The Eco Challenge Canoe Project

The most significant artifact in the history of the Pacific is the outrigger canoe. The people of Oceania were craftsmen of a stone-age culture who successfully carried out what is considered a monumental human achievement in the migration and settlement over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, an ocean that covers more than one-third of earth’s surface. 

The workhorse of traditional Fijian canoe designs is the Camakau (pronounced Thamakau). Cama meaning “outrigger” and Kau meaning “wood”. The Camakau has a symmetrical main hull and an outrigger or float which is basically the most effective way to stabilise a dugout canoe. Camakau’s were the mainstay of any warrior fleet as they were maneuverable and were very fast in all conditions.

In 1840 a United States Naval Officer, C Wilkes, wrote of a Camakau of 30 metres in length that required 40 men to sail it. He stated, “Its velocity was almost inconceivable”

The canoes are 20 feet or 6.0 metres in length, with a sail area of 87 sq ft or 8.1 sq metres. They have been designed to get the maximum efficiency from a standard sheet of plywood. The universal size of a sheet of play is 8’ x 4’ or 2.4 x 1.2 metres. So the main hull uses exactly 6 sheets of ply and freeboard or depth of the canoe is exactly 2 feet or half the width of a sheet of ply.

There is built in buoyancy in both ends of the hull and the centre of the canoe. This ensures the canoes are practically unsinkable and tests carried out by the Eco Challenge Race team in March proved this.

Uto Ni Yalo Trust

Reviving Canoe Building

The Uto Ni Yalo Trust was formed in 2009 and has the mandate of over 120 voyaging families to advance sustainable sea transportation initiatives by rejuvenating traditional boat building, celestial way-finding & ocean voyaging. It’s flagship is considered one of the largest renewable energy sea craft in the Pacific Island region, the 72-foot solar and wind powered vessel called Uto ni Yalo (translates into Heart of the Spirit) which has voyaged to over 15 countries, and has covered over 50,000 nautical miles or greater than circumnavigating the globe twice. With Eco Challenge Fiji 2019 contracted to build 72 traditional sailing canoes, it provides a significant benchmark for making private sector partnerships work for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by supporting indigenous communities to preserve cultural knowledge as well as address country and regional level challenges to progress, specially low carbon sea transportation.


In a world where economies are judged by GDP and wealth is determined by our material possessions, young Fijians are increasingly losing their connection with the Ocean. This has meant a decreasing value placed on this incredible source of life. How can we protect and nurture the Ocean if we have lost this connection. Building these canoes will help build the bridge between the youth of today, our ancestors and the Ocean that sustains our communities.

In the words of the late Teresia Teaiwa, “We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that theocean is really in our blood.”

Team Leader

Uto Ni Yalo Trust

Tulia Nacola, a native of the Ra Province on the main island, Viti Levu, leads the canoe building team. She has been a wood worker most of her life and when the call came to work on this project, she jumped at it.

Tulia leads the day-to-day running of the workshop, checking on supplies, managing workflow and ensuring the crew is well looked after. As part of the project we have hired her sister, Queenie to provide 5 meals a day (including morning and afternoon tea break) for the crew.

Tulia also liaises with the two community youth groups contracted to supply 720 pieces ofbamboo for the canoe build. She sail has time to get her hands dirty and do what she loves best. This project is touching so many lives.

Having just written her first novel, “Strength of a Name” this project couldn’t have come along at a more opportune time.

 – available on Amazon 

Here is a newspaper article on her book launch


Legacy Building

At the conclusion of Eco Challenge, the Uto ni Yalo Trust has developed a guide that seeks to ensure the equitable distribution of these traditional sailing canoes – based on consultation with key traditional, civil society and policy leaders. These include:


1. Prioritizing distribution to those communities that participated in the construction phase. This will ensure its pride of ownership and maintenance.


2. Prioritizing those communities with an established marine reserve or Tabu area that seek to engage in eco-tourism business ventures which promote the preservation of their natural eco-systems through snorkeling and diving tours.


3. Ensure distribution to those remote communities, who are geographically outside the main island of Viti Levu that pay elevated prices for inconsistent supply for fossil fuels. This will ensure fishing families are able to earn a better profit for the fish having reduced their fuel usage


4. Establish a traditional sailing school to reintroduce voyaging to indigenous youth through a structured learning program that also has a dual role of advancing water safety and reducing national drowning rates


Each of the original canoe builders in this project have been earmarked to become Trainers and will be sent out to interested communities to set up similar canoe building set-ups. The Uto ni Yalo Trust is in discussion with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji to provide accreditation for local canoe builders and sailors. This will ensure that the traditional skills of our ancestors are once again recognised across the Pacific.


The Uto ni Yalo Trust is also in discussion with our sister Voyaging Societies in the region to ensure that this project may be up-scaled from community-level to national initiatives then harnessed as a catalyst for regional models on how to address low carbon sea transportation challenges in the archipelago.