The human spirit is so much stronger than even the toughest body. This photo is of Thomas Wynne, one of the crew members on the Marumaru Atua vaka – a traditional Cook Islands canoe – on which I sailed last week. A giant of a man, he’s also one of the nicest blokes you’d meet. A counsellor at a Rarotonga school with that uniquely Polynesian ability to make tattoos look natural and right, he was struck by the sailing and vaka life after a fleet of seven vakas sailed around the Pacific Ocean in 2011 and 2012. Quickly after, he signed on to crew on local voyages.
What complicates Thomas’ work on the ocean is his terrible sea sickness. Almost as soon as we were outside the reef that encloses Rarotonga, his inner turmoil began, as it does every time he sails. At times the only thing he could do was lie face down on the deck.
But sickness is no doctor’s certificate on a vessel such as the Marumaru Atua. Through rotating 15-minute stints, crew members manned the four-metre-long wooden rudder, steering the boat in directions they monitored by the sun, wind and finally stars. Come one of Thomas’ turns, he took the rudder, crawled to the stern, threw up long and hard into the sea, then turned to steering again.
About the only person on the boat as sick as Thomas was me, but where I left questioning whether I’d ever set foot in a boat again, Thomas looked happily ahead to his next journey. He’d be ill again, guaranteed, but so be it. His love for the sea was so strong that he was resolved to continue pushing through the sickness in hope that it one day cleared – sea sickness cured by the sea.
In his heart, he saw no other option. When he talked to me about his lineage, journeying back through family, village and vaka, he recounted stories of fierce determination and honour. Willpower was his inheritance, he said. A little – or a lot of – seasickness was just the price he had to pay.
Even through my own cloud of sickness, I had nothing but respect for such resolve. And I still just wanted to get off the boat.
** The Marumaru Atua will be sailing between the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki once a month, with berths available to six passengers. For information and details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.