A revival of traditional Polynesian sailing in the service of the environment of the biosphere reserve in Fakarava!


The project

The Va'a Motu association created for the project of the same name aims to build a first sailing canoe to revive a maritime lost tradition while serving environmental interests. This boat will be available for the biosphere reserve of Fakarava to conduct scientific studies. An educational program will allow children of the atoll to share the construction of the canoe to sail as their grandparents did in the past. They will learn about science, biodiversity, boat construction and navigation.

The ambitions of the project va'a motu are wide so to be durable we need financial support. The complete file is downloadable at this address : Va'a Motu complete file





© Ben Flao


Sails has completely disappeared from Polynesian lagoons more than half a century ago for the benefit of the engine and gasoline. In many ways, the revival of traditional sailing, promises to be a dynamic multi-faceted project.




Polynesians - descendants of the first seamen



Tahitian canoe Faafaite is a replica of the old double-sailing-canoe.


The people who left Southeast Asia, 5 000 to 6 000 years ago, have certainly made ​​the greatest adventure navigation in the history of mankind: thereby more than ten thousand islands were populated, remoted sometimes by distances of 4,000 miles away. These Austronesian speaking people ​​had their own fishing technical and transported with them their plants. More importantly, the tool of their fabulous conquest was the large outrigger canoe or double hulls which, supported by elaborate navigation techniques, including astral, allowed the establishment of trading complex networks across the west Pacific Islands. These contacts between the settled Melanesian groups and the Austronesians groups started from 3000 years BC in the area between the Bismarck Archipelago (northeast of New Guinea) and the Solomon Islands. The Austronesian groups reached around 1300 BC, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji and finally around 1150 BC Tonga and Samoa. Nearly a thousand years later, these people from the Austronesian strains will be at the origin of the Polynesian culture as techniques of shipbuilding and navigation more efficient, essential parameters for the colonization of islands in the eastern part of the Pacific, sometimes separated by far superior distances to those of the Melanesian area.






A biosphere sanctuary ?

It is a zone including a special terrestrial and marine ecosystem recognized by UNESCO




The Fakarava biospheres sanctuary > 7 atolls in the Tuamotu s islands

Fakarava, protected atoll, with the six neighboring islands (Aratika, Kauehi, Niau, Toau, Raraka et initialement Tairao) take part of the biosphere sanctuary.


The goal of biosphere sanctuaries ?


Conciliate nature conservation and human development. How to maintain the ecosystem?


With continuous monitoring, training, education and research, while promoting economic and social development based on a management style that combines conservation and enhancement of natural resources.







The Tuamotu Archipelago (Tahiti - French Polynesia) is composed of 78 islands with a total area of ​​900 km2 emerged land. These islands are all atolls and are included between 14 ° and 24 ° south latitude and between 134 ° and 148 ° west longitude on a maritime area of ​​20,000 km2. Although often isolated, they are inhabited by a population of 11,000 inhabitants in 16 major towns and 31 municipalities. The atoll of Rangiroa is the largest, Fakarava follows it. Tuamotu means in Tahitian 'offshore islands‘. The archipelago is located east of Tahiti. The people of the Tuamotu are called Paumotu, this word also refers to the local language.  

Except the humans, the fauna consists mainly of birds, insects and some reptiles. There are only 57 species of birds, of which 10 are endemic and 13 are threatened. However, the seabed is exceptionally rich. Lagoons are full of life, with more than 400 species of fish swarming these magical places. This variety has raised Tuamotu as one of the finest destinations in the world for scuba diving. The crystal clear waters allow to cultivate black pearls, the first economic resource in Polynesia with tourism.





© Ben Flao


In general, Tuamotu, especially Tuamotu west are in the flow of trade winds sector. The easterly winds (which can vary from NE to SE) dominate (70-80%) and calms are rare. Tuamotu are largely subject to winds !  






Manuel Varas, 90 years old man, is the dean of the atoll. He has been shot here with a picture of canoe made ​​in the sixties. The ancients knew the traditional sailing on the lagoon. They sailed with their parents to go fishing or to carry the coconuts. They are essential to the educational project  for young people as they tell the time of the sailing craft which were the pride of Paumotu. In order that this unique maritime heritage is not lost, Va'a Motu attaches great importance to the transmission of this knowledge between generations of the atoll. The ancients are the living memory of Va'a Motu !



