12 Sep 2013

Replica of old canoe will trace trade route by Spanish galleons

4:59 pm on 12 September 2013

A group of nine Chamorros are planning to retrace the path taken by their Spanish ancestors between 1600 and 1800 to arrive at the Marianas Islands.

The 40-day journey will take place as part of the Festival of Pacific Arts to be held in Guam in 2016, and will follow the Acapulco to Manila trade route.

The canoe's carver and captain, Mario Reyes Borja, says the 47-foot replica of a 'flying proa' will start its 7,600 nautical mile journey from San Diego, and finish in Guam.

MARIO REYES BORJA: We hope to leave on the first week of January of 2016 and complete a 40-day, 40-night journey that would take us from San Diego down to Mexico. We're going to caravan to Acapulco and make a courtesy visit because of our ancestral route. Many of those folks who are now on the island are part Mestizo, meaning that they come from Spain and perhaps Mexico. I am, for sure, a descendant of those people who followed the route of the spanish galleons. And we want to retrace that same old route, hoping that the ancestral spirits of our people, my elders, will be along with us.

MARY BAINES: And it's an old trade route that you're following, isn't it?

MRB: The Spanish galleons of old used the equatorial currents to assist them in their new journey from the new world through the Marianas and into the Philippines centuries ago. That's an old route, for sure.

MB: So you're the master carver of the canoe?

MRB: I am the lead canoe carver. I built several models to learn the sailing concerns, to understand the tooling requirements and indeed to build confidence in our craftsmanship that's required. It is made out of redwood, local wood from the California Sequoia National Forest. We obtained that wood in 2009 and used old tools to build it with so we can learn the rigours of building one.

MB: How many people will be on board?

MRB: We have a crew of nine. It takes four crew members to handle the canoe at any one time. We have four on duty and four off duty. The ninth person will be our navigator, so he'll have to figure out how to manage 24 hours.

MB: So how will you navigate your route?

MRB: Using the stars and the sun, the heavens, the flight of birds, and the wind and the currents to find our way. We will use GPS for sure as a last resort if things go crazy, and we hope with the blessings of our spiritual ancestors, to make it to the islands of the East Marianas, where the origin of this canoe came from.