Sailing on the world’s most sustainable ship
The Uto ni Yalo is a beautiful Polynesian sailing canoe designed with tradition and sustainability in mind.
Let me start by stating I’m not a boat person. My entire seafaring repertoire consists of two expeditions. There was the time I capsized in a canoe and another time when I got stuck in a tiny row boat on the Hudson River.
Nevertheless, even for a landlubber like me, it’s plain to see the Uto ni Yalo, or ‘heart of spirit’, is not your average boat. Which is why on a quiet, sunny afternoon on the tiny Fijian island of Leleuvia, I found myself hopping aboard to chat with various crew members before setting off on their next adventure.
Sustainable sailing specs
The Uto ni Yalo is a 72-foot double hulled canoe. It's one in a fleet of seven located around the Pacific built in 2010 by the German Philanthropist Dieter Paulmann with his Okeanos Foundation. The vessel is on a mission to protect the sea by spreading the art of traditional pacific sea voyaging with a clean energy twist. The boat mixes tired-and-tested Polynesian design like natural fiber ropes with contemporary building materials like e-glass and epoxy resin.
There is a strong emphasis on green technology too, with all voyages being completely carbon neutral. Tuks, one of the crew members since 2010 pointed out, ‘there’s not even a freezer on board.’ Aside from relying on the wind and water currents, there are two solar powered auxiliary engines to use during tricky maneuvering or when the winds died down.
Walking along the immaculate wooden deck I was immediately struck by a number of intricate carvings, lending the boat its uniquely pacific vibe. Tuks, who is also the master carver explained he created the giant sea monster under the rudder to stop crew ‘from slipping when they steer.’
Advocating for sustainable seas
The central Pacific has a rich history of seafaring and navigating without instrumentation. With rapid development taking place however, much of the tradition is being lost. Colin Philp, Manager at Leleuvia Island Resort (which works closely with the Uto ni Yalo) points out, ‘Fiji has become so reliant on fossil fuel powered outboards that we have forgotten our voyaging past and have not given our seafaring ancestors the respect they deserve.’
Through its voyaging, the Uto ni Yalo is slowly changing that. The canoe’s been sailing throughout the Pacific, having circumnavigated the globe a number of times. ‘We’ve been to New Zealand, French Polynesia, California, the Galapagos, Easter Islands and more,’ Tuks told me. Sometimes being stuck in storms for three weeks at a time! This is a seriously adventurous crew.
And all the while they promote local canoe building and sailing as a viable option for interisland sea transport and trade. Philp explains, the crew is made up of three full time paid crew and thirteen volunteer crew, for a total of sixteen. ‘We always sail with an even mix of males and females and in recent years the crew hals been mostly youth under the age of 25’.
The Uto ni Yalo is a powerful advocate for sustainable livelihoods from fishing to beach clean-ups and coral gardening, the crew does loads of outreach. In 2015, they partnered with the Wellington Chocolate Factory to sustainably transport over a ton of cocoa beans from Papa New Guinea to New Zealand. The following year the boat delievered over two tons of disaster relief supplies to communities hit by one of the strongest cyclones recorded in Fiji.
The crew also practices what it preaches. Lambert, the boat’s resident artist and chef told me on voyages they ‘only catch two-three fish per week’ to make sure they don’t overfish. Paired with the lack of fridge on board, it’s safe to say Lambert has his work cut out making truly sustainable meals for the crew of sixteen hungry sailors.
The Uto ni Yalo will continue to visit local communities to promote sustainability. According to the ship’s Captain, with so much plastic in the sea ‘there’s a big focus on beach clean-ups at the moment’.
Next week however the canoe will briefly bask in the limelight of television. It’ll be used in filming for the upcoming season of Survivor (France) in the Kadavu islands. The money earned from this will then be poured back into the Uto ni Yalo in July when it'll be hauled out of the sea and refitted. Keep your eyes peeled for it.