AXEL Tokoragi, a great partner !


A passionate and exciting seaman. 47 years in the Merchant Navy around the world. Mr. TOKORAGI recalls with emotion fishing scenes while sailing the lagoon with his father.

Born in Fakarava, he becomes directly a technical project partner, providing to Va'a Motu a field in the village of Fakarava to set up the yard of the sailing canoe.



On the left, Teraupoo Richmond, is one of the last manufacturers of traditional sailing canoes. He is also a great sailor and repeatedly won the Heiva regatta. Coming from a family of Paumotu shipowners from the atoll of Kaukura, his reputation in the traditional boats community is well established ! He acts on the project as a consultant for the achievement of the canoes and will help on the site of Fakarava alongside Alexandre. "I'm all heart with Va'a Motu. It is a beautiful cultural and environmental initiative! "

On the right, formers meeting to talk about the shape of the sailing canoe.



The ancients, with their memories built together a model to help the architect to draw the plans.






The first canoe of Va'a Motu project will be available for the Fakarava Biosphere Reserve (MAB) in order to conduct scientific studies in the lagoon, a world novel! Measuring 9 meters, it will be built in strip planking (shell lathed wood, laminate). It is equipped with a rechargeable solar electric motor.         Carbon emissions =  Zero % !




A shipyard will be set up next to the biosphere reserve office on the village square. The population will follow day after day the progression of the construction. Like in the pasts « good old days » when the construction of a canoe was part of everyday life of an atoll. Two or three young people of the atoll will be trained in the construction of sailing canoe. The canoe will comply with the codes of ancient naval architecture but with a modern touch (materials and construction techniques). The ancients, the builder and the architect working all together on the specifications. The canoe will be an example to follow in terms of project for other atolls and will also allow to see again, a traditional boat sail regularly, which is the social and cultural objective of the project. Finally, the boat will be registered in the first category with maritime services in order to make navigation between atolls of the Tuamotu’s in July 2014. This will serve to spread the message of the project through the Tuamotu Archipelago and set out to meet the inhabitants of the closest atolls. A beautiful maritime adventure ahead!  






Marc and his partner and friend Vincent Lauriot Prévost create in 1983 the now famous naval architecture firm VPLP. They design the famous catamaran craft (Lagoon, Douce France ...) but their best-known works are the ocean racing multihull (the fastest sailing boats in the world!) Some examples from a list that seems endless: Primagaz Laurent Bourgnon, winner of the Route du Rhum in 1994 and 1998. Pierre 1er Florence Arthaud. USA 17, winner of the 33rd America's Cup. Recently : Groupama 3 and Banque Populaire V, two maxi trimarans winners of Jules Verne Trophy, a challenge rewardind the fastest around the word sailing with a crew​​, nonstop and unassisted on a distance of 21,760 nautical miles. VPLP is a firm specializing in multihulls and Marc admits to regularly use a book that lists all the traditional canoes of Pacific peoples, true ancestors of boats designed by VPLP. It is a valuable source of inspiration for the achievement of his plans. It was therefore natural for Marc to join the Va'a Motu project. So he wants before anything that the ancients of Fakarava decide themselves, through their memories, the type of boat to be built. The ancients will therefore provide a canoe model they designed and detailed specifications for Marc. He will carry out the plans that will enable the boat to have a reliable construction and have all the authorizations from the Maritime Affairs to navigate and make the various programs associated with the project.






Build sailing canoes since 10 years in Tahiti.

Progressively, he has acquired a real expertise and rigor in shipbuilding. He combines modernity while preserving the traditional Polynesian architectural codes. His canoes are beautiful, some do not hesitate to call them true "gems"! In 2010, Hiria Otino spots him in Tahiti on the show “Made In Fenua” (Made in Tahiti) where he exposes an outrigger canoe and a strip planking Va'a Hoe (tahitian paddle canoe monoseat). Hiria asked him to be the foreman of the canoe O'Tahiti Nui Freedom which was intended to sail between Tahiti and Shanghai! He accepts. The boat is made of wood, she is 50 feet long (15 meters), and takes five months to launch her !

