched over us diligently. After the encounter, for a while, I couldn't stop thinking that the plane's crew that day would probably be having dinner at their homes.
During the voyage, we took the opportunity to learn about basic techniques and tools of ancestral navigation. On several occasions, Miti, Sera, and Benjamin showed us constellations and celestial bodies, naming them with their Hawaiian, Maori, or Rapa Nui names, which I struggled to memorize. They shared their valuable experiences from ancestral navigation academies in New Zealand and Hawaii. I explained the theory and use of nautical charts, compasses, meteorology, and satellite navigation equipment. Everyone also had to prepare and then provide a situation report to Playa Ancha radio station.
From the beginning, I noticed a valuable peculiarity in all team members. Despite being professional musicians, entrepreneurs, and teachers with little experience in high-sea navigation, each of them acted with confidence and competence at all times. I often observed that when they needed to learn something new, they handled it with impressive skill, as if they had always done it. It's clear that they are a people with deep maritime traits, with an imprint acquired and passed down over thousands of years that cannot be separated from them.
Our fresh food was running low, and fishing had not been as successful as we had hoped. Several crew members, to help Hoko, had already excelled in preparing their specialties, which everyone appreciated. Beyond the delicious taste of a dish, the fact that it was prepared with care by a team member gave the food a special flavor that we all cherished. Since we had enough flour, Claudio and I decided to make traditional Chilean bread. We didn't have an oven, only a gas stove with two burners, but our ingenuity allowed us to use a pot as an oven and successfully overcome the challenge. Making traditional bread became a habit. Miti, who had never done it before, quickly became an expert and surprised us with the best bread we enjoyed during the voyage. We only stopped making bread when we ran out of flour, almost reaching Rapa Nui.
We were well aware that the high-sea patrol ship of the Chilean Navy, the "Policarpo Toro," was scheduled to depart from Rapa Nui to Valparaíso. It was the Navy's intention to divert its usual navigation track northward to facilitate a rendezvous with the Kuini Analola. The Ao Tupuna Foundation, of which Lynn and his wife Mayma are founders and leaders, was already loading shipments with messages and food that families and friends were sending to the crew from the island.
The long-awaited meeting with the Bull finally occurs on April 12. The conditions were very appropriate, a soft breeze and a calm sea allowed two boats to be lowered calmly and safely from the ship, one was dedicated only to lowering cargo and the other led two officers who, together with a nurse, boarded the Kuini Analola.
Their main objective was to ensure that we were in good condition to continue navigation safely. They brought us supplies, water, freshly baked bread, and some delicious empanadas that we greatly appreciated since they had been specially made for us on a day that wasn't Thursday (Thursday is the day of the week when the Navy serves empanadas and stew).
Throughout the voyage, we kept a lure at the end of a nylon line for fishing. I must say, regarding this, the fishing was very poor. Only one tuna and one pomfret were caught during the entire journey. It was on this lure that we discovered a dead bird, which had probably mistaken the lure for prey and got fatally entangled in it. By the time we realized, it was too late. Lynn and Hoko simply unhooked the bird and hung it to use its feathers later.
The risk of embarking on this adventure in April is related to the weather conditions, which become unstable or turn for the worse during this month. This happened to us on April 17 when the wind completely disappeared due to a sudden shift of the high-pressure center or anticyclone to the north. For three days, we were more or less floating in the same area. In such situations, there is not much to do other than waiting patiently. The crew's spirits, although generally good, showed signs of being tested, and the level of anxiety had increased to the point where frustrations and minor conflicts could easily arise. It was time for a brief relaxation and a swim in the sea. Taking advantage of our stationary position, the crew jumped overboard and enjoyed a refreshing swim. I stayed on board for two reasons. First, it's known that in such situations, sailors who jump into the water are sometimes caught by a sudden, treacherous breeze that can snatch the boat away, leaving them in a dire situation. Second, we were in an area where various shark species were abundant, and they are more easily visible from the deck's height. The captain had to stay on board, and I acted as a lookout; if any sharks appeared, I wanted to be able to spot them and raise the alarm. Any injury in these conditions, however small, is potentially serious. The risk of complex infections, especially those resulting from animal bites, could have been life-threatening, and, in the best-case scenario, it would have jeopardized the success of our journey. Because of this, I was especially strict about handling hooks and knives on board.
