Successful first sail for Talita o le Lumanai

Samoa’s leadership trainees using the traditional voyaging canoe, the Gaualofa as their classroom have successfully sailed across Upolu’s north coast to Fagaloa Bay and back in just a week. 

Talita o le Lumanai, a programme organised by three Young Pacific Leaders to use traditional voyaging knowledge as a way to bring out leadership and environmental passion in Samoa’s youth, spent two months building towards this voyage.

They taught their 10 participants the basics of sailing, but also spent time exploring the impacts of climate change, and their role in the world before setting of on their first real trip out to sea.

Nathan Chong-Nee, project team leader alongside Tujumosairo Faataga and Michael Dyer said the sail was a big success.


After abandoning their original plan to voyage to American Samoa, journeying along the north coast “worked out as it was meant to.

“We had a really awesome variety of young people on board,” Mr. Chong-Nee said. 

“Some of them had the experience of sailing in the past a little bit, some had done international voyaging. Others were brand new, including me.”

The experienced sailors among the Talita o le Lumanai members included Samoa Voyaging Society members AJ Duffy, Josey Duffy and Jamal Tamasese.

Gaualofa Captain Kalolo Steffany and crew members sailed with the team and continued teaching them along the journey. Mr. Steffany said the sail ended with a very competent crew.

“You only need a couple of ingredients to come on the va’a,” he said.

“You need the stomach to handle it, and determination and eagerness to learn. I saw that in these guys.

“There were a lot of strangers on the va’a, they were strangers to each other. In between the time we set off and came back, we became cohesive as a unit, as a family.”


The new sailors especially learned to apply brand new skills under pressure and successfully sailed a large vessel, Mr. Steffany said proudly. For him, it was about helping the crew become confident in their abilities onboard.

“With what they are doing they are able to move this 13 tonne vessel in the water, and they are doing that themselves. 

“If I have confidence in you, then you must have confidence in you.”

AJ Duffy is an experienced sailor and applied for the program to think about the future, and of himself as a leader he said.

“Everyone had come from different places and different family.

“But when you come on the va’a it’s like one family, and you get to bond with everyone. We were sailing together as brothers and sisters, we get to share some stories and get to know the background of each and every one… and learn how to sail,” he said.

The Gaualofa can carry 16 crew members, and they live in close quarters. In the week onboard, the crew sailed from Apia to Saoluafata, then on to Fagaloa Bay, back to Mulifanua and home to Apia, all within the same few metres of each other.


Also on board was Momi Afelin, a research fellow from the Watson Foundation, an organisation established by the founder of IBM, to foster “humane and effective leaders”.  

Ms. Afelin is studying innovation in the Pacific Islands, and how growing up in a Pacific Island country influences a persons problem solving, social innovation and entrepreneurship.

She became involved with Talita o le Lumanai in order to observe how the Gaualofa worked to set the stage for leadership and environmental stewardship training, but quickly learned observing was going to be impossible.

“But it’s just not in the nature of being on the va’a to just observe, you have to get involved,” she said.

“I think in that sense it is a very immerse experience that I have been lucky to have, in terms of Samoan culture and the way people organise themselves.”

Sailing is a perfect environment for problem solving, Ms. Afelin learned. 

“I thought that was a unique way to teach leadership and a way that people used to learn leadership, rather than putting them in classroom.

“Sailing strips away all the luxuries that you are used to. You are in close quarters, it’s high stakes out on the open ocean with a lot going on at once and you are responsible for steering or making sure you are turning correctly.”


Not only that, being on the water transformed people in unexpected ways.

One participant arrived on the programme with no intention of swimming at all, saying he was scared of the water. But by the end of the voyage, it was impossible to get him out.

Mr. Chong-Nee said it was a pleasure to watch the participants grow in confidence, both in their sailing and in their manner.

“A lot of the young people really stepped up as leaders, like Jamal, Jay and Sose (Josey) with their sailing experience,” he said.

“They were really patient and good at explaining what we needed to do, what we needed to consider. 

“Momi, she was fairly new to sailing as well but she had a really good manner when it came to teaching new skills with the other participants.

“Everyone drew on their strengths, we all bought something to the va’a that was different.”

Each crew member got a chance to steer the Gaualofa by being in charge of the fo’e (rudder). For Mr. Chong-Nee, using the fo’e to guide the vessel into Fagaloa Bay way as a moving experience, he said.

“To have that much responsibility and that much trust from the captain and the crew and to have that much support, that will stand out to me for a long time. 

“It was really special seeing all of the young people having the opportunity to steer and to navigate, especially at night time, when the only markers you have are the stars and the wind. 

“You could really see them appreciating the moment and going into these things with a total openness and a total willingness to learn, to take on the advice they were getting from the captain and the elders.”


To close the first ever Talita o le Lumanai program, the crew will spend time reflecting on their journey not only across the island but from their first session together to their last, as well as work towards building the second such programme for more participants next year.

Mr. Chong-Nee said working with young people inspired him to build the programme. 

“Getting to know their hopes and dreams, and the things they have overcome and continue to covercome, I just felt it was really humbling to be part of their journey. 

“When I was younger I wasn’t necessarily the smartest or most confident person, and I am still not the most confident but sometimes we are thrust into these positions of leadership because we are passionate about these ideas and we are passionate about developing the potential of our young people.

“We are passionate about dealing with the critical issues we face in Samoa and in the region. That is what motivates us to work in these spaces.”

The Young Pacific Leaders Programme is funded by the U.S State Department. 


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