A Polynesian crew leaves from Tahiti in July 2010. 107 days later, the boat arrived in Shanghai in immaculate condition despite a navigation full of storms and "ship breaking" seas. It is a success, the reputation of Alex is done! Early 2013, Alex meets Julien Girardot and together they set Va'a iti, the first sailing canoe building company in French Polynesia! They deliver a first boat, a Va'a Motu precisely at the Hotel Le Meridien Bora Bora, which becomes the first hotel in French Polynesia to offers its customers a 100% Polynesian water activity !





Right picture : the formers having the pose on a ancient sialing canoe.


From right to left (left picture).

Ato LISSANT (chairman) :


« I've always wanted to revive this forgotten tradition for many generations. Va'a Motu will allow us to regain some of ourcultural heritage in the purest respect for our environment.Back to our roots in this way is a real step forward for the Polynesians! »


Vaiete BODIN (secretary) :


« Being sensitive to issues related to the culture of Polynesia and its natural resources, I was strongly attracted to involvement in the project Va'a Motu because it brings together many aspects of Polynesian life that especially inspire me : the ancient art of navigation and construction, the Tuamotu islands including Fakarava that I am very attached, educational and social scopes of the project and finally its ambitions in science and environmental aspects. I strongly believe that this initiative would bring much to the Polynesian people to help them remember gestures and natural approaches of their origins.

Traditional navigation is a pride, a legacy of our culture and a great adventure. »  

Gahina BORDES (Treasurer) :


« The Va'a Motu project is very important to my heart for cultural and traditional reasons. This project will allow me to better understand our history and our maritime origins.

See sailing canoe be part again of the life of the Polynesians is a dream that is now possible with Va'a Motu! More, the environment, tourism and educational side is now perfectly related to our mind in the Tuamotus  ».


Julien Girardot (Vice-président) :


« When I first arrived in Fakarava, I felt in love this incredible shades of blue, but I was also surprised about the lack of traditional sailing in the lagoon.

The previous year, in the Indian Ocean during a report, I noticed that local fishermen work without engine, with the wind as a help.

My meeting with Ato is primarily a story of friendship and we wish to revive here today the maritime tradition by sharing it with the population so that it reclaims some of its own history.








A wide educational program was established with the primary school of Fakarava.

The children will play workshops around the project. Construction, navigation, exchange with the ancients, awareness of their environment are the highlights points.

Scientists will also exchange with the kids about the results of there works.

Each teacher set up a special program by classes according to the age of the students.






A novel technology for the preservation of the environment !


« Watch and measure an entire atoll is not easy. However, with the miniaturization of technology and the development of the digital image, we plan to adapt to the Va'a Motu some scientific equipment which could help with the solar energy to become an independent scientific tool of research. The SurVa'a (Va'a monitoring) can produce maps of shallow seabed and etablish photographs bank image of the inhabitants, measuring physical parameters of the water and thus provide accurate 3D maps of the atolls where sail.

This world premiere scientific hopefully pave the way for a fleet of SurVa'a able to monitor Polynesian atolls and reefs to protect them »                                                                                                


Dr Emmanuel G.Reynaud -Integrative Biology laboratory

University College - Dublin




Emmanuel Reynaud poses in the dry lab aboard the research vessel TARA.

The dry lab is a single small room full of measurement equipment and imaging (cytometers, FlowCAM, microscopes ...) which he is the coordinator.







Specialists in scientific imaging to list Wildlife lagoon of Fakarava

Emmanuel Reynaud (previous page) has assembled a team of scientists on a first mission in 2014 aboard the sailing canoe Va'a Motu. They will map the lagoon in 3D but also inventory / list the various species that inhabit this ecosystem (plankton, micro-organisms .... Identify marine life by the image, organisms are photographed such as stars under the flashes of Eric Rottinger and Aldine Amiel, two photographers from the collective Kahi Kai wich are also marine biologists.

Kahi Kai is a bank of images for marine science and education wich permanently expand, but also for professionals in advertising, marketing and media world.

Emmanuel Reynaud and Kahi Kai will perform, with their respective imaging techniques, a proper inventory of the lagoon of Fakarava. 4 weeks will be required for this study, whose results will also serve to facilitate and guid the future other scientific missions.