After spending a couple of days in the same place, I decided to contact Playa Ancha Radio and inquire about the synoptic situation. This would give me an idea of the conditions that awaited us, at least reducing uncertainty. The radio operator immediately understood the situation and asked me to wait a few minutes while he confirmed with specialists. After five minutes, he contacted me and informed me that the next day, at 8:00 PM, in our current position, we would have 15 knots of wind from the southeast. It seemed like excellent news; at least now, we had a set time limit, which reduced uncertainty and improved morale on board. I assured them that we would have the necessary wind to progress at the specified time, and ukuleles came out, and conversations livened up.
The next day, at 7:00 PM, we were all on deck, waiting for the arrival of the wind. I knew that, of course, such forecasts are subject to various factors that can change and considerations that may not hold, so the desired wind could be delayed or easily not arrive. However, it wasn't the time to share my concern; all that was left was to wait for it to come true and, if not, to try to handle the situation as best as possible. There were only twenty minutes left until the hour, and nothing in the surroundings indicated the expected wind.
Suddenly, almost like magic, the sails, which had been completely flat for the past three days, inflated with a first timid gust. After a few minutes, we were already sailing, slowly but making progress with 15 knots of wind. It was 8:00 PM. I told the crew, "I have my own gods," and then added, "and they work at Playa Ancha for all of us."
It was time for communication with Playa Ancha Radio, so I took the opportunity to thank "my gods" and congratulate them on the accurate wind forecast, Bravo Zulu!
Deck prayers were part of the daily routine, whether to give thanks or ask for something from the ancestors. Lynn invited us to form a circle, and while holding hands, he spoke words in the Rapa Nui language aloud. I myself do not profess any religion; however, I believe in the spirit of the human being, which transcends earthly life as we know it. Just as humans have been capable of great atrocities recorded in various chapters of our history, there have also been numerous examples of our greatness. Our very survival is a result of it, and our ability to dream and pursue our dreams is also a product of our virtues.
Throughout the journey, Hoko and Lynn have been working on composing music and a dance (Haka or Hoko in Rapa Nui) that we will have to perform upon our arrival. This performance will, in some way, tell the story of the navigation we were undertaking. This is an example of how stories and knowledge are passed down in Rapa Nui culture. As soon as we could, we began practicing the dance, which was a very engaging performance with catchy and beautiful music. We had to loosen up our bodies, balance through movement, and coordinate with each other. At first, it was challenging for me to remember the sequences, but it started to take shape. Practices took place every day for about an hour at around 8:00 PM. We practiced until the day before our arrival.
When planning the navigation track, I had various elements in mind. I mainly considered the winds, which are essential for moving toward the goal. I also made sure to introduce several milestones; this would allow us to set goals and partial achievements that, like the steps we take while walking, would eventually lead us to reach the final goal.
The island “Salas y Gómez”, named by the Spanish navigator who discovered it (Salas) and by the navigator who later explored and raised it (Gómez), represents a sacred site for the Rapa Nui people. It is said that the God Haua lived there and that he would have given the birds to the God Make Make to take them to Rapa Nui.
None of us on the crew had been to the islet. Very few people have had that privilege, so when Lynn found out that we were planning to pass by him, she was excited and asked me to stop and let him swim in place. Due to its importance in the mythology of Rapa Nui, I immediately understood that for Lynn and the island crew, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I would not have been able to prevent them. I only asked them, given that there was abundant fauna around the island, including sharks, that once in the water they be careful not to move more than three meters from the boat.
The approach to the islet is very interesting. The first thing you see is a lighthouse that, due to its colors (red and white), stands out clearly on the horizon and also looks much larger than it is.
Then, as we get closer, the rocky promontory, only 30 meters high, 700 meters long and about 200 meters wide, begins to appear. The depth around the islet is approximately 3500 meters. It is a gigantic hill (perhaps an extinct volcano) in which there is no vegetation, only stone balls. We approached from the northeast side, the side protected from the waves, to a distance of about 150 meters and we stayed there so they could jump into the water. Of the islanders, only Miti, Lynn and Herbert jumped into the water, quite nervous as we saw numerous reef sharks at the bottom of the place. After they had indulged themselves, during which the rest of the crew remained vigilant and attentive, they climbed aboard and we circled the island completely so we could get a good look at it. After an hour, satisfied and happy, we continued our journey towards Rapa Nui, we had passed the last scheduled milestone.
