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While the South Pacific can
claim to have developed and
perfected sailing technology
over several thousands of
years of open-ocean
voyaging, sailing culture is
now almost entirely
restricted to recreational
sailing vessels by the urban
It is virtually unused for everyday village life except on some outer islands, the
camakau of the southern Lau group in the case of Fiji.
Fijian Sailing History
Traditionally the Fijian Drua was widely recognised as the pinnacle of Pacific
sailing design, combining the unique properties of the vesi timber from the
Lau with double hull design that utilised and advanced Tongan and
Polynesian design concepts and sail design and technology originating in
These large (up to 118feet) high performance vessels were capable of high
speeds (in excess of 20 knots), high performance on all points of sail (they
were able to sail within 45 degrees of the wind) and large payloads (carrying
up to 150 fully armed warriors and in later years large tonnages of cargo).
Both in terms of craftsmanship and operation they were complex pieces of
machinery requiring a high degree of skill to construct, maintain and operate.
No full size drua have been built for over a century. In 1913 a half size vessel (45ft) Ratu
Finau was built, reportedly to ensure that the knowledge of design and construction was
not lost. That drua is now housed in the Fiji Museum in Suva. In the last 20 years a smaller
scale model was commissioned by an American expatriate and it operated as a tourist
novelty vessel in Suva and Nadi waters for some years but is now in a state of disrepair and
beached. It is arguable whether that vessel was a full copy of traditional design. There are
substantial historical records of Drua design, construction and operation including
detailed drawings and specifications from experienced European naval officers.
Restoration of the Drua, Ratu Finau by the Fiji National Museum has meant substantive
local knowledge of construction has been retained.
Drua are characterised by their construction from traditionally treated vesi
timber that is only found in the southern Lau islands. It is thought that
insufficient vesi now exists on Kabara (the traditional source of wood) but may
still be available on some of the smaller islands in the Lau. There has been a
major replanting initiative of vesi seedlings on Kabara in the past two years.
Camakau were the smaller inshore Fijian sailing vessel with an ama (outrigger) as
opposed to a full second hull. Very fast and versatile within the reef system, they
have been prone to capsize in open ocean waters. A comprehensive study in the
early 1990s of remaining camakau in the Lau group has recorded both the history
of the camakau and the construction techniques and process still in use today.
In 2006 two camakau were brought to Suva from Kabara and used as models to
construct a further five vessels as part of the Melanesian Spearhead festival of that
year. Those vessels were built from mahogany rather than vesi. It is arguable
whether the craftsmanship is equal to that traditionally employed.
A number of other designs were also found throughout Fiji including small single
hulled vessels and rafts. Traditional sailing use declined rapidly with the
introduction of European displacement craft and then disappeared almost entirely
as motorised vessels were introduced. Small boat sailing (particularly hobbie and
laser class) is popular as a recreational activity in Suva.