In partnership with UMR (Mixed Research Unit - Pacific Island Ecosystems), a study will be conducted obout sea cucumbers to evaluate the stocks and their distribution inside the lagoon. The sea cucumber is a new source of income for local fishermen who sell to the Chinese market. No studies have been conducted so far.








Performing a 52-minutes documentary for TV channels.

Presentation in various festivals devoted to adventure and travel films.


Editing a beautiful book of photographs, drawings and texts on the Va'a Motu project.                 


Press : regular realeses in the french nautical magazine Voiles & Voiliers. Local press.

Article in the press magazine based on drawings of Ben Flao.

Broadcast pictures of Julien Girardot through the server of the International photographers groupment Sea & Co > An efficient network to communicate. Sea & Co SERVER HERE


Social networks allow everyone to monitor and highlights of the Va'a Motu project. Permanent visibility for Partners. A dynamic growing Facebook page.


Exhibitions : Publicly Introduce the project. Carry the message that projects like this one add to others with the same spirit will may bring a better future for the planete earth.






For the last three weeks of construction and to the launching of the canoe, Ben Flao, a talented artist will be present to capture the life of the project, its players, the life of the atoll.

His drawings will result in the publication of a book and travel articles in magazines. He will also work with the children of the atoll on drawing workshops with the theme of the environment, sailing canoes ...

Make room for art to communicate with sensitivity, a strong wich of the  Va'a Motu project !






Julien is the photographer of the project but also vice-president and coordinator of the Va'a Motu non profit. Member of the collective of photographers Sea Sea & Co, Julien brings to the project his photographic experience and network in media / publishing.









October : associative weekend party in Fakarava. introduction to sailing for children. Event sponsored by EDT (GDF SUEZ)

December : Official presentation of the project on Tahiti stand at the Paris Boat Show




January-March : Construction of the canoe Va'a Motu for scientific, educational and tourism programs within the biosphere reserve of Fakarava

May / June : Mapping the lagoon, scientific studies on sea cucumbers (assessment and distribution of the stock).

July to mid-September : Great awareness navigation with the sailing canoe in the Tuamotu Archipelago

October-December : Photography / drawings Exhibition in Papeete on the Va'a Motu project. Presence of the sailing canoe of the project for the inauguration.

November : Start of construction of six small canoes for create a traditional sailing school.




February-April : Launch of small canoes and creating a sailing school traditional.

All year: scientific, educational and tourism programs with

the big canoe.

June : Organization of a sailing event on the calendar of the Polynesian Ministry of Youth and Sports).

AR south pass / pass north 3/4 days. Bivouac in the motu ...

October / November : Reflection and study about transportation of FRET between Tahiti and Tuamotu islands.

December : construction of a schooner sailing for FRET links between Tahiti andTuamotu















Why fund it?

Our collection will be used for the construction part of the project. Our budget is not complete to build the boat so we need your support to fund the purchase of raw material ! Dear Kissbankers, there are no small contributions and thanks to everyone in advance for your wonderful gesture! Here are the details of these purchases:


Cost of Materials:

the wood

€ 3,000


Resin, hardner

€ 1,500



€ 1,500


supplies (brushes, sandpaper, latex gloves ...)

€ 2,000  


A small portable air conditioning to control humidity and temperature during phases of resin because it is very hot in the Tuamotu in January!

€ 800


collection fees

€ 1,200


Join us in the adventure Va'a Motu and share with us some of this Polynesian dream !

Association Va'a Motu

The association Va'a Motu is the result of a meeting between Ato a native and resident of Fakarava, owner of the guesthouse Paparara and Julien Girardot (Saint Malo in Brittany), freelance photographer in the marine environment. Julien came to visit these magical place in the hope of making a report on the last sailing fishermen of Polynesia. Alas, the... See more

Newest comments

Je découvre ce projet un peu tard mais je le soutiens !!!
Aloha nui and Iaorana! I would like to help more with this project. Perhaps I can help with my photography skills. Please contact me if I can help in editing or photographs. -Shane Baeuerlen RaijinPhoto.com
Merci Nicolas pour ta participation !!! On est à 13 % grâce à toi ! 13 un chiffre qui porte chance ? ;)