As soon as we left the Motu Motiro Hiva island, we observed that a boat was sailing back and appeared on the horizon. We communicated by radio and he let us know that it was a fishing boat from Rapa Nui that was fishing in the area.
When they found out that it was the Kuini Analola, they asked to meet with us to be able to greet the crew. Half an hour later, we were moored alongside the small fishing boat. Their crew, of course, known to our entire crew on board, was filled with enthusiasm and happiness at being the first on the island to receive the Kuini Analola. After half an hour of lively conversation, catching up on all the island's news and sharing stories of our experiences, we said our goodbyes and continued our journey.
We had a fairly limited amount of fuel. The advantage of using it was that we could make progress; however, using it earlier wouldn't have put us in a better position than before—it wouldn't have added any value. That's why I had not wanted to use the engine before reaching Motu Motiro Hiva. Now the situation was different because, even though we still didn't have enough to reach the island, it would bring us closer to the Rapa Nui sailboat, Nanaku, which was coming with fuel to meet us. This fuel would allow us to control our progress and, consequently, the arrival time. When we were roughly 80 miles from the island and had only two liters of fuel in the tank, we spotted the sailboat.
After a few minutes, we moored alongside it. After the customary hugs and greetings, we transferred the fuel and continued our journey, this time using the engine. The ceremony was scheduled for 9:00 the next day, but I wanted to arrive quickly so that the crew could rest during the night. One alternative would have been to reduce our speed and arrive at Anakena at the time of the ceremony, but the people's anxiety at this moment was such that they were all on deck, scanning the horizon in search of the island. None of them would have been able to rest, and they couldn't stop talking.
At sunset we could see to the east the typical cloud cover of the island; it was Rapa Nui that appeared on the horizon. Little by little as the luminosity of twilight gave way to night, the luminosity of Hanga Roa began to be seen above the clouds that covered it.
The moment was filled with a lot of emotion; more than one shed a tear when they saw that this two-year project was concluding an important phase, and this adventure that took us 27 days was coming to a successful end. Hours of obvious excitement passed on board; no one wanted to miss the approach to the island. Now I believe that if I had chosen to slow down and make landfall the next day, I would have risked being thrown into the water along with my humble belongings.
We had passed the promontory of El Poike, and the lights of vehicles circulating on the island could be clearly seen. Since I was unfamiliar with the place and we didn't have the appropriate chart, I asked Hoko for guidance. He knew these places perfectly. My idea was to anchor at La Perouse, a bay near Anakena, where we could spend the night in tranquility. We faced unfavorable northeast wind and sea conditions that were directly hitting the island's coast, making it challenging to approach at night. We tried to enter La Perouse, but at a moment when I felt I lacked the necessary control, given the poor conditions, I decided to abort the entry and head directly to Anakena, which was more spacious. There, we could anchor at the bay's entrance. In Ovahe, there is a lighthouse that serves as the only reliable reference to navigate in the conditions we were in. With the lighthouse abeam, I could identify the southeast point of Anakena, where we needed to anchor. We approached until I realized we were at the bay's entrance. We had about 15 meters to starboard, where the breakers were clearly visible, and about 20 meters to port, the other point... at that point, we dropped anchor.
From our position, we could clearly see large fires along the beach. There was a lot of activity with people working on preparations for our reception the next day. Everyone except Benjamin and I, who stayed on guard duty, went to sleep. Suddenly, Lynn appeared in a swimsuit and told me he wanted to swim to shore. I looked into his eyes, trying to clearly understand what was happening, and I thought, "This is a special world, and people, who are all special, do special things." I asked him if he was sure about what he was doing, and when he responded affirmatively, I simply said, "Be careful!" With that, he jumped overboard, and we could only follow him with flashlights until he climbed onto the rocks on the shore. When he returned two hours later, he informed me and went to rest. We took over the watch duty and handed over the guard so that we could rest as well.
