Today we have a guest blog from one of Gaiasdream’s friends, campaigner Simon Bradshaw.
Simon writes about the history of proas and why there’s life yet in this traditional and time-honoured design.
The first European explorers to reach the Pacific were astonished at the speed and agility of the native sailboats. Antonio Pigafetta, a crewman on Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition of 1519-1522, wrote how these peculiar craft would “change stern and bow at will …and resemble dolphins which leap in the water from wave to wave.” In 1686 William Dampier estimated that a proa’s speed sometimes exceeded 24mph. James Cook, who’s Endeavour, then the cream of European ships, was lucky to make 8 knots, was no less impressed.
Nonetheless, it took a further two centuries for Western academics to unravel the mystery of how the Pacific was first settled. Despite these early encounters, historians and anthropologists had vastly underestimated the sophistication of the islanders’ sailing technology, unaware among other things that these master navigators and boat builders had long ago cracked the problem of sailing into the wind.
Today proa refers to almost any boat with two unequal-length hulls. A proa does not tack but rather “shunts”, flipping its rig around to sail off in the other direction, always keeping the same hull to windward. While most associated with Micronesia, variations may be found as distant as Sri Lanka and Madagascar and from as far back as the first century CE. The Pacific alone is home to innumerable variations from tiny fishing canoes to giant voyaging craft built for inter-atoll travel. Some show extraordinarily advanced features, including asymmetric hull shapes designed to reduce leeway and create lift to windward.
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