Lapita Voyage

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Lapita Voyage: first expedition by two traditional double canoes following the migration route of the ancient Polynesians

Official Lapita Voyage Website:

The 'Lapita Voyage' began in the first week of November 2008, when two 38ft double canoes, designed by James Wharram Designs, based on an ancient Polynesian canoe hull-form and built in the Philippines, set out on a 4,000Nm voyage along the island chains of the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomons.

Their destination was Anuta and Tikopia, two tiny, remote islands at the Eastern end of the Santa Cruz Islands, where the boats arrived in mid March 2009 and were donated to the islanders for their future inter island voyaging.

The 'Lapita Voyage' was a major expedition in Experimental Marine Archaeology. It was the first exploration by Ethnic sailing craft of one possible migration route into the Central Pacific. The voyage was made entirely under sail without motors, using traditional Polynesian crab claw sails and steering paddles.

A Major Scientific Expedition

On parts of the voyage the boats were joined by researchers, experts in various study fields, who realised that 'the voyaging canoe' is the 'Base Factor' in Pacific migration studies and hence the best platform to do their studies from. Hundreds of DNA samples of domestic animals were collected along the route to study their origins and hence the origins of the people that brought them.

The Lapita Voyage, led by German, Dutch and English, with its unique opportunities for research, was a major scientific expedition, but also a fantastic sailing adventure. The two boats met squalls, storms and days of calms. They sailed without engines or escort boat in the remote seas of the Pacific.

Arrival At The Islands

The arrival in Tikopia and Anuta was a momentous experience for both the islanders, who had been looking forward to this event for several years, as well as the crew after 5 months of hard sailing. Landing through the surf on Anuta, followed by celebrations with traditional dancing, can be experienced through this clip from the feature length film.

The full length film is now available to watch online for free.

The Boats

The double canoes were designed by James Wharram and Hanneke Boon, who in 1995 discovered in Auckland Memorial Museum a 9m Tikopian outrigger canoe with a beautiful V-eed hullshape, which they instantly recognized as being capable of sailing to windward. This 'Sacred Canoe' had been in the museum since it was donated by Chief Taumako of Tikopia in 1916, when the island adopted the Christian religion. No-one in 80 years had recognized the importance of this canoe hullshape to the study of the sailing abilities of Polynesian ships. The boats for the Lapita Voyage were designed using this hullshape.

Two double canoes on the sea
Lapita Anuta and Lapita Tikopia

The People

Sailing as the 'Admiral' on Lapita Anuta the 'English' boat of the expedition, was the internationally renowned catamaran designer James Wharram, the British pioneer of catamaran design, who was the first man to sail West - East across the North Atlantic by catamaran in 1959. At the age of 80, sailing on this voyage, plagued by extremely arduous weather conditions, was a feat of endurance for him, but was also the culmination of his life's work of over 50 years in catamaran design.

Skipper of the Lapita Anuta was Hanneke Boon, the Dutch design partner of James. The idea of donating the boats to the islands was her 'vision' in 2005 after a serious heart-valve replacement operation. The 'German' boat Lapita Tikopia, was skippered by Klaus Hympendahl, an ocean sailor and well known German yachting author, who also organized the sailing schedule, route planning and crew.

James Wharram and Klaus Hympendahl
James Wharram and Klaus Hympendahl
Hanneke Boon at the helm
Hanneke Boon


Many firms donated materials and equipment to this charitable project, but the major part of the money for building the boats and sailing the voyage was raised by Klaus Hympendahl through private donations by German sailors/enthusiasts who were given the chance to sail on one or more of the legs of the voyage.

Traditional Pacific Navigation

On Lapita Anuta the last 170Nm crossing of open ocean from Vanikoro to Anuta, a 2 ½ day voyage, was navigated by Tulano Toloa, a Polynesian from Tokelau, without any modern instruments or compass, using traditional Pacific navigation methods (stars, sun angle, swell patterns etc.). As a European instrument navigator Hanneke found this type of navigation extremely liberating, opening her perceptions to her surroundings, rather than looking inwards to instruments. Afterwards she was reluctant to go back to steering by compass!

An island in the distance, as seen from a double canoe
Approaching the island of Anuta

The Anutans are still skilled sailors and navigators and are able to navigate without instruments to islands 200-300 Nm away. They have 70 traditional dugout canoes on Anuta, the oldest nearly 200 years old, which are very well cared for. Their new double canoe Lapita Anuta, which has the same hull shape as their traditional outrigger canoes, will give them the opportunity for making longer voyages and passing on their navigation knowledge to the younger generation. Due to its remoteness very few ships call at Anuta, so the new double canoe is now their lifeline to other islands, giving them a chance to f.e. take sick people to the nearest hospital 250 Nm away, as the island has no doctor, nurse or clinic.

People talking and cooking on the deck of a double canoe

On 3rd June 2009 we received news that the Lapita Anuta made its first voyage of 280Nm from Anuta to Lata in Santa Cruz, via Tikopia and Vanikoro. There were 8 people on board, 4 crew and 4 passengers. They collected schoolbooks, biros and pencils for the Anutan children.

In October 2009 Lapita Anuta made a second voyage to Lata and back. This has been the start of successful voyaging by the Anutans and the Tikopians who have been using the boats for regular voyages to the Santa Cruz islands (capital Lata).

Lapita Voyage

Lapita Voyage Logs

Follow the entire voyage and the many interesting encounters and discoveries experienced by the crew with this collection of logs, from the launching of the boats right up to the arrival at their final destination at Tikopia and Anuta.