Four hours later, before dawn, we weighed anchor and started the engine to leave the bay. Outside there was a bit of rough seas, and we finished tidying up the deck.
We planned the entrance while everyone began to put on their traditional clothing. Lynn and I were very worried about stranding right at 09:00, which was the scheduled time for the ceremony. We still had a couple of hours, which we used to prepare quietly. When it was already 08:30 and we were ready. We turned around and headed into the bay. The wind was light and just out of the bay, which would allow us to enter under sail. We saw people on the beach and boats that came out to meet us. A few meters before, as we had agreed, Herbert throws the anchor over the stern and the rest of the crew lowers the sails in a beautiful, perfectly coordinated maneuver. Excited screams of people on the beach, music and beautiful Polynesian dances, Maori dances and warrior simulations. Next we did our performance on board, which was warmly acclaimed by the attendees. When the songs began to be repeated and they continued dancing without entering into the speeches or going ashore, we realized that something was happening with the time... we were killing time. We did not know that during our navigation, winter time had been adopted and had gone back one hour. After so much worry about arriving just in time, we beached at 08:00 sharp, an hour before the ceremony.
It was enough to fill in and appeal to the creativity of those who were there. The delay was also positive because when it was time to go ashore, the contained emotions were unleashed and everything was very nice, especially exciting for the crew and loved ones.
The feeling I had when I went ashore was one of great excitement and great relaxation, finally we were there and the mission was accomplished. Mario and his entire family were also there.
They were big, warm hugs with water up to our knees... it didn't matter getting wet or wallowing in the waves, we were already there and we had to celebrate. They placed flower necklaces on all of us as a welcome, what a beautiful custom.
The ceremony continued at Ahu Hucke, a place we walked to from the beach. There were already many people, perhaps 300 people who surrounded us in this sacred place. After the speeches of the attending local leaders, the Minister of Cultures and each of the crew members, a rock brought from Chiloé was placed on the Ahu, as is the custom of travelers who come from distant places. . We then walked to the Ahu Nau Nau where eyes were put on one of the moai so the ancestors could see what was happening, beautiful symbolism. It was a fantastic moment, full of emotion and energy.
After the dances and rituals, a commemorative rock, engraved with the name of the vessel and a relief of it, was set up as an offering to mark the arrival of the Kuini Analola. The minister, in her words, highlighted that from that date, April 27th would be officially recognized as the Day of Ancestral Navigation in Chile. These ceremonies led to a grand "curanto," where attendees could share and enjoy food. At that point, I couldn't go on any longer; my legs were trembling, and I was overwhelmed by a level of fatigue I had never experienced before. I confess that all I wanted was a hot shower and to sleep in a clean, dry place that didn't move. Later, I would arrive at the hotel where I could bathe and rest. What a way to enjoy that rest.
During the week I spent on the island, we were treated with hospitality and recognition. Additionally, I had the fortune of continuing to meet wonderful people. When I had the opportunity, I fulfilled the commitment I had made to personally return the items that the Navy had lent us. Furthermore, I wanted to deliver a letter, a copy of which is attached, expressing my gratitude to the institution and its support, to the then Commander in Chief of the First Naval Zone and today's Commander in Chief of the Navy, Admiral Mr. De la Maza.
I had already fulfilled my commitment to help Lynn and his people achieve their dream. As I knew at the moment of accepting this commitment, it was an extraordinary privilege for me, a unique experience that I will remember with great fondness throughout my life.
Lynn Rapu Tuki - Empresario, Músico
Maherenha Ika Melín (Hoko) - Pescador, Músico
Benjamín Carlinati Tuki – Empresario
José Belisario Rapu Tuki (Hopo) - Músico
Claudio Ramírez - Empresario
Serafina Moulton - Profesora de lenguas
Vaimiti Peña Teao - Estudiante
Herbert Hasse Paté - Estudiante
Felipe Castro - Fotógrafo
Raúl Zapata – Oficial de Marina (R), Ingeniero, Capitán
My special thanks to Lynn Rapu Tuki of the Ao Tupuna Foundation and Mario Carabelli Zapata of Muelle ASIMAR Quintero, for inviting me to participate in this adventure and for allowing others to dream.
To my brothers from Rapa Nui… ¡Maururu, Iorana Korua!