“I jokingly tell people I was screaming. But I couldn’t tell you if I wasn’t.”
On the maiden voyage of the Te Aurere to Rarotonga in 1992, Jack Thatcher was a bug-eyed 30-year-old seeking adventure.
He’d never sailed a traditional seafaring waka before. Today he’s clocked up roughly 60–70,000 nautical miles by traditional means and has students to whom he’s passing on his knowledge.
Some of the best lessons he learnt are from the maiden voyage of Te Aurere.
“My first storm was something I’ll always remember. It’s a time when you can be at your lowest and have moments of absolute terror,” Jack recalls.
He was on the first shift of the day and master navigator Mau Piailug wanted to change course to north-west.
Not wanting to question Mau’s expertise, the crew changed course, but their support boat questioned this, noting that the weather updates from New Zealand recommended staying on an easterly course.
A debate ensued and the course was reset easterly for Rarotonga.
“Mau heard the response from the support boat and said: ‘They say I don’t know which way to go’,” Jack recalls vividly.
Not long after resetting their course, Mau told the crew to pull all the sails, tie all the gear to the side of the waka and set anchor. The crew were dubious about their instructions but reluctant to question the master navigator until curiosity got the better of one of them and he asked what they were doing.
“And Mau pointed to the clouds in the north-east and then to the south and said, ‘This one storm and this one storm come together and make big storm’.”
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