One with the ocean

Iva Nancy Vunikura. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

When Iva Nancy Vunikura is out at sea she is simply one with the ocean. The Gau lass is the first woman to have sailed more than 70,000 nautical miles on a traditional canoe which is equivalent to three expeditions round the world.

She has sailed through the world’s ocean to promote traditional and sustainable sailing. Ms Vunikura was part of the Round Table on Ocean’s 4 Life: Heroines du Pacifique at the French ambassador, Jean Francois Fitou’s , residence in Suva last Wednesday.

The event marked the 10th Conference on nature conservation and protected areas and also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Ms Vunikura, alongside four other voyagers from the Pacific, shared their experience on sailing during the Zoom session.

She said even though at times sailing in the open ocean could be scary, it was something she loved and would continue to do through her ocean advocacy work.

She said everyone needed to protect the ocean. Ms Vunikura learned the ropes of sailing when she joined Uto ni Yalo as a young ocean enthusiast.

She later joined the Okeano’s Foundation doing relief work and has been an ocean voyager since. Today she sails with the Drua Experience team.

She said during her 10 years of sailing, she has had to overcome some gender barriers. One of those barriers was having to sail a canoe at Yap Island in Micronesia.

“It was hard to blend in at Yap and I had to ask a chief if I could sail with the men there,” she said.

“I broke through a barrier over there because as a woman I was allowed to sail with the men.”

On her recent voyage, Ms Vunikura has just returned from Lau. She and her Drua crew returned two weeks ago after a long intensive voyage.

The round table discussion on Ocean’s 4 Life: Heroines du Pacifique allowed traditional voyager Iva Nancy Vunikura to also share her experience on her recent voyage to Lau last month.

“The Lau trip wasn’t an easy voyage because it simply reminded us of how our forefathers sailed those waters in their traditional canoes,” and emotional Ms Vunikura said.

“We just want to give them back the honour of being able to do it many years ago.” She said it was a special moment because after 100 years a traditional drua was seen sailing through the Lau waters.

She said on Lau her team did research on traditional canoe building and learned about traditional sailing from the villagers.

“To sail through Lau in a traditional drua was always part of my bucket list and now I have crossed that off my list,” she said.

On having that ancestral voyaging connection, Ms Vunikura said she felt that the ocean protected her just like how it protected her ancestors during those long voyages.

Also part of the roundtable discussion was oceania women voyagers from Samoa, French Polynesia, Hawaii and Tonga via Zoom.

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