Traversing the oceans with nature, Jack Thatcher’s only guide
After 30 years and almost 50,000 nautical miles at sea using only nature’s clues to guide him, Jack Thatcher admits his incredible voyaging days are numbered.
But as one of only a handful of master navigators in the Pacific, Thatcher still has much to do – entrusting an almost-lost ancient art to a new generation of young sailors, with a modern-day message.
Thatcher, 55, is passing on his knowledge of waka voyaging and celestial navigation to young Maori. It’s an education he hopes not only instills a sense of pride in what their ancestors achieved, but also an insight into their own role to help the future of the world’s oceans.
“Our new voyagers will need to carry messages of sustainability to the world. Our oceans cannot now sustain these levels of human neglect and greed. If our oceans die, so do we,” he says.
Thatcher has seen first-hand changes to the waters of the Pacific, ever since he was a crew member on the maiden voyage of Te Aurere, the waka hourua (double-hulled canoe) which famously sailed to the Cook Islands in 1992 by traditional wayfaring techniques.
He lives by the water, too. Of Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Porou and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti descent, Thatcher has called Tauranga home for all but five years of his life, when he was a boarder at Auckland’s Hato Petera College. He loved every minute of his education, and was quickly recognised for leadership roles, including head prefect.
“My childhood in the late ’60s and early ’70s was a wonderful time, growing up around our marae with the rest of my five siblings. My mum and dad were loving parents, and my older brother and I got to spend a lot of time working for Dad in his bush forestry gang,” he says. His upbringing instilled in him humility, leadership and “service to your people”, which he shares in his teaching today.
After a stint as an Army officer and a manager at a local freezing works, he was introduced to celestial navigation at the age of 32. Revered waka builder Hekenukumai (Hector) Busby encouraged him to train in celestial navigation – a moment Thatcher calls life-changing.
He became one of only a handful of master navigators across the Pacific, learning to navigate by the sun, moon, stars and horizon, in Hawaii and Micronesia. Among his teachers was the late Mau Piailug, from the tiny Micronesian island of Satawal, who was recognised as the “grandmaster” of celestial navigation.
In 2012, Thatcher was chief navigator of the Waka Tapu project – two waka hourua sailing over 10,000 nautical miles from Aotearoa to Rapanui (Easter Island) and Tahiti; an epic voyage which spanned nine months.
He’s naturally fostered a respect for the volatile sea, having experienced fearsome cyclones and storms during his many expeditions. “Thanking God, good preparation and strong capable leadership means we haven’t lost lives in almost 30 years of sailing,” he says.
His young charges are taught that being physically strong is a bonus, but having a “good head on their shoulders” can be the difference in making a great voyage.
The biggest buzz Thatcher gets from teaching is seeing young Maori take so much joy from being a voyager.
“Heritage can be a great motivator for people who’ve only seen hardship in their lives,” he says. “When statistics show you that your people are at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, leading in all negative stats, it’s hard to hold your head up. Waka is a great vehicle for allowing Maori to be proud of who they are.”
Goodness provides us strength, and strength gives us self-belief to follow our own path.
Reposted from stuff.co.nz, February 